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Fabian Cancellara’s imminent retirement leaves a massive crater in the classics hierarchy that Trek – Segafredo believes John Degenkolb can fill.
Classics sport director Dirk Demol said Cancellara was a “once in a generation” rider, but believes Degenkolb is poised to fill Spartacus’ vacancy.
“There will only be one Fabian, that is for sure,” Demol said. “No one has the palmares that Fabian has, but we believe John is the kind of rider who can be the next big man for the classics.”
Trek won the “Degenkolb sweepstakes” as the 27-year-old German leaves Giant – Alpecin after five seasons with the Dutch outfit. Degenkolb, already a proven winner with Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix on his palmares, joins the refitted Trek for three seasons.
Degenkolb and Cancellara are very different riders. Degenkolb has one of the best finishing kicks after a long, hard race while Cancellara was pure brawn and power, so Demol knows he needs to reconfigure the team’s tactics to play to Degenkolb’s natural strengths.
With seven monuments on his win list, Cancellara was the favorite of any race at the start line during the cobbled classics. In contrast, Degenkolb isn’t going to power away from the pack, but he is strong enough to follow the moves, and then win out of a reduced group.
Rather than replace Cancellara in Trek’s classics team as its singular leader and putting all that pressure on Degenkolb, Demol insists that Degenkolb will be a leader among equals, with riders such as Jesper Stuyven and Edward Theuns seeing more freedom during the spring classics campaign.
“We will race the classics differently than when Fabian was the sole leader of the team,” Demol explained. “John for sure will be our leader for the classics, but the other guys will have a bit more freedom. We will race the spring classics differently.”
Demol insisted Degenkolb will be their man for the big one-days, but said the rising talents of Theuns, 25, and Stuyven, 24, will have room to move. That tactic will open up the race for the team, making it more complicated for rivals to determine which rider to mark than when Cancellara was the team’s main man. Degenkolb remains a favorite to win out of any select group, leaving the others to make race-changing attacks to unsettle their opponents.
Degenkolb missed the 2016 classics campaign following a horrific crash in January involving several of his Giant – Alpecin teammates. He made it through the Tour de France, posting two top-five stage results, and has since won two races, and finished second at the Cyclassics Hamburg in August. Degenkolb will race the upcoming road worlds in Doha.
Demol, winner of the 1988 Paris-Roubaix, said he’s already excited about the 2017 classics campaign.
“We will have a very strong classics teams even without Fabian. We could see that John is back in top form after the Tour,” Demol said. “John will see good support. We also have guys like [Gregory] Rast, [Markel] Irizar, and [former IAM rider Matthias] Brändle to ride in support. We have three fast guys [Degenkolb, Stuyven and Theuns] for all the big races. I can’t wait to see how they race together.”
No second thoughts for Cancellara
Demol also said Cancellara has had no second thoughts about retiring this year. Despite falling short in his final rumble across the pavé, Cancellara will go out on top after his unexpected victory in the Olympic time trial race to beat pre-race favorites Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome, and Rohan Dennis.
“Some thought it was a surprise, but people forget that Fabian won four time trials before the Olympics,” Demol said. “Already three years ago, he told me that 2016 would be his final season. He said his dream was to finish on the podium in Rio de Janeiro, so to win like that is a super-finish to his super career.”