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Q&A: Watching Paris-Roubaix with Fabian Cancellara

James Stout
11 Apr 2018

We sat down to talk retirement with three-time Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara, while watching the 2018 Paris-Roubaix

Fabian Cancellara seems to be enjoying his retirement. Sitting in a comfy chair in Park City, Utah, he joined us for a viewing of Paris-Roubaix that was decidedly less strenuous than any of the three times he won the race. In between riding his E-Bike to the shops and lounging in his sauna surrounded by his trophies, Cancellara found a few minutes to catch up with Cyclist and discuss the race, the classics and the future of the sport.

Cyclist: It must have been odd for you to be watching the race from so far away, do you have any favourite memories or sectors?

Fabian Cancellara: My favourite part was always the finish line! The worst part was the start, because you know you have a long day ahead of you.

But I could ride the course blind. Just now I was noticing in one of the sectors that they’re entering it from the right now, they used to come in from the left. I know it blind.

Cyc: Now that you’re retired, do you think there will ever be a rivalry like the one between yourself and Boonen?

FB: Why a rivalry? We were part of a huge chapter of the history of cycling. Now there are young bloods, young fresh guys now and things will be different for sure.

Cyc: Peter Sagan won today. What do you make of his approach to the sport?

FB: I have to say 'chapeau'. It was all hard work to make that move, but he needed to do it for himself. He was good at saving energy.

He attacked once and then he was away alone, and because the race is so long everyone is going at their speed and it’s hard to catch someone even if they are alone because you are so tired.

When you come to the finish with a guy who has 210km in the break in his legs, your chances are good. But you always still have to win.

He won today attacking from a similar place to one of my victories (in 2010). For me the first victory was the most beautiful, because only I knew it was possible.

I heard that recently he said he was racing for the show. If we just race for the show, we’re all clowns. It’s not right. You have to race to win the f***ing bike race.

Otherwise stay at home and have a nice barbeque with your friends. Instead of working on your image, you should work on winning bike races. If you win races you get exposure. Sometimes the Italians they work on the image before.

Also, these flames – they really upgraded the podium.

[Cyclist would like to note that Cancellara thinks Sagan’s new Sagan Collection frames are “ugly”]

Cyc: Quick-Step Floors have set themselves up as the Classics super team, but they weren't in the most important move today. What do you make of their tactics?

FB: They played it well but they counted too much on their numbers too early. There was a time today when I thought 'what are they doing?'

Gilbert was solo but too early, he was wasting his energy. Then Stybar was solo. And Sagan was sitting there, like he was sniggering and thinking 'oh you all attack now and I will attack later.'

When you have five guys in the team at the front, you have to chase, if you have just one guy you can wait. So it is also a lot of pressure on them to have so many riders in the front.

With Bora-Hansgrohe they are so much for Peter. Remember in Paris-Roubaix, there was a situation where everyone was watching me and I said to Stuey (O’Grady) 'go! Just go'. And the other riders were looking at me and in the end we won.

The team wants to win but even I want to win. Sometimes you have to be a team player.

Cyc: We’ve seen a number of new riders emerge as contenders in the Classics this year. What is your advice for Silvan Diller, Mads Pedersen and the others?

FB: Pedersen is one of the next winners of Flanders. He will be in Trek-Segafredo for another three years and I think this is good.

There is a lot that can change in two years, still a long way to go. There is a lot of pressure that comes with this position, this changes you.

With Mads I speak to the manager and said they should take care of him with the press. The press can destroy a rider, but it’s part of the job.

This pressure, it will either make you stronger or make you weaker. If it makes you weaker, then you just weren’t made for that situation.

Diller, I was texting him this week. He asked me about tyre pressure. I said to him 'I’m sorry but I have never ridden your tyres'.

He actually had an operation recently, because he broke a finger, and he was so sad thinking that he would miss out on these big races.

Cyc: Taylor Phinney popped up on the screen (this was still 70km from the end of the race)

FB: There you have Taylor Phinney. He loves his gravel roads and fancy stuff. I’m sorry but it’s true eh. The move to BMC was not the best one for him. I don’t know if it was money driven but it was not the best move for him at that time.

