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An interview with Fabian Cancellara, February 19, 2008
The first golden boy
Team CSC kicked off the Tour of California blasting out of the blocks, taking consecutive stage wins in the Palo Alto prologue and stage one in Santa Rosa. The current world time trial champion from Switzerland, Fabian Cancellara hopes to lead the way into Pasadena in the golden jersey but admitted the possibility that the jersey could change hands over the next several stages. Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins spoke with the man in the rainbow skin suit after he demolished the opening event to find out how he planned to improve on an unbeatable season past.
If there has ever been a rider in the peloton who can predict a time trial effort down to the final second it would have to be the double world champion from CSC, Fabian Cancellara. "I woke up this morning and I said to myself 'I'm going to win the race in 3:50.' – So, to win it in 3'51 is not bad," said the Swiss rider before he stepped onto the podium to temporarily switch out his rainbow jersey for the golden leader's jersey in the Tour of California.
"I'm sure we are going to enjoy the rest of our time here in California," continued Cancellara. "We have a lot of cards to play in this race and we are going to use them because we want to win. We've been working hard for this and I hope we can rock it from today until the end. My impression of the course is that it was great. The Tour of California is beautiful and from what I've seen in the last two years, good things will come."
As stage one would have it, CSC landed top spot on the podium a second time with their Argentinean sprinter JJ Haedo, who acknowledged the effort his team-mate put in for him in the last few kilometers. But according to Cancellara his legs felt like 'two flat tires, full of the lactic acid from the previous day's two-mile effort' and he hoped to be feeling fresh by the morning. "For me, the climb was very hard and before we came to the circuit I felt so bad and my legs were so tight. I still felt the lactic acid from yesterday's effort and even though it was short it was really tough... I hope tomorrow my legs and my feeling in general are going to be better," Cancellara continued, who was happy with his performance in the lead-out because it proved his overall fitness is in tact.
After winning two world time trial championships, it seems tough to accomplish a higher fitness level, but Cancellara acknowledged that his power levels have improved over the previous year as a result of learning how to deal with the pressures of being number one in the world. "My power is very good right now, better than last year," said Cancellara.
"But I worked on other things this year to improve my fitness. I had a lot less stress. I wasn't sick and my experiences from winning races last year has given me more energy to use in the training. When you start to win these big races it is difficult to deal with the pressure but after a year I think I am calmer and recover more. It is hard to learn to deal with the outside things when you win races. But I learned to handle these things well and now I'm ready to go in the same direction that I went last year."
His goals for the early season begin with the Tour of California and progress into the spring classics in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and later to the Beijing Olympic Games time trial. According to Cancellara, winning the prologue was a good indication that he is powerful in short bursts, but he will need to step up his game further to cover the two hundred and fifty kilometers needed to do well in the classics. But having the experience of winning world-class events in multiple disciplines lead to high motivation in training and preparations. "In every race, I always look back to regain the power from that moment in history to use in the race you are about to do," said Cancellara. "I think about all the wins I had last year that gave me a lot of new experience that I can reuse in future races. I think this week is going to be hard for me and so it is good to remember those wins from the past. To work step by step and to stay really calm."
Part of the significant preparation included a two-week team training camp held outside of Los Angeles, California. "I have to say that it was the best training camp I've ever done. There are beautiful roads and hills and I think for the whole team it was really difficult," said Cancellara regarding the daily strength and speed workouts between long hours spent on the saddle.
"We did this because as everybody knows we start the season now and we don't finish until September and we spend this on the front [of the peloton]. It was important for us to have a good race here in the Tour of California. I did some testing at the training camp and the few results that I saw, were very good. It inspired me that I could do well in my beautiful rainbow jersey in Palo Alto."
Cancellara observed the stiff competition on the start list for the third annual event with returning riders Paolo Bettini, George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer, along with additional top riders like Tom Boonen, Mario Cipollini, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and David Millar. Not only did the stellar roster cause nerves to jump but the courses were designed to be more difficult offering only three stages for a likely sprint finish.
Cancellara clarified that "I wasn't nervous about my fitness going into the prologue," but admitted he was a little on the edge prior to his arrival to Palo Alto. "When you go for the first time to the first race, especially the Tour of California because it's a great race, that's why I felt a lot of nervousness before the start. I think that is normal but in the end to be with the rainbow jersey and with a great team like CSC, it is very beautiful to be able to win stages here."
Wearing the rainbow jersey has its perks but it also entails high pressure to perform in nearly every race against the clock. "When I get to a short race like this I feel like I have to win, I have an obligation to win. I get more satisfaction to be good and to train harder and winning is always a good feeling. For me, I need to win stages, one day races for my goals to be better in the future season. Now that I won this prologue, I know I can move forward and go after the next win. These are smaller goals that get me to my bigger goals."
The top three riders standing on the podium in the prologue consisted of the three teams who are implementing aggressive independent anti-doping programs in the team. CSC's – as well as fourth-placed Leipheimer's Astana team – internal protocol is administered through Doctor Damsgaard and Doctor Paul Strauss and the Agency for Cycling Ethics are supervising the teams Slipstream and High Road.
Cancellara reiterated the importance of team's independent anti-doping program but acknowledged that it is not only these high profile teams who do their part in the effort to clean up cycling but also everyone who is working hard. "I think team CSC and the riders, what we are doing now because of what happened in our sport last year are things that everyone has to do and it is what everyone is doing to try to make cycling what it used to be without the negativity."
Cancellara is just one rider amongst the professional peloton who was subjected to over forty tests last season and who makes himself available to random testing without complaint. "High Road and Slipstream have there own ways of testing and it is our way to help. From our results, we show that our control system is accepted by the UCI and by WADA and with time these results are showing that we are doing the right thing," Cancellara continued.
While he hopes that other teams will come on board with the 'new cycling mentality' he acknowledged that it needs to happen in the correct way, with biological passports to keep track of the biological history of each rider. "I hope we can restart cycling the way it was before, but in a good way. People have a passion for cycling and so do I. I want to go out on the road and do my best. Having controls can be difficult like yesterday; I was getting my massage and I had a knock on the door for control. So, I had to skip my massage but in the end I want to follow the rules and do my job and do my best. I train hard, I do everything right with myself and with the team, I do everything right and I like racing, so in the end I want to win and do my best.