Commentary: Two words, Fabian: semi-retirement

by Dan Schmalz


The Spring Swing of the Fabian Cancellara Farewell Tour is upon us, and with his second-place finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen to Peter Sagan — prompting the saddest post-race beer swig of all time — it’s turning out to be a bit of a melancholy affair.

But there doesn’t have to be a big Spartacus-shaped hole in the peloton — there is a solution to this sojourn of cycling sadness, and the solution is two words, separated by an all-important hyphen: semi-retirement.

When Pete Rose wasn’t busy hustling, betting on baseball, or placing a bowl over his head for his monthly haircut, he spent the final days of his career acting as both player and manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

If he wasn’t feeling up to the task on a certain day, he could take himself out of the game and rest, inserting himself into the lineup whenever he felt his hustle was back up to acceptable standards.

You see, Rose knew what any older athlete or alumni who’s tried to reprise his old undergraduate role as “Frank the Tank” with a bunch of college students knows — that you can keep up with the younger guys for a night, you just need much longer to rebound from the hangover.

Hell, even that guy from Texas couldn’t resist making another run at the sport after taking a few years off, but he may not be a great example — for anyone… doing anything. Not even for Pete Rose.

A better example for Cancellara’s future may be Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, the grizzled French pro who won two editions of Paris-Roubaix in 1992 and 1993, at the ages of 37 and 38.

Duclos-Lassalle’s secret? He raced for just three or four months a year, but he only really tried to win at Roubaix. He would start his season at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or a few weeks before, get up to speed and then hit Roubaix with all he had.

He would then take a month off to do Duclos-Lassalle-type things, like gnawing stones into gravel, strapping himself to a rock on the Brittany coast and daring the sea to give him its worst, or eating pâté (he was French, after all.) And then he’d do the Tour and more or less call it a season.

In 1992, the year he first won Roubaix, Duclos-Lassalle had a total of 18 race days. In 1993, the year of his second Roubaix win, he also had 18 race days. In 1994, he finished seventh at Roubaix with only four days of racing.

Why can’t Cancellara do this also? With Fabs doing a Duclos-Lassalle race schedule, it’s a win-win proposition all around.

Fans get to see Fabs at his best, boldly attacking the Spring Classics in the hopes of crafting a long, daring breakaway victory, shaking his hair into perfect alignment before putting on his helmet, or desperately wagging his elbow at this breakaway compatriots, as they slyly try to ride his coattails to victory.

Cancellara only has to train hard for about three or four months a year, leaving the rest of the year free for grooming or the development of a weapons-grade body spray for the Swiss military. Or promoting his line of $1000 amulets. It’s a perfect compromise.

Cancellara is 35 years old, three years younger than Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle was when he won his final Paris-Roubaix. And if he follows the Duclos-Lassalle annual plan, he can be a legitimate factor in the Spring Classics for at least another five years.

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