When I meet with the young riders I say imagine if you get offered a million dollars and another team offers you half a million, what are you going to do? The best team is the best option, but it’s hard to say no.

I think maybe he was spoiled too much as a young rider. If you get all the toys, you’re kids are going to be spoiled. That’s why I think when you’re young, less is more.

When you get everything at 22-years what do you want to get at 28? They clean your ass?

Cyc: What do you make of these accusations that motor doping has been part of the peloton?

FB: Look, I just don’t think it’s possible. Look at these bikes here, if you see the bikes of today [he gestured at a fleet of review bikes we were about to ride] where do you see space for an engine in this Factor bike? It’s cheating in the end.

I have an E-Bike at home. It’s actually fantastic. I use it for going to the supermarket, to meetings that kind of thing. It’s a common vehicle, we have e-cars so why not e bikes? But still when I ride my bike it’s because I want that. When I ride my race bike, I don’t want some help.

Cyc: Do you still ride your race bike much?

FB: Yes, not these last few weeks because I have been sick but I try to go out for 2 or 3 hours a few times a week. I still have some challenges and for my health it’s important as well.

It’s normal for me and I can keep some form for some triathlons and my Chasing Cancellara events.

Cyc: We’ve noticed your events, and that you maintain quite a few sponsors in your retirement. Do you need to work for the money?

FB: For me, it is not about the money. It’s not about needing to work so much as wanting to do something. Even when I was racing if I only wanted to win for the money that would not have been enough to win.

But I am too young to do nothing, and to sit on the sofa all day would be boring. For me now, it is about finding new ambitions and goals and seeing where else I can succeed and what else I can be good at.

I reached everything, what I was doing was a job, but it was one I could combine with my passion. It’s interesting for me now to see what else I like and can be good at.

Since 2000 I was dedicated to cycling, and I was successful, but now I can try new things as a businessman.

I can also give something back, I like to help with the design of the products, like this jacket so that other people can enjoy cycling.

When they first showed me this jacket a year ago I said 'you must go to market right now, this is so much better for people who ride in the rain.'

With the professionals, it’s another thing but for the normal riders, this stuff, it makes riding much nicer.

Cyc: What do you make of the growth of gravel events? Will they become the new Classics?

FB: It depends on the country and the philosophy of the country. When I see how big the gravel events are in the States, I think it’s something to do with the roads.

Notice that there’s a bigger focus on nature here. If you ride a bike on a big road here it’s not the same as being out in nature. A lot of people use the bike for lifestyle here.

They watch the races but they aren’t performance cyclists, they go for a coffee ride instead of racing!

Cyc: Do you think the sport does enough to prepare riders for retirement?

FB: It’s a good question. I mean, what is enough? In cycling there is a huge gap from the best to the lowest. Also, with prize money.

If you play a week of tennis or a few days of golf, you’ll get a lot of money and you won’t have to split it with your teammates. But this is a circumstance that you know going into the sport, you don’t win the races for money.

For some guys the pay is so little, for others it is so much more, even when they do the same race. When the differences are this big, it’s hard to make a plan for everyone.

Cyc: You’ve won Paris-Roubaix three times, where do you keep your cobbles?

FB: Ha! That’s a good question actually. I keep them in my sauna, in the window there all in a line.

Cyc: You’re a man who enjoys the finer things in life. How should a cyclist choose a watch?

FB: Haha IWC always. Today there is nothing that is the best, it’s all down to taste. It’s like the bike industry, there really aren’t bad bikes any longer.

For a man, I think that alongside a bike a watch is the only thing that a man can afford a bit of luxury, something you like. For me, this is an IWC watch but it might be something else for another person.

It’s really about finding something that fits your personality, and how much you can spend.

Cyc: Where did Spartacus come from?

FB: It came from an Italian writer in 2004. He said, 'you look like a Roman, you look strong, you take care of the team.'

I mean, when you watch the movie you see he’s really into taking care of the people. It fitted well to me. It’s not invented by myself, it somehow came by them and I kept it.