Road

Trek, Fabian Cancellara see their plans broken on the cobbles of E3 Harelbeke

Trek has lost its top gladiator for the cobbled arena, and Spartacus faces a struggle to leave the sport while he's still on top

GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Trek Factory Racing is picking up the pieces after a game-changing crash in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke. The next morning in Bruges, Belgium, one day after losing Swiss captain Fabian Cancellara, the team was thinking about how to proceed in the upcoming cobbled classics.

“It’s a pity and it’s a shame,” sports director Dirk Demol said. “If you lose your leader like we did today then it’s hard to take.”

Cancellara crashed on the Haaghoek cobble sector nearly 40km into the race. He tried to continue, but the injuries were too much; they forced him out of the race, and out of the classics.

Unlike Sky and Etixx-Quick-Step, Trek was something of a one-trick pony with only “Spartacus” to lead it through the cobbled classics.

Cancellara normally can carry that weight well. Last year, he gave the team victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, his third win there, and placed third in Paris-Roubaix.

Now he is in no condition to carry any sort of weight at all, with two fractured vertebrae in his lower back.

“What can you do? He has to rest, he can’t do anything, he just has to rest and recover,” said Demol. “We hope he can come back sometime in May.”

Trek could look to Stijn Devolder, a two-time Ronde winner. It signed the Belgian for the 2013 season to support Cancellara.

However, at 35 years old, Devolder no longer has the firepower to lead the team to victory. And he, too, is feeling the effects of a crash, in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen; he rode with pain in the E3 Harelbeke.

At the other end of the age scale is 22-year-old Jasper Stuyven, winner of the juniors’ 2010 Paris-Roubaix. But he still needs experience, and like the others, he is recovering from a fall.

“We’ll try to make the best of it,” Demol said, “but it’s not going to be easy.”

Trek must look ahead from its base in Bruges. In fact, it is searching to beef up its team for the coming seasons.

Head manager Luca Guercilena told VeloNews: “We want to improve, but this is also dependent on the budget. There are teams that almost have double the budget that we do. It is important that we can find a co-sponsor or backer that can help us evolve.”

But for Spartacus the road is running out. He has talked about retirement in 2016, but wants to go out with a bang in one of the big monuments.

Cancellara could come back to help the team in the Tour de France, perhaps aiming at the opening time trial or a stage win. The 2015 world road championships in Richmond, Virginia, could also be a goal.

The classics are his specialty, though. To race them, he now must wait a year. And as this year will do for Bradley Wiggins, 2016 could write the end to a major chapter in Cancellara’s book.