There are few athletes I enjoy watching more than Fabian Cancellara riding a time trial bike. As I write, Cancellara is blowing the field away in the world cycling championship time trial. Cancellara has already caught and passed three riders ahead of him on the road. Each rider starts a minute after each other. The latest rider Cancellara passed started four minutes ahead.
One of the most serious threats to Cancellara, England’s Bradley Wiggins just had bike problems. Wiggins threw his machine to the ground in total frustration. Part of that frustration has to come from the fact Cancellara had already closed the two minute starting gap and flown past leaving Wiggins with no hope.
Since each rider is alone on the road with no help from teammates for support or to provide a break from the wind, a time trial is called “The Race of Truth.” The truth is that no other rider of this age that can match the power and speed of Cancellara. His nickname is “Spartacus.” Truly, Cancellara is much like the legendary gladiator, warrior and leader of Roman times.
This past summer in the Tour de France, Cancellara turned in one of his most dramatic performances. With Lance Armstrong’s much publicized return to cycling, the team time trial stage was viewed as Armstrong’s greatest chance to wear the leader’s yellow jersey that Armstrong won seven times before retiring.
In a team trial, nine riders start. The clock doesn’t stop until the fifth rider crosses the line. Besides needing to go fast, at least five riders need to stay together. Riding exotic bikes that have been wind tunnel tested at great expense, no team could match Armstrong’s team, Astana. They captured the fourth stage with machine-like precision as each rider took a pull at the front before sliding back to the end of team line. The beauty of the riders moving up, then back then up to the front again and again is mesmerizing.
However, Cancellara, who had captured the leader’s jersey on the first stage, retained that jersey by one scant second. His team, Saxo Bank, could in no way match the horsepower of Astana, but Saxo Bank did have Spartacus. Taking pulls longer than any of his teammates, Cancellara rode at the front of his team, seemingly, for the entire race. It was a truly monstrous effort that devastated actor Ben Stiller.
Stiller, doing some serious jock sniffing, had been hanging with Armstrong and team Astana. He had been granted the opportunity to put the yellow jersey on the overall leader. Surely, that was to be Armstrong. Instead it was Cancellara. The look of pouting disappointment on Stiller’s face made hilarious video that was shown by the cycling media throughout the world.
While I am well-known for not being a fan of Lance Armstrong, I have to give him credit for helping Laura and me enjoy all the cycling coverage that has resulted from the Texan’s popularity.
When American Greg Lemond was the best rider in the world in the 80’s I had to dig through the AP wires to get results of the Tour. On weekend’s, I’d watch over dramatized coverage hosted by no less than John Tesh on CBS. Races, now, are easy to watch on cable or on the Internet.
Today’s time trial ran with no commentary. Most would bemoan the lack of information, but the lack of commentary lets the race shine through in natural brilliance. It was easy to pick up the sound of Cancellara’s disc rear wheel thumping and thumping as his legs drove on endlessly with the cheers of the Swiss ringing out along the route . Famed cycling commentator Phil Liggett refers to such power as “pistons we call legs.”
Clearly no one had “pistons” like Cancellara today. He wins by almost 90 seconds over the 31 miles course in a performance worthy of Spartacus.