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From his Tour de France stage wins to his creative spelling on Twitter, Fabian Cancellara has given us dozens of memorable moments during his pro cycling career. In my opinion, however, Cancellara’s proverbial greatest hits album is comprised of cobbled classic highlights. These races provided a bumpy stage for Cancellara to showcase his leg-breaking power and tactical smarts. Below, I’ve ranked my top-nine favorite Cancellara moments from these races.
As a man of the people, Cancellara never missed an opportunity to share his personality with fans. In 2010, he almost missed the start of Gent-Wevelgem because he was yukking it up with the emcee. Hey, he was just giving the people what they want.
The 2006 Paris-Roubaix gave us one of the best “Only in pro cycling” moments, which occurred when a commuter train crossed the route with 10km remaining and held up the group chasing Cancellara, who eventually won. Yes, this is akin to a Greyhound bus casually driving into the Super Bowl and parking itself in the end zone during the two-minute warning. The gaffe gave us a great hypothetical Cancellara question: If it weren’t for the train, would he have still won?
Cancellara didn’t win the 2011 Tour of Flanders, and to be perfectly honest, he botched the final sprint. Eh, details. As he’s done so many times, Cancellara tore the race apart at the 4km to go mark. He put in one of those seated, flat-road attacks that hurt simply to watch, let alone follow. Even today, watching the replay of that attack makes me wince, especially knowing that it came after 260km of racing. It’s like watching the grizzly bear scene in “The Revenant.”
Cancellara’s win at the 2013 Paris-Roubaix gave us another hypothetical what-if moment. Had Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh not been whacked out of the breakaway by fans, could they have beaten Cancellara in the sprint? We’ll never know. Instead, Cancellara gave the world his first display of sprinting power, zipping past Sep Vanmarcke with an awkward, in-the-saddle kick. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.
In the first big meeting between Cancellara and the next-generation classics man Peter Sagan, the two heavyweights came into the Paterberg together. Cancellara didn’t attack so much as he just dialed up the pace and eventually popped Sagan, who pedaled on with his head bobbling from exhaustion. The move was simultaneously cruel and awesome — like watching one of those nature videos of an apex predator playing with its dinner.
You know what’s worse than the cobblestones, bergs and even Belgium’s ever-present aroma of cow manure? It’s the knowledge that that there’s an army of pesky, pushy reporters waiting for you at the finish line. As a true man of the world, Cancellara performed his post-classics interviews in German, French, English, and sometimes even Italian. How many times can you say, “My ass hurts. I’m tired. I need a shower?”
Cancellara came into the final kilometers of the 2014 Tour of Flanders with Greg Van Avermaet, Stijn Vandenbergh, and Sep Vanmarcke in tow. I didn’t hold out much hope for him, given his poor history in sprints featuring more than one opponent. Somehow, Cancellara lumbered out of his saddle and took care of business against the three Vans. The only person more surprised than me, it appeared, was Cancellara, who celebrated with a growl and arm-shake reminiscent of a Ric Flair celebration.
At the height of his powers, Cancellara’s bone-crushing attack at the 2010 Paris-Roubaix dropped Tom Boonen, Filippo Pozzato and the other classics men. He soloed in from 47km to win, and undoubtedly had enough time to shower and properly cologne himself before his chasers even finished. Cancellara’s attack was so mind-boggling that it inspired that original Loose Change-style truther video about motorized cheating.
The most memorable mano-a-mano showdown between Cancellara and Boonen occurred during the 2010 Tour of Flanders. I rank this as my No. 1 Cancellara highlight. As you may remember, the two giants came into base of the Mur de Grammont together. Boonen had the advantage in the sprint, so Cancellara had to find a way to drop the Belgian. He mashed the pedals so hard up the climb that I thought his bicycle would explode, and doing so, dropped Boonen harder than a bag full of hammers, doorknobs, and anvils. The sight of Cancellara powering away with Boonen pedaling squares was a show of force that defined Cancellara’s career.