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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) might not have won Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, but the Swiss was taking meticulous notes that could pay dividends in next weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
After getting caught up behind a crash with about 40 kilometers to go, Cancellara was forced to change his wheel, all but derailing his hopes of defending his title at the cobblestone classic. But as he always does, Cancellara put on an impressive demonstration, passing dozens of riders to regain contact with the first chase group, powering past riders up the cobblestoned Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont climbs along the way.
Eventual winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale) turned the screws when the Cancellara group clawed within 16 seconds of regaining contact, but the reigning Flanders champion was paying very close attention to his rivals.
“I saw many things today that were more necessary than winning,” Cancellara told reporters. “Milano-Sanremo was a strange race. You could not see who is really strong, what team can do what. Today we saw many things. I needed this before the upcoming races.”
For Cancellara, Friday’s rough ride served as a litmus test on many levels heading into Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. More important than winning Friday was testing his form, observing his rivals, and avoiding injury.
“We saw a strong Peter (Sagan), we saw a strong Quick Step that did not get the win,” Cancellara said. “Honestly, I did not have my best day, but where can you make a difference in a race when there was no selection? No wind, no bad weather. … It was at the worst moment to be on the ground, to change the wheel.”
Trek sport director Dirk Demol preferred to look at half-full glass, focusing on the upside of Cancellara’s comeback attempt as a sign of good things to come.
“There was only one moment when we were not in the front first 10 or 15, and that’s when there was the crash in the middle of the race. Fabian was forced to change his wheel, and was making a strong pursuit. We can came close, but it was almost mission impossible,” Demol told VeloNews. “It proved again that he and the team is ready, and we are ready for the coming days. That’s how it is.”
Cancellara, too, knows that what counts lies over the upcoming two weekends, when months of work reach a crescendo with Flanders and Roubaix.
“The world does not go under. It was an interesting day to see how things go in the race, with other teams, that was more important than our result today,” he said. “We close this day. I am not on the podium, but I get good experience even from this day.”