Olympic time trial champion Fabian Cancellara’s greatest hits

Swiss superstar signs off in style with Rio 2016 Olympic time trial victory

Fabian Cancellara stormed to Rio 2016 time trial gold to crown his final year as a professional cyclist with a reminder of the ability which has made him such a revered cyclist.

The Swiss ace, Spartacus to his legions of fans, was not fancied as a gold medal contender on the hilly course but paced his ride to perfection – showing how he became a four-time world champion against the clock at the height of his career.

Fabian Cancellara can not hide his delight after winning gold for the second time (pic: Sirotti)

It was just the latest stunning display of power and cycling nouse in the 35-year-old’s glittering career, which has also included Grand Tour stage wins and victories at the biggest one-day Classics.

After Cancellara wound the clock back to win gold in Rio, we’ve taken a closer look at the other highlights of his stunning career.

1998 – A star in the making

Fabian Cancellara was aged just 17 when he first gave an indication of his blossoming talents on the world stage.

Fabian Cancellara was twice crowned junior world time trial champion before turning pro (pic: Sirotti)

The Swiss ace – ‘head and shoulders above everyone else in the time trials’ according to the national junior team coach – beaten Germany’s Torsten Hiekmann, winner the previous year ahead of Michael Rogers, and Pippo Pozzato to pull on his first rainbow jersey in Valkenburg.

Twelve months later, in Verona, he repeated the trick – again winning the junior time trial, this time ahead of Rouslan Kaioumov and Christian Knees.

2004 – the first yellow jersey

Having proved himself against the clock at junior level, Cancellara stepped up to pro ranks in 2000 when he signed for Mapei-QuickStep when still a teenager.

Cancellara pulled on the Tour de France’s yellow jersey for the first time in 2004 (pic: Sirotti)

He won his first national time trial title in 2002, and racked up the victories against the clock in his first few seasons – also winning prologues in his home country at the Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse.

The Swiss rider was also showing the first signs of his Classics ability – finishing fourth at Paris-Roubaix in 2004, the one rider in the race-winning move not to make the podium.

His form earned a Tour de France debut, and he announced himself at the Tour in style – winning the prologue of the 2004 race in Liege to pull on the yellow jersey for the first time.

Cancellara’s first stint in the yellow jersey lasted just one day, but he will sign off his career with the record of the most yellow jerseys by any non-Tour winner.

2006 – Classics success

Following his Paris-Roubaix near-miss in 2004, more top-ten finishes followed at the Classics before Cancellara went even better in 2006.

Cancellara won seven Monument Classics during his illustrious career (pic: Sirotti)

A fixture at the front of the race at Paris-Roubaix, the Swiss rider attacked on the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector of cobbles and could not be caught.

Riding solo into the Roubaix velodrome, Cancellara powered to what would prove to be the first of many Monument victories.

2008 – Milan-San Remo

Fabian Cancellara’s 2008 season was a season of two halves – both packed with as much success as the other.

Cancellara has ignited plenty of races throughout his career, making him a fans’ favourite and earning him several victories – like Milan-San Remo in 2008 (pic: Sirotti)

A time trial victory in stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico helped him to overall victory and proved the perfect build-up for Milan-San Remo just days later.

A modified finish to the race, due to roadworks on the Via Roma, was supposed to make the race easier for the sprinters but Cancellara had other ideas.

Bursting clear of the sprinting favourites just a few kilometres out from the finish line, the Swiss rider put his time trial prowess to good use to stay clear and become the first of his countrymen to win the race.

The victory was reflective of what made Cancellara so popular – his willingness to attack in the finale of the big races, and animate proceedings rather than wait for a sprint.

2008 – Olympic champion

By now already a two-time world champion against the clock, the second half of Cancellara’s season was all about the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Cancellara won time trial gold and road race silver (upgraded from bronze) at Beijing 2008 (pic: Sirotti)

He prepared for the Games with a prologue victory at the Tour de Luxembourg, before breaking away to win two stages at the Tour de Suisse and top the points classification.

The Tour de France followed, where Cancellara rode for eventual winner Carlos Sastre, before the Swiss rider headed for China.

And in Beijing, Cancellara proved one of the biggest stars of the men’s road events – first bridging across to the lead group to claim a bronze medal in the road race (later upgraded to silver after Davide Rebellin failed a doping test), before storming to victory in the time trial.

