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Three times a winner of Paris-Roubaix, Fabian Cancellara is eyeing up a possible victory on Wednesday’s fifth stage of the Tour de France. The route takes in some of the same cobblestone sections as used by the Roubaix Classic in the past and, having had to settle for third in that race this year, the Swiss rider has a chance to go two places higher if things work out.
Cancellara showed his excellent form on stage one of the Tour when he put in an impressive attack inside the final kilometres of the stage to Harrogate. He made his move on an uphill section and might have stayed clear had it not levelled out. The sprinters got back up to him but the surge showed he is in fine form.
Since then he said that he has concentrated on staying safe. “I am happy that I am still in. It could be totally different with the last few days. There were pretty risky stages so far and a lot of danger on the road,” he told CyclingTips after stage four. “We will see. Let’s see tomorrow morning the situation and then we can say more after the stage.”
Cancellara steered clear of any bold predictions about how things will go, mindful perhaps that wet cobbles will require both skill but also a lot of luck. Still, he made clear that victory is something he is aiming for. “Of course a win would be always nice…I am here to try to get the best out of every day I can.”
The last time the Tour visited the cobbles was in 2009. On that occasion his CSC team-mate Fränk Schleck crashed out, ending the Luxembourg rider’s push for a top GC result.
“I can remember good, especially when I had Stuey, me, Andy and then Fränk,” he said. “And then Fränk got hit by another rider, broke his collarbone and his Tour de France was over. We know that this kind of race we are going to have is a special situation.
“Of course Roubaix, or cobblestones, in the Tour de France is something that maybe should not be in, but it is the organisation’s decision. It is ASO, the main head of cycling – they think they can have the show tomorrow and maybe tomorrow we are going to have a historic day in cycling and everything will turn around.”
He recognises the possibility for some very dramatic racing, but also for disaster. “With the weather, maybe there will be rain. I think it is going to just be chaos, totally. I don’t know who last did Roubaix on wet roads…I don’t think somebody in the peloton did it.”
Even though Cancellara is one of the most skilled riders in the peloton and has a long history of riding well on cobblestones, he too admitted that the wet conditions will make things very tricky. That is further compounded by the fact that there will be fewer Classic specialists with experience of riding on such terrain within the Tour peloton. Instead, many of those racing will be general classification riders or their helpers.
It means that the overall skill level in the peloton will be less than is usually seen in Paris-Roubaix.
“There are maybe ten, fifteen guys who know what Roubaix is like, to ride so fast over the cobbles, and who know how to handle everything. The Tour is not Roubaix, it is not in April, and that is why also the circumstances are different.”
Providing Cancellara can stay to the front and ahead of those inexperienced riders, he has a chance to push ahead with the other Classic contenders and fight it out for the win. He’ll need luck, of course, or at least the absence of bad luck. Even if things work out well for him, he’s aware that the general classification riders on his and other teams could have a brutal day.
“I have to remember a few years ago how the sun was shining for me; for other ones it wasn’t shining really well. People lost seconds like Alberto, we lost Fränk. There are so many things that can change from one to another sector.
“When it is dry, then it is one kind of race. When it is wet, when it is raining down, it just takes somebody to push the brakes and everybody falls down.”
He sees the outcome as something of a lottery. “It is like a roulette in the end. Also, in the end, it is nothing to do with who is good on the bike or bad on the bike.”