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News feature, March 23, 2008
Swiss timing: Cancellara strikes in Sanremo
A marked man heading into the 99th edition of Milano-Sanremo, Fabian Cancellara overcame the climbs, the sprinters' teams and the odds to win the Monument known as La Classicissima. Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was in Sanremo to witness an incredible performance from the man they now call 'Spartacus'.
Such has been Fabian Cancellara's outstanding form this season, that even with its status as a sprinters' Classic firmly established, victory in Italy's most prestigious one-day race was still considered within the 27 year-old's capabilities. "I started as a big favourite," he admitted, "but then I was able to give my most for the win. People thought I could do something. But the climbs are there and then the sprint is there. This race is full of stress, but I remained calm and tranquil.
"My attack came from the gut. It was similar to the one I made in Compiègne [to win Stage 3 of the 2007 Tour de France]," he added of his winning move in the final kilometres. Still, the odds were stacked against him, Paolo Bettini being the last to win from a true escape group in 2003, while you have to go back nine years to get the last rider who won solo.
"If I had waited it would not have worked," he explained. "I understood that there were the metres to make the difference when I looked back. To win a Sanremo, like I did... I think the last rider to do that was Andrei Tchmil [in 1999]. He did 800 metres, whereas I rode two kilometres."
The Swiss powerhouse credited his early season training sessions in California for his much improved climbing ability, which paid handsome dividends today. "For me it was the training in USA," he said. "We did climbs and the training was how I liked it to be. I started to think that I could stay with some of these guys on the climbs, and I knew to remain calm. I have lost a lot of races because I was nervous, so I have learned to stay calm and relaxed, but giving the maximum I need to win.
"I think that I fought to the end for my win. I thought that the new climb [Le Mànie - ed.] would change the race somewhat. I wanted to see the sprinters tired, and I was also fighting to keep myself intact," he said of the climb that was added to the parcours this year. "There were still 100 kilometres left to race and I stared to think 'this is not possible'. On the Cipressa the men were already strong, you could see that. However, after Le Mànie I started to feel better. I radioed, 'guys, we have to close this gap' that had stared on the Cipressa.
"With the legs I have now, I can't hold myself back."
He did not hold back. After surviving the technical decent of the Poggio, Cancellara used the strength that gained him two world time trial championships to fire home on Corso Cavallotti - the temporary home to Milano-Sanremo's finale after its traditional finish on the Via Roma was removed due to road construction.
"It is important to win Sanremo," he continued. "The public expect a group or one that arrives solo, and I think that I have won in a grand way. There is so much history in this race, many champions, and now there is one more: Cancellara."
Sanremo made season win number five for Cancellara, who started winning in the US with the Tour of California prologue, and then continued in Europe with Monte Paschi Eroica, stage five and the overall of Tirreno-Adriatico. Given what he has already accomplished, which includes the 2006 Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara has one goal in mind: the Tour of Flanders.
"Like I said at the beginning of the year, Flanders and Roubaix [are my objectives]. Now, I feel ready for Flanders - I have the experience. Sanremo and Roubaix I have won, and Flanders now becomes the dream for me. These three races are the biggest races for a rider like me. With the force I have now, I feel that I have the ability to be at the front and maybe win Flanders. You have to have the head, without the head you can't go forward."
Cancellara looks forward to returning home to his wife and daughter, Giuliana, in Switzerland. The two spent time with him in Milano leading up to the race, but did not make the finish in Sanremo. "I am sorry my wife and daughter were not here. They always give me the help to pass the hard moments."