HEADER

We bid a fond farewell to Fabian Cancellara. The curtain has come down on Spartacus’ glittering career in typical fashion. The Swiss legend delivering Trek-Segafredo teammate, Fumiyuki Bepputo, to victory in the Japan Cup Criterium.

 

Spartacus’ 16-year career included three victories at the Tour of Flanders, seven stages of the Tour de France, four of the Vuelta, four world time trial titles and two Olympic time trial gold medals. His second coming this year at the Rio Olympic Games – a fitting end to an incredible cycling career.

 

But it is for his three victories at Paris-Roubaix that we will remember him best …

 

“Every race is a war. Every race is a fight. If you don‘t go into every event with that belief, you will never achieve your goals.” – Cancellara

 

The Spartacus was a marked man. Defending champion on the Hell of the North. The Bernese rider in typical gladiatorial mood. Plotting a hat-trick of triumphs in this, the bleakest of spring classics. 2006, edition 104 of the Paris-Roubaix, is often remembered for three riders – Leif Hoste, Peter van Petegem and Vladimir Gusev – being disqualified by the race jury after craftily, and illegally, speeding through a closed railway crossing.

 

Attacking with 20 clicks to go, Cancellara chipped away at his opponents. The lead built. He found himself alone and in front. ‘It’s going to be the longest few kilometres of his life,’ mused commentator Phil Liggett as the Swiss approached the Roubaix velodrome. False. Cancellara cruised home, prevailing by over a minute.

Photography courtesy of Omata; www.omata.com

Victory was even more dominant four years later. With 50 kilometres remaining, Cancellara, sporting rather twee Swiss-flagged booties, pulled away from Tom Boonen. After 259kms of hard graft, including 52kms of cobbled attacking over more than 25 different sections, his lap of the velodrome was a formality. Victory by over two minutes. Chapeau.

 
 
“Today, I lost, but the others lost a bit more than me.” – Cancellara
 
 

In 2011, he sought to exert his supremacy during another ‘Sunday in Hell’. The target was set. Join the likes of Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser on three race victories. Only his rivals had wised up. Tired of watching the Swiss breakaway, they sharpened their tactics, hunted in packs. The defending champion grew frustrated as his main rivals hung off his back wheel. Garmin-Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd and Jan Van Summeren, the eventual race winner, were considered the culprits. At the finish Cancellara told journalists: “Everybody raced against me. This second place is like the victory to me,” before leaving his opponents with a comment more cutting than any Flanders crosswind: “Today, I lost, but the others lost a bit more than me.”

image_2

That bitterness subsided in 2013, where rather than proving his mastery in timing and leading from the front, he showcased the versatility that had made him multiple world time trial champion and habitual Tour stage winner. Reaching the velodrome, the Swiss had company in the shape of the giant 24-year-old Belgian Sep Vanmarcke. The hunter and the hunted. Recreating a duel befitting of an Olympic track competition, albeit after over five and half hours of grind, the two riders provided the most dramatic of climaxes.

image_5

The experienced, wily, campaigner against the exuberant youngster. Cancellara placed Vanmarcke exactly where he wanted him, forcing his opponent to assume the lead, to twist his neck, to second guess. It was all too much. On the final stretch, Cancellara put on the burners and sealed victory. “He takes his third Paris-Roubaix and bet your life, it was his best,” exclaimed Liggett. More memorable than his farewell Roubaix, where he sought to close with a lap of honour only to lose control of his bike, perhaps under the sheer weight of the Swiss flag he was trying to parade. He saw the funny side, perhaps even contemplating buying his rivals a coffee.

 
 

THE END.

So long, Spartacus, Black Sheep Cycling salutes you.

THIS IS AN EXTRACT FROM A STORY THAT FIRST APPEARED IN OBSESSION, DISTRIBUTED EXCLUSIVELY WITH EACH BLACK SHEEP CYCLING LIMITED SEASON OR AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE ONLINE HERE.

 

BLACK SHEEP ON TOUR: SWITZERLAND