Cancellara was more than 30 seconds faster than second-placed Gustav Larsson of Sweden to claim the gold medal.

2009 – Crowd pleaser

Cancellara won his first senior world title in the time trial in Salzburg in 2006, and followed it up with his second in Stuttgart the following year.

Cancellara on his way to winning a third world time trial champion in front of his home fans (pic: Sirotti)

Having decided not to defend his title in 2008, mentally fatigued by his efforts through the year, Cancellara returned in his home country the following year.

Racing in Mendrisio, Cancellara returned to the top step of the podium – beating Olympic silver medallist Larsson and rising star Tony Martin to pull on the rainbow bands once again.

The Swiss ace then finished fifth in the road race, narrowly missing out on his stated target of a double victory, but he was to win the world time trial again the following year.

That victory was his last, but he has added two more bronze medals to his palmares since, in 2011 and 2013.

2010 – King of the cobbles

Perhaps one of the most iconic years of Cancellara’s glistening career was the first after the turn of the decade.

Cancellara, in the jersey of Swiss champion, powers away from Tom Boonen on his way to Tour of Flanders success (pic: Sirotti)

In the jersey of Swiss national champion, Cancellara did battle with Belgian champion Tom Boonen in the cobbled Classics and was simply unstoppable.

Victory at E3 Harelbeke preceded success at both of the cobbled Monuments, achieved thanks to some stinging attacks.

At the Tour of Flanders, only Boonen could match Cancellara’s first move before the Swiss ace powered away again on the Muur van Geraardsbergen to drop his rival and solo to victory.

One week later, Cancellara rode away from the leading group on the Mons-en-Pevele sector of cobbles, 50km from the finish line, and soloed to victory.

Such was his domination, allegations surfaced that he may have used a concealed motor – allegations that have never been proven, and that Cancellara has always strenuously denied.

2012 – yellow jersey record

Cancellara’s later career has been one regularly affected by injuries – with his 2012 season one such example.

Cancellara has worn the yellow jersey more times than any other non-Tour de France winner (pic: Sirotti)

A discarded water bottle in the feed zone at the Tour of Flanders curtailed his Classics campaign – Cancellara fracturing his collarbone in four places.

That injury was to resurface at the Olympics, where the Swiss rider misjudged a corner while in the breakaway and fell heavily on his right shoulder.

Though there was no further fracture, Cancellara finished the race in tears after missing out on a shot at the gold medal and the injury hampered him in the time trial too where he finished seventh.

In between, however, Cancellara did set the Tour de France record for the most yellow jerseys worn by any non-Tour winner.

In fact, Cancellara was the only rider other than Bradley Wiggins to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.

2013 – Classics hat-trick (part II)

Cancellara’s Classics hat-trick in 2010 was hugely impressive, but the Swiss rider went and did it again in 2013 to confirm his status as one of this generation’s finest Classics riders.

Cancellara attacks on Oude Kwaremont at the 2013 Tour of Flanders, leaving Peter Sagan trailing in his wake (pic: Sirotti)

Victory at E3 Harelbeke, after accelerating clear of Peter Sagan, set the wheels in motion and Sagan was the victim again at the Tour of Flanders as Cancellara once again proved peerless on the cobbled climbs.

At Paris-Roubaix there was a touch of fortune involved – Zdenek Stybar crashing in the leading group due to a roadside fan to leave Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke to ride into the velodrome alone – but Spartacus showed all of his experience to win the two-up track sprint to the line.

With victory at the Tour of Flanders the following year – Vanmarcke again outsprinted as Cancellara won from a group of four – the Swiss rider signs off his career with seven Monument wins and a further nine podium places.

2016 – Signing off in style

All of which brings us to Rio 2016 and the individual time trial on the hilly coastline course in the wind and rain in Brazil.

Fabian Cancellara paced his ride perfectly as he won time trial gold at the Olympics for the second time (pic: Sirotti)

Cancellara was not fancied for the race – time trial victories, especially over longer distances, have been much fewer in his later career.

But he should have been because on the day the Switzerland superstar was in a league of his own.

Cancellara timed his ride to perfection, setting a decent time over the first circuit and leaving plenty in reserve to power into the lead over the second part of the circuit.

The tears that flowed as the result was confirmed were followed by sheer delight on the podium – the crowd’s reaction reminding everyone what a popular winner Fabian Cancellara is.


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