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Fabian Cancellara talks Olympic gold, Tour de France, doping in cycling, Roger Federer and his projects in the UAE

The Swiss, who enjoyed a hugely decorated career including winning two gold medals at the Olympics and eight stages at the Tour de France, gives a wide-ranging interview to Sport360

Matt Jones 2018/03/07

When you consider what Fabian Cancellara achieved in his career, being named after a legendary gladiator is fitting.

In the cycling arena, Spartacus was a true god during a decorated 16-year career. He may be from neutral Switzerland, but Cancellara left very little unconquered when he exited the sport in 2016.

Among his conquests include eight stage wins at the Tour de France, four at the Vuelta a Espana as well as numerous victories which saw Spartacus become a true king of the Classics.

Cancellara has tasted success at Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix (three wins), Tour of Flanders (three wins) and Strade Bianche (three wins).

In addition he was also world time trial champion on four occasions (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010) and an Olympic time trial champion twice.

And of all the glories this gladiator garnered throughout a glittering career, it is gold in Rio which shines brighter than everything else.

Cancellara won eight stages at the Tour de France.

“It’s not a tricky one. Sometimes it’s hard because I achieved a lot but I think it’s the Rio Olympics that is at the top because I ended my career at the Olympics, on the high,” IWC Schaffhausen ambassador Cancellara told Sport360 at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco last month.

“And that was my dream, to finish the sport on a high. There’s no better place when it comes to that day. It’s almost two years ago and it’s still the most amazing win. It’s one day that closes 16 years.”

The 2018 UCI WorldTour season is five races old with the European season having got underway with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February and Strade Bianche – one of Cancellara’s triumphs – recently completed, while the prestigious Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico (Cancellara was a winner here in 2008) are ongoing.

The opening Grand Tour (one of cycling’s big three) race of the season is two months away, with the Giro d’Italia beginning on May 5. It is the only one – the other two are the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana – where Cancellara did not taste victory.

But the battle for the Maglia Rosa is the toughest of all events, according to the 36-year-old Swiss.

“The Tour (Tour de France) is the top but it’s because of the pressure. But road wise and in terms of parcours (stage route) it is the Giro d’Italia that is the toughest event,” added Cancellara after leading the Laureus Sport For Good Ride with IWC Schaffhausen along the French-Italian Riviera.

“It (Tour de France) is the toughest because of the stress, it’s so big and so much people, expectation, media, pressure.”

Asked to look ahead to this year’s Tour – where he wore the famous yellow jersey after winning stages in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 – Cancellara believes reigning champion Chris Froome will be among the favourites, depending on the outcome of the investigation over his doping case.

If he’s allowed to defend his title, Cancellara believes Froome will challenge, as well as Bahrain-Merida rider Vincenzo Nibali and Team Sunweb’s reigning Giro champion Tom Dumoulin.

Christoph Grainger-Herr, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, and Cancellara leading the Laureus Sport For Good Ride

“Honestly I haven’t really looked at the parcours because I don’t have so much time these days,” added Cancellera when asked who he would pick to win.

“And at the Tour there was always different kind of riders. As soon as it comes I was always looking for it but whenever you come to the Grand Tour riders, the GC always looks the same.

“There’s always the same names standing out. Nibali, Dumoulin. Then there’s the unclear situation with Froome. It’s kind of early.”

A urine test in the wake of last year’s Vuelta showed double the permitted level of the asthma medication Salbutamol in Froome’s system, although the 32-year-old Briton and Team Sky insist he did not break any anti-doping rules.

Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme said this week he does not want Froome at this year’s race while his doping case is unresolved, labelling the case’s delay “grotesque”.

And even though Froome and Sky are currently in the spotlight under the added heat of a parliamentary select committee report released this week which concluded 2012 Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins had taken performance-enhancing drugs under the guise of legitimately treating a medical condition, Cancellara feels cycling authorities are making progress with drug cheats.

“Cycling has made progress for the goodness of the sport,” said the former Leopard Trek rider.

“It happens a lot but also cycling is working a lot. If you work a lot against it you will see results. If you do nothing you see nothing. It’s like speed cameras. If you didn’t have any you wouldn’t know anyone is speeding.

The Swiss won the Tour of Flanders three times, including here in 2014.

“But you will always find people cheat or cannot stand to lose. It is difficult sometimes to know what are the rules because the substances are always changing.

“The substance with Froome now is really a strange one. Most important is that they solve it immediately because there is no time, they need to cut it as early as possible to say whether he can ride or not.”

As Cancellara finished his career on top with time trial gold in Brazil, it is for that reason, not to mention his other numerous successes, why he probably doesn’t miss it.

“No, I don’t miss it. I’m fine, I’m happy. I’m busy and I like to be busy,” added the man who started his professional career with Mapei-Quick-Step in 2001.

Among the things keeping Cancellara busy are various initiatives in the UAE. One is ‘Chasing Cancellara’, a unique event taking place at Yas Marina Circuit as part of TrainYAS on Tuesday, March 20.

Teams of two will complete two laps of the Formula One track in the fastest time possible with the aim of beating the time set by the four-time world champion. The fastest three teams, plus category winners in qualification, will then advance to the final.

Another link the decorated Cancellara enjoys with the Emirates is the TriStar Triathlons series he has set up and which takes place in Fujairah on March 23.

Although essentially a triathlon, it is more bike-centric with an emphasis on a longer, more challenging bike ride with shorter swim and running legs.

“I’m involved with these two sports events, at Yas Marina Circuit and in Fujairah, we’re focusing a lot on the Middle East,” said the Wohlen bei Bern native.

“I want to bring new platforms, new movements, with all kinds of people, not just cyclists, for health and fitness. TriStar Triathlon is maybe a platform for the future when you want to do an Ironman or a triathlon.

“Fujairah has the facilities but roads too, and uphills, which somewhere like Dubai doesn’t have. In Fujairah we have a lot of international people there riding bikes and doing triathlons.

“A 300m swim, 30km bike, 3km run, pre-Ironman or half Ironman. I like this. I want people to think they did something great.

“There is a request for more sports events for the masses and not only the professional level. I don’t want people to be afraid of doing these sorts of things.”

Another Swiss sportsman who has cleaned up in his chosen profession is Roger Federer. The 20-time Grand Slam champion is five months younger than compatriot Cancellara but is still going strong at the very top of tennis – having won Wimbledon last year and both the 2017 and 2018 Australian Open.

These titles have seen Federer rise back to the number one ranking – becoming the oldest male player to do so. And for all he’s achieved in the sport, Cancellara was full of praise for his fellow countryman.

Roger Federer won his 20th Grand Slam title in Melbourne in January.

“He’s humble perfection,” Cancellara said.

“It’s crazy the success at his age but he’s so normal. He’s just a role model in all directions. For what he’s achieved, he’s still playing like a kid, like it’s his first day.

“I don’t know how many years he has left. Maybe he stops in his home garden, Wimbledon (where eight of his major titles have been won). It will not make sense for him to play five or 10 more years. But he can still go for two years. He could still win other grand slams for sure.”

IWC Schaffhausen presented the Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation” at the occasion of the 2018 Laureus World Sport Awards in Monaco. The timepiece with a case made of black ceramic, a blue dial and a special engraving on the case back is the 12th special edition launched by IWC as part of its commitment to support Laureus Sport for Good.

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Chris Froome Fabian Cancellara Giro d’Italia Milan-San Remo Paris-Roubaix Rio Olympics Strade Bianche Tour de France Tour of Flanders Vuelta a Espana