In the spririt of the 12 days of Christmas, we took our usual swipe at something slightly different – the 12 Top Rides of the 2009 Racing Season. It took us about 5 seconds to see this title in itself was a tad limiting, so we expanded our minds (which had nothing to do with cleaning chains in the unventilated work shop) to recognize 12 rides, or riders, who stood out in 2009 with jaw-droping, or head scratching achievements on the bike. May we humbly present, for your consideration…
Fabian Cancellara has been making cycling headlines for a long time now; it was 1988 when he pulled on his first rainbow jersey – in the junior time trial at Valkenburg, with a certain Filippo Pozzato in third place.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. 10 years on and Cancellara looks pretty similar…so does Pozzato.
The man from Bern successfully defended the title in Lisbon the following year and nearly made it a triple title in Plouay for 2000 when only a rampant Evgueni Petrov could beat him in the U23 Worlds TT – Petrov took the road race too.
Quickstep had taken him on as a stagiaire for the end of 2000 and he would stay there through 2001 and 2002.
A solo stage win at the ZLM Tour was an early feather in Cancellara’s cap.
The first year of his tenure saw him win the Tour of Rhodes and come second in his speciality – the time trial – in the GP Merckx, Duo Normand and Swiss Championship. Jean Nuttli won that one; a remarkable story in itself, Nuttli weighed 120 kilograms at one time, but got his weight down to 68 kilograms to have a fair pro career.
A young Fabian Cancellara riding for Italian superteam, Mapei.
In 2002 there were nine wins, including the GP Merckx and the Swiss title; and over the winter he changed allegiances to another Italian ‘super team’ – Fasso Bortolo.
With Laszlo Bodrogi en route to the win at the GP Eddy Merckx in 2002.
The 2003 season gave glimpses of what was to come – with prologue wins in the Tours of Romandie and Switzerland. The following year, wins in stages of the Tours of Qatar, Luxembourg and the Catalan Week were a prelude to his greatest triumph to date – the prologue in the Tour de France.
The momentum that had built so well seemed to stall for 2005 and despite stage wins in Paris- Nice, the Catalan Week and the Tour of Luxembourg, it was not, perhaps the season we all expected.
Cancellara’s win in the 2004 Tour de France Prologue in Liege was nothing short of stunning.
When the news came that Cancellara had signed for Bjarne Riis, those in the know pencilled his name in as world time trial champion – the ‘techno-perfectionist’ regime at CSC seemed made for the big Suisse.
And so it proved; with the 2006 Paris – Roubaix and the Worlds TT as the high lights of a strong year in the red and white of Riis’s squadra.
2006: Cancellara solo into Roubaix for his first Paris-Roubaix title.
The march continued in 2007 – stages in the Tour of Switzerland and yet another Swiss time trial title were the prologue to the big prologue in London – that of le Tour – and he pulled on the yellow jersey again; under scoring his talent with a stage three exhibition of power to block out the sprinters. Another world title against the clock sealed a stunning year.
To this day, Cancellara’s final kilometer attack to take Stage 3 in the 2007 Tour de France stands as one of the most spectacular sprints ever.
He was pretty excited about the fruits of his last minute endeavour.
Olympic year was even more stunning; the Tour of California prologue, the Eroica, Tirreno, the Primavera, stages in the Tours of Luxembourg and Switzerland. There was an air of inevitability when the Olympic gold was placed around his neck; and he grabbed the road race bronze too (now silver thanks to Rebellin’s ousting) – just to make the long journey worthwhile.
Could it have been anyone else?
The spring of 2009 was a quiet time for Fab fans; there was the prologue in the Tour of California, then illness.
Cancellara’s Spring Campaign was ruined by sickness, and in this case, a broken chain on the Koppenberg.
They needn’t have worried – stage wins plus the overall points and GC title in his home tour announced his return. Then, he left the Swiss time trial title to Rubens Bertogliati, but grabbed the road race – he likes those nice red Assos jerseys.
The Spring was forgotten as the season pushed into Summer. Yellow Jerseys at the Tours de Suisse and France made for a bright early summer. His time in the lead at the Vuelta made for a golden bridge to Fall.
The Tour was a triumph, dispelling any notion that the tough climb through the Principality would give lighter riders an advantage; he dominated the prologue then held the jersey far longer than logic would dictate.
Cancellara’s ride in the 2009 TTT at the Tour de France was a rampant display of huge power. He literally dragged his SaxoBank team along to a great finish.
The shine on his palmares became even more blinding as he took the prologue and time trial in the Vuelta.
With the World title in his home country, we expected something special – we got it, with a hands high victory salute as he gave one of the finest displays of riding against the watch that this writer has ever seen.
The Worlds Time Trial? It was the culmination of everything we’ve ever seen from Cancellara. It was yet another superlative, it was incredible.
Catching silver medallist Larsson en route to the gold he demonstrated that he can climb with men who have much less body weight, but on the flat, and particularly on the descents, his mass, aero position and fearless bike handling make him the undisputed chrono king of the world.
The Road Race didn’t yield a medal, but we saw what Cancellara was capable of – and the bar was pushed ever higher.
The Fab Riis partnership seems set to dominate the ‘alone and unpaced’ world for a while to come – the story goes that ‘a certain Russian team’ offered to pay the Swiss, ‘whatever he wanted’ to enjoy the view from the Volga.
What’s next for Cancellara?
Fab declined, and we can only imagine what the handsome, smiling man who only wears red, white and rainbows will serve us up for 2010.