Fabian Cancellara has a lucky number: seven. It just so happens that seven is the number of Monument victories that the Swiss powerhouse ended his career with.
Three at Paris-Roubaix (2013, 2010 and 2006), three at the Tour of Flanders (2014, 2013, 2010), and one Milan-Sanremo (2006).
Speaking at the 2017 Rouleur Classic, the retired 36-year-old – who is now working with clothing brand Gore – explained his enduring passion for the Monuments and his enduring love affair with one race in particular: the Tour of Flanders.
You’ve won seven Monuments in total; how do you look back on those victories and what is your favourite one?
That’s a problem. They were all awesome. I think 2013 Flanders stands out the most. I have different emotions for all of them when I look back but at the end, seven is a nice number, it’s my lucky number which is maybe why I’ve only won seven. We can also mention Roubaix 2011 when I had a hard fight with Thor Hushovd and Johan Vansummeren, but that’s how bike races are: you win, you lose.
What is it about the Monuments that makes them so demanding?
It’s six or seven hours, that is all. You work a few months for that. A small puncture in a one day race could be game over. That’s not fun. Of course it’s the same in the stage race, but if you lose a minute you can catch it back. It’s a different concentration you have in a one-day race too, you always take care of so many things. And it’s always hard.
What is it about Flanders that makes it a special race?
It’s different to the others. Flanders has not only flat cobbles but cobbled hills, hills without cobbles, small roads, big roads. The whole country lives for this one day in Belgium, the whole country stands still. It’s another spirit.
Roubaix equipment-wise is special but it’s just one day and that’s it. If you go to the region of Roubaix, you find farm roads, whereas in Flanders you can find all these historic, meaningful climbs.
It took me a few years to get the first win in Flanders. In Roubaix I won in 2006, in Flanders 2010. It’s a four-year difference. But once I won it I was always thereabouts and I got used to it, I had the experience.
What do you remember about that first win in particular?
It was a day of perfection. I believe in perfection; for me all the wins are like a perfect book and if I had a library I’d take each little book out and have its own little story that starts in the morning and ends late in the evening, or the following morning, because you celebrate if you win.
Can you explain what it is like to race in those Flemish crowds?
Of course it’s a lot of concentration you need to have. You need adaptation and experience to handle the pressure and that situation. If you play in a 100,000 people stadium it’s different to a 50,000 stadium, and if you can’t handle that it takes you down. It’s the same with the Olympics, if you never been you don’t know what to expect but it’s so big.
Do you really notice the fans when you’re racing the Tour of Flanders?
You notice, I mean it’s special in a country where you’re not at home to have such phenomenal fans. They treated me like I was one of them. In 2010 I wasn’t one of them but after 2010 everything changed. I felt proud. It’s so special to be treated like that in a country that’s not your home, they accepted me the way I was, the way I am.
Plus you have Belgian culture. Like, it’s not only fish and chips here in England. It’s not only frites and beers in Belgium, it’s about how the people are, how everything is, and in the end cycling is their life. So I could give to those people’s lives something from my side, in my way.