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Cancellara still chasing history in the monuments

“Spartacus” closes his spring classics run with three podium finishes

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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Fabian Cancellara said it himself — only the win matters — but he still closed his 2014 spring classics campaign with an impressive run. The Swiss “Spartacus” in black with white pinstripes won the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and placed second in Milano-Sanremo and third in Paris-Roubaix.

“OK, it could be worse,” Cancellara said when the dust settled at the Roubaix velodrome Sunday. “I’ve been on the podium 12 times in a row in these monuments, and that’s also not so bad. I get measured on winning, not finishing second or third, but it’s OK like this.”

Taking out the 2012 De Ronde, when he abandoned with a broken collarbone, Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) placed in the top three in every monument he raced. He has never lined up in the other two monuments, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia.

After the 2010 season, he said he would like to target all five monuments. “You lose your motivation doing the same things,” he said. “I need new challenges.”

The feat of winning all five monuments, however, remains in the hands of Roger De Vlaeminck, Rik Van Looy, and Eddy Merckx — all Belgians.

Had Cancellara won in Roubaix, he would have been the first rider to win the De Ronde/Roubaix double three times. He also would have taken his fourth victory and matched Roubaix’s record for the most wins, sitting alongside De Vlaeminck and his current rival Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Instead, the numbers worked against Cancellara.

His key lieutenant Stijn Devolder could not start due to a crash in De Ronde. Gregory Rast lost ground in the Arenberg Forest with a bike change, while Yaroslav Popovych and Hayden Roulston crashed. With Roulston, Cancellara went down as well and had to change bikes. He nearly lost all chances to make 12 podiums in a row.

“I spent a lot of energy getting back on after changing bikes. Roubaix is a race where you can never spend too much energy because you’ll be missing it in the end.”

Cancellara appeared more human than “Spartacus” in these classics. In De Ronde, he followed and waited for the sprint. He did the same in Roubaix instead of attacking solo with 48 kilometers remaining as he did in 2010.

Boonen attacked. Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) tried. And Peter Sagan (Cannondale) went, too. Cancellara dodged bullets, marked attacks and survived. He formed a part of an 11-man group with 20km to race. The numbers were stacked against the Swiss in black: Omega Pharma had three men, and Giant-Shimano and Sky counted two each.

“I couldn’t go with Boonen, that was too far out at 65km considering the headwind and Omega Pharma had more men behind. I knew I would have to wait,” Cancellara said.

“To just attack and to be in the front and then get dropped is also not what I wanted. My solution was to go towards the velodrome and then do my best: Third place and second behind John Degenkolb in a sprint like this.”

Omega Pharma won the race. Niki Terpstra attacked the front group and quickly put some real estate between himself and the chasers. His teammates Boonen and Zdenek Stybar watched. Cancellara’s chance for a fourth win and a third double vanished.

Cancellara said he did not want to risk a podium spot with a desperate chase. “Honestly, I race for winning, not arriving for second or third,” he said. “But in the end, I’m realistic.”