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Fabian Cancellara on life in retirement: 'I’m busier now than when I raced'

Joe Robinson
1 Nov 2019

The seven-time Monument winner on why he doesn't miss racing and how life has become busier off the bike

Fabian Cancellara is now three years into retirement. Hanging up his wheels having won gold in the individual time trial at the Rio Olympics, the Swiss brought to a close one of the most dominant careers this century.

Four time trial World Championships, three-time Tour of Flanders winner, three-time Paris-Roubaix victor, a Milan-San Remo and two Olympic gold medals, too.

With a palmares like that, you could probably get away with not having to work another day in your life after retirement.

But for the 38-year-old, his life after bike racing seems to just be getting started. If he is not running his Chasing Cancellara sportive series, he is helping brands like Suplest, BMC and Gore develop products.

Cyclist caught up with Cancellara at Sigma Sports in South West London to talk keeping busy in retirement, losing his competitive edge and whether there would ever be another rivalry to match Cancellara vs Boonen.

Cyclist: How are you finding retirement?

Fabian Cancellara: It’s been three years now and it is so busy. There is no break. What is difficult is knowing what options or possibilities to follow and finding a focus on something specific.

It’s very similar to when you first start as a pro rider, trying to find what discipline you should focus on whether it's time trialling or Classics or being a sprinter.

I’m not one who will go into work away from cycling. I couldn’t be one of these guys who go to work in a bank, real estate, architecture, stuff like that.

Instead, I started the racing series Chasing Cancellara, I work with my partners like Gore and Suplest and it’s working for me at the moment.

I’m also adjusting to owning something. I was always part of a team as a pro and now I own my company and I’m in charge. It’s challenging myself in a different way now. I’m no longer a pro having to ride 30,000km a year, racing 90 days, travelling around the world having to perform. Instead, I now have different expectations to meet.

Cyc: Did you always think you’d stay in cycling after retirement?

FC: I call it the two-wheeled world. Cycling is much narrower whereas two-wheel encompasses kit, shoes, bikes, sportives but yes, it made sense for me to stay within the same world.

I admire people like Simon Gerrans chasing new challenges but it’s not for me. I never expected to just stay within the world of cycling but it is working nicely for me. I could never work in an office 9-5 however, that’s not in my DNA. For someone like Simon, it may suit but not me.

I have learnt that office work is necessary, however, for what I do now but I still have the freedom to switch and just go and ride my bike for work too.

My hours are actually pretty crazy too. I realised I’m busier now and I have less time for me. The only time I get to myself is when I’m riding the bike. I think I could take on the challenge of television at some point too but it’s not on the horizon for me just yet.

Ultimately, I don’t need to work if I didn’t want to, but I’m still young, I’m still hungry and I’m motivated to go after new challenges.

Cyc: Are you still in love with cycling and do you still enjoy riding your bike?

FC: For sure, I still have a passion for riding my bike. It’s why I established Chasing Cancellara so I can still enjoy riding my bike. I have also started helping and supporting young Swiss rider Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) too. He lives like 200m from me at home in Bern.

And now, not being a pro, I can just enjoy riding in the good weather and I no longer have to force myself out when it's cold and rainy.

Cyc: Do you miss racing?

FC: Absolutely not! I have Chasing Cancellara so that I can sometimes experience that bit of pain on the bike and the fun. I’m not missing the competitive edge though. That’s gone for me on the bike

Cyc: Why are riders no longer so dominant in the Spring Classics?

FC: Well, when I rode there was me and Tom Boonen. Now, there are many more riders competing for the same races at a similar level, there's less dominance and riders are not made into icons as often, put on pedestals.

Although, I must say I’m really impressed with how the young riders are going currently, riders like Mathieu van der Poel and Egan Bernal. It’s a show of how mature riders are now when coming into the professional peloton from an early age.

It’s not a sign of the older riders getting worse but just the young guys are dynamic and ready to win from year one. They seem fresher, too.

The big thing going forward for guys like Van der Poel, you have to watch how they deal with the pressure. Riders these days earn more money, have more expectations, have more press requests, a bigger spotlight and you have to see how they manage to deal with it.

The key is that if they are surrounded by good people, then it’ll be fine and they will continue to improve.

Cyc: Is the time trial a dying art?

FC: It’s not a dying art but is definitely changing. Firstly, the parcours are getting hillier for time trials and secondly, it’s actually rare that you get somebody who can win everything from a prologue to a hilly, 40km TT like I could.

The General Classification guys now - Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas - can ride really well in the TT though, even Bernal can race well against the clock.

And you do still have a few who are pure time trial specialists like Victor Campaenearts, but it does seem like there are fewer guys focusing on this one aspect of racing.

Cyc: Will we ever see a Monuments rivalry like you and Tom Boonen again?

FC: It would be good if there was a rivalry between two top guys but then again it’s also good that we have so many different guys winning on the Cobbles because it’s much more exciting.

Look at football at the moment, the top guys are always either Christiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi and it’s a little bit predictable and boring.

There are chances for young riders in Spring Classics at the moment because there aren’t two guys dominating like me and Tom which is good for the sport and makes things interesting to watch.

However, if Remco Evenepoel keeps progressing like he is, he should start dominating the Tour de France very soon.

Cyc: Who was your toughest competitor?

FC: I honestly cannot choose one because each of those guys; Tony Martin, Tom Boonen and Bradley Wiggins, could all present me with different challenges and did throughout my whole career.

The Cancellara limited edition Suplest road shoes are now also available for pre-order here

Images: Jake Armstrong/Sigma Sports/Well Offside

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