Fabian Cancellara is the favourite for Sunday's race after his win at the Tour of Flanders.

Cancellara makes early return to racing in order to boost 2016 prospects

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He’s had a season to forget, with spine-fracturing crashes in the E3 Prijs Harelbeke and the Tour de France scuppering two of his big season goals, and illness in the Vuelta a España putting him out early on and making his world championship goals impossible.

However, despite saying in early September that he didn’t have the morale to race again this season, Fabian Cancellara is back in action this weekend at the Japan Cup.

It’s an unexpected development, and one that was only made recently and for a very specific reason.

Trek Factory Racing general manager Luca Guercilena explained to CyclingTips the thinking behind it.

“The decision was made in the first week of October because even after his sickness and mental tiredness, we wanted to focus on a relative ‘doable’ target in order not have a too-long season break,” he said.

“The goal is just to be back in a race and finish the season, counting on giving the body the right ‘shake-up’ looking toward 2016.”

Cancellara’s willingness to go along with the plan contradicts the impression he gave at the start of September. Demoralised after horrendous luck this season, he admitted then that his morale was in the gutter.

“It’s mentally very challenging and it drains your energy,” he said. “I don’t have batteries anymore for a third come-back in one season.

“Since I returned home from the Vuelta I have been questioning myself a lot. It’s more than just a lack of motivation. It goes deeper than that. It feels impossible to load the batteries enough to break through that wall in your head.”

A month and a half later, Guercilena said that the Swiss rider’s morale has already turned around.

“The injuries from March and July are fixed and also the sickness from the Vuelta is gone,” he explained. “It was obviously a hard season but being back in the peloton gives the opportunity to see a shining light for a good season’s end and a complete recovery.”

Cancellara rode Saturday’s criterium and will line out in Sunday’s Japan Cup road race. His Trek Factory Racing team-mate Fumy Beppu was first to the line in the former, winning on home soil.

Guercilena and the rest of the team management are not putting any pressure on Cancellara for Sunday’s race, but believe he can show himself anyway.

“Let’s say that new course here in Japan is less hard than in past seasons and the race is short. Even if he is not at the top he can still show something, but it’s evident that the condition is not the optimal to win a race.

“The goal is to be in the action and be ready to help the team take a result.”

Of course, the bigger target is to set him back on the right road in advance of the 2016 season. Cancellara has said that he will almost certainly retire at the end of next year, and having one more successful Classics campaign is very important to him.

He’s one of the best Classics riders of the modern era, having taken three editions of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and also winning the 2008 Milan-San Remo.

He’s still got plenty of work ahead to get back to that form. However in returning to action earlier than he suggested last month, he’s boosting his chances of success next spring.

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