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Fabian Cancellara interviewed!

Olympic and world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara exclusively reveals the secrets of his success. Chris Sidwells hears the gospel according to St Fab

Fabian Cancellara

If there’s one bike rider in the world that triathletes can learn plenty from, it’s Fabian Cancellara. A three-time world champion with Olympic gold in his trophy cabinet, the Swiss rider is currently the undisputed king of the 40km plus time trial. Indeed, his victory in the 2009 World Championships saw him absolutely demolish the rest of the field, the nearest rider almost a minute and a half off his electrifying pace.

Cancellara also recently expressed his intention to break the iconic world hour record in the future. Can he become the first man to ride 50km of velodrome track in under 60 minutes?

Fabian on… training I don’t go much on science, I go on feel. I know how it feels when I’m racing in a time trial, so I replicate that sensation when I make specific time-trial efforts in training. However, I’m very particular about training on my time-trial bike. I do that at least once a week, every week – more if I’m on a training camp or if I’m training for a specific time trial like the world championships. I do long rides on my time-trial bike, too – 150 kilometres or more. Long rides aren’t easy and can be quite uncomfortable, but can build specific resistance in the muscles you use when racing in a time-trial position, such as your core and gluteal muscles.

Fabian on… bike set-up I’ve been in a wind tunnel to find the best position, which is probably the only way to get it absolutely right. But I make day-to-day changes depending on how I feel and what kind of time trial I’m doing. I get more power out if I sit a little higher, so I do that for prologue and short time trials where power is everything. Aerodynamics are more important in longer time trials, so then I get lower, more in the ideal position that I discovered in the wind tunnel. But I also make changes according to how I feel on a particular day. Sometimes, when I warm up, my body tells me I need to sit a little higher or have my arms a little lower. So I will have the mechanics change the seat height, maybe only a couple of millimetres, just before a race.

Fabian on… visualisation I ride each time-trial course before I race it and remember it, then play it back like a DVD in my head before the start. I see myself riding the curves, crouching low and even visualising the gears in which I will climb the hills. I try to feel the sensations, too – the wind rushing past my ears and the pain in my legs. Not bad pain though, always good pain. When you’re riding well, you can go deep and the sensation in your legs feels good. If you imagine that feeling before the start, you help it come. You can create it by thinking hard about it. But if you fear pain, then bad pain is what you will feel when you race.

Fabian on… tactics There’s one big tactic in a time trial – spread your effort out along the course. Even in a short time trial, you don’t blast from the start every time. You use the route. If there is a headwind, you give more, because any tailwind sections will help you. If the route has lots of bends, it isn’t good to accelerate and brake all the time. It might be better to ride smoothly through the bends and save something for later, or maybe go harder before the bends and recover through them. These are things you should try to decide beforehand, though.

Fabian on… focus I like new challenges, they inspire me. I think it’s very important for an athlete not to become stale. If they do, they lose their focus and drive. That’s how I’ve prepared for time trials in the past, because they’re always a new challenge. There’s always a new course to solve or different weather to cope with.

Photo: Tim Moreillon

Profile image of Matt Baird Matt Baird Editor of Cycling Plus magazine


Matt is a regular contributor to 220 Triathlon, having joined the magazine in 2008. He’s raced everything from super-sprint to Ironman, duathlons and off-road triathlons, and can regularly be seen on the roads and trails around Bristol. Matt is the author of Triathlon! from Aurum Press and is now the editor of Cycling Plus magazine.