Fabian Cancellara: ‘I can only push the pedals’ at 2011 Paris-Rouabix

Defending champion says he can’t control the Hell of the North, but Arenberg Forest will be key

2011 Paris-Roubaix, training for the cobbles
Cancellara training on the cobbles this week

KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — The 2011 classics season has been harder than ever before. So says Fabian Cancellara.

“Since San Remo, and then at Flanders, people have seen the amazing side of cycling,” Cancellara said on Friday. “What people want is all the favorites at the front early. But for us racing, it was pretty tough, the hardest season so far.”

Last year, Cancellara dominated both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, blowing the competition out of the water. Now, after he was toppled at Flanders, there are more contenders in the frame — and this is a good thing for racing fans, Cancellara said.

“Before Flanders, mostly only my name out,” he said. “But now the world has seen that it’s not only me (who can win), and that makes the race more interesting for the people at home. It also makes for more possibilites with different teams’ tactics. BMC, Garmin, many other teams have been riding. We are looking forward to doing our tactics, and our race.”

With 2007 Paris-Roubaix champion and teammate Stuart O’Grady by his side, Cancellara said the objective was for the team to win, regardless of the rider.

O’Grady was quick to add that “Plan A is obviously Fabian.”

“My whole objective, every kilometer I’ve done since December, is to make sure that I’m 100 percent for the team for this week,” O’Grady said. “I’ve got no problem with (riding for Cancellara). When Fabian is on this kind of condition, that’s the obvious strategy. But I want to be ready for any type of strategy. We will have plan A, B and C as we do every year.”

Cancellara listed a handful of riders as potential winners: Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha, Fillipo Pozzato, George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan. But positioning through the pavé section of the Arenberg Forest will be essential to determining the main selection, he said.

“In the end, it’s all about how the race comes out of the Arenberg,” he said. “On this day, that’s all the counts.”

The Arenberg is number 16 of 27 pavé sections, which count down to number 1 at Roubaix, just outside the velodrome. The Arenberg section, which comes 172km into the 257km race, is a whopping 2.4m long. It’s one of four sections with a five-star (highest difficulty) rating. (Related: 2011 Paris-Roubaix cobble sectors)

With so many variables that can come into play at Roubaix — crashes, mechanicals, teammates, no teammates — Cancellara said all he could do was give his best effort. “I can only push the pedals,” he said.

Speaking to the press less than 48 hours before he would start to defend his Paris-Roubaix title, Cancellara said he was simply looking forward to riding his bike.

“It’s going to be even harder than any of the other years, being again the favorite, and being watched so much the last few weeks,” he said. “But I just have to ride my bike, and enjoy the race and the moment. Paris-Roubaix is a hell of a passion, a hell of a race. I want to enjoy it.”