I was going to write a Spring Classics preview but let’s be honest, it’s all about Cancellara. He is the best rider by far, and can win every weekend of April: Flanders, Roubaix, Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Things to consider:
- Unlike the races so far, his only “weak spot”, the sprint, won’t hinder him as much in these races. By the way, he’s actually quite a good sprinter, note also his fourth place finish at the World Championship sprintfest last year. And at the end of a race as hard as those four above, he’s a force to be reckoned with when sprinting against anyone.
- The courses suit his strengths much better. If he is “on”, I don’t see people stay with him on the repeated climbs of the final stretch of Flanders, also not the much touted Boonen. If you’re in the same group as Cancellara with 30k to go, you will lose. He will take 10m on the climb, and good luck closing that gap. Same story in Roubaix, just replace “climb” with “pavé”. Last year Hushovd could match him stroke by stroke, but who can this year?
- Many people may not associate Cancellara with Amstel or LBL, but they should. Amstel is the perfect race for him to jump on the second-to-last climb, and if he starts the Cauberg with 10-15s, you won’t see him back until the podium. Then finally we have LBL, which may suit his strengths even better. LBL is a unique race in that up to a dozen riders may have a shot at the win with 2k to go, nothing separating them for the first 250k+ of the race. But then in that last stretch uphill, which isn’t even an official climb but more a false flat, the lights go out for almost everybody. That long drag up is ideal for Cancellara, and I don’t know who could follow him.
- Of course, in the past it has been difficult for Cancellara to remain in top form past Roubaix, but he seems leaner this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if Amstel and LBL are real goals for him this year. There is no doubt he wants to win all the Classics at some point in his career, he’s got the first 3 of the year in his pocket already, so it’s slowly time to look at number 4 and 5.
- In my eyes, the best chance to beat Cancellara is with long breakaways full of 2nd and 3rd team leaders. Leopard doesn’t have any of those, it’s Cancellara or nothing. If a group of 20 riders takes 10 minutes and the team leaders are willing to give the glory to their luitenants, I’m not sure how Cancellara would get back into the race. Luckily for him, Boonen c.s. seem pretty confident in their own form, which should be a boon for Cancellara. If they really feared him, like many did last year, they would concentrate on how to beat him (let’s not get into the discussion about “negative racing again”). But this year, many riders (mistakenly) feel they are on equal footing, just what Cancellara needs. All the other teams will set up the race as a battle between the team leaders, and then he can dominate.
In the end, the only man capable of Cancellara may be Cancellara himself, like he did last year at Flanders or if he loses interest before Amstel and LBL. Let the races begin!