How Sean Kelly rates Cancellara, Sagan and Martin’s chances for the Spring Classics

by Shane Stokes


Fabian Cancellara is coming back from a year plagued by injury and bad luck but, as the Swiss rider heads into what could well be his final season, Sean Kelly has said he believes that he could well go out in style.

The former world number one was speaking at the An Post Chainreaction training camp in Calpe and named the Swiss rider as one of the prime favourites for the one day races. He drew comparisons between his own position when he was at the equivalent period of his career.

He dismissed suggestions that Cancellara could be complacent heading into 2016, saying that his past successes would likely put him in a position of strength.

“I think when you are at the end of a career and you have won all those races and you have such a good palmares, you don’t give a feck [about pressure]. You f*cking just go into the event. You have the experience, of course, and that is always very important.

“When I was in Milan San Remo, when I was on the Poggio, I said here goes. If I end up in one of the glasshouses, what does it f*cking matter? I have won races anyway.”

Kelly was referring to his breakneck descent in the 1992 edition of the race, a caution-to-the-wind plunge down the switchbacks of the Poggio to catch lone attacker Moreno Argentin.

He took chances on the bends, closed the gap, calmly latched onto the back wheel of the Italian and then refused to come through prior to launching a wining sprint.

“Cancellara is in the same situation. He has proved many times he can do it, he has got the experience. I don’t think retirement affects those guys. When you decide to go on [and do one more year], it is not just for the financial gain, it is to do another result, to get another Classic win.

“I think if that is the mentality, then he is going to give it 100 percent.”

Paris - Roubaix 2014

Cancellara has had one of the best careers of the current riders, winning a hat-trick of Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders titles, taking one Milan – San Remo and a cluster of other successes, including eight stages in the Tour de France, three in the Vuelta a España and world and Olympic time trial titles.

Because of his prior triumphs in one day events, Kelly believes he will be able to play that card in any tactically-demanding finales. Cancellara wants to win, but his rivals will absolutely need to.

“He has that advantage there. He can play the card,” he said. “He can say I have won these before. A guy like Sagan who really has to break through, he has to win a Classic. The pressure is on him, and I think Cancellara is probably the one who can bluff best.”

Can the world champion break his Classics duck?

Speaking of Sagan, Kelly also weighed up his chances. The Slovakian rider is yet to win a major Classic, but did show strong one day pedigree when he triumphed in the world road race championships last September.

That victory will convince the Team Tinkoff rider that he has what it takes to succeed in the biggest events, but may also put additional pressure on him as the rainbow jersey will be a marked one.

Kelly assesses the yin and yang of this motivation and pressure, concluding that while there will be a burden on Sagan’s shoulders, that he may well have the strength to pull off a big win.

“I think if you look at Sagan, he has had a lot of expectations moving to Tinkoff. Last year he struggled in the beginning, but he finished really good with the Tour de France, the Vuelta and then of course the worlds,” he told CyclingTips.

“But now that will lead to more pressure, I think. There is a lot of talk about him winning Classics, but he hasn’t won one of the big ones yet.

“This year is going to be one where, with the world championship jersey on his shoulders, there is going to be more pressure again. But when you see the performance he did at the worlds, there is not reason why he can’t win Classics.

Tour San Luis 2016 2016 stage 3

“He is around a long time, but he is still very young. That is something that people forget about. He still has a lot of years left. I would be majorly surprised if he doesn’t win some big Classics over the next two, three years.”

Kelly previously said that he felt that Sagan had the versatility to become a Grand Tour contender if he put his mind to it. Although he is a blocky rider, he has shown a solid climbing ability in the past, winning races such as the Tour of California in 2015.

If he were to lose weight, Kelly stated, it was conceivable that he could challenge in three week races.

CyclingTips asked Sagan about this at the start of the 2015 Tour de France, but the Slovakian was dismissive about such a notion. He gave the impression that he didn’t want to go down such a route, and now Kelly believes that he will likely stick with doing what he had previously done best.

“I think he’ll keep doing the same. I would say he will chase green jersey in the Tour, stages in that race and then the Classics.”

How a bollicking can re-energise a career

Cancellara and Sagan have the attributes to challenge in Milan – San Remo and the Northern Classics, races that better suit riders of their build.

They are consequently unlikely to target the Ardennes Classics, where a different breed of riders will step forward and chase success.

These riders tend to be lighter and thus better able to handle the undulating terrain of races such as Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

One of those who will be vying for success there is Kelly’s compatriot Dan Martin.

The latter has just moved to the Etixx-QuickStep team and will be a protected rider in those events. He has won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia in the past, proving his ability to reach the line first in such races, and is aiming to bounce back after a frustrating final year with Cannondale – Garmin.

“I think a change for Dan is important,” said Kelly, endorsing the move. “When you are with a team for a long time, you do get a bit stale. I think a change is a good thing.

media presentation  team Etixx - Quickstep 2016

“You need to have a little bit of…well, fear is the wrong word, but with your manager and your directeur sportifs, when you go to a new team you are not as good friends with them.

“When you have been with a team for a long time, you get a bit friendly with the directeurs and you don’t take the bollicking from them as much as you would take from a new guy. I think that is important.”

The key, he believes, is avoiding the complacency that might crop up when a rider is in the same environment for too long.

Martin was with Cannondale – Garmin for his entire career, spending eight years there. He’s now pressed the reset button and Kelly likens that to his own move to teams such as Kas and PDM.

“I felt when I made the change, when there was a new directeur sportif and a new manager there, I think they can motivate you a bit more,” he said.

“The one concern I would have with Dan is the crashing and all of that. Sometimes it can have an effect on a rider. Hopefully he can get over that and he doesn’t have a problem that continues.”

Editors Picks