“I don’t have an engine in the bike guys. Don’t ask me how I did it.”
Fabian Cancellara has just staggered up two flights of narrow stairs, an exhausted appearance spread across his face, into the VIP room in the Roubaix velodrome . He begins to tell the story of his emphatic victory, one that places him in the history books as one of the few to do the Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double not once, but twice.
“I think the hands are okay, but the rest of the body just, how can I say, flat fucked.”
He slumps into a high chair in the middle of the room, and quietness descends amongst the assembled guests and journalists. With awe and wide-eyed curiosity at being in such close proximity to a true legend of the sport, we lean in a little closer. I feel my mouth dry out a little.
30 minutes previously, Fabian crossed the finish line in the velodrome outside this small building we’re in, granting us privileged views over the unfolding action, to become an undisputed legend in cycling. And what exactly do you say to such a man in this position, rewriting the history books. Nothing, that’s what. You let him talk to you. So we listen.
“Don't ask me from 40km to the finish how I did it. You’re going in another world, you're just pedalling, and you try to not give up. this race is really made to not give up, the finish is just there. I didn’t even see the finish line because there was a black sponsor logo on the ground. I had cramps all over the body.”
As we witnessed, he brilliantly timed his sprint to defeat Sep Vanmarcke to pip him by the smallest of margins on the finish line, a black line flanked by white borders. One of the most iconic finish lines in the sport of cycling and for Fabian the biggest goal of his career.
“I had to play Russian roulette on the end because I could lose, I could win, and of course when you win is better than losing.”
Fabian reflects on the pressure he’s had to cope with in the leadup to this race. The weight of expectation of the cycling world amid much criticism that, coming into the 2013 season, he wouldn’t be able to recapture the form that saw him first complete the double in 2010.
“When you have everyone against you, against the team, it’s even harder. It’s always nice to finish alone here, but to maybe put the bike on the finish line first, what counts is the victory. the rest is just show. The important thing is we have this win.”
Clearly knackered beyond belief, and wanting to get a shower and a cold Westmalle (or three), he departs with the following indication of his happiness and his immediate plans.
“I’m really happy with the double, happy of having a rest, and holiday. Yes I go on holiday now.”
And so he departs, his tall frame a tight squeeze between the walls of the narrow staircase that brought him here just a few minutes earlier. I watch him through the window from our second floor viewpoint. He’s walking towards the building that houses the iconic concrete shower blocks, where his name sits proudly from two previous wins here. He disappears into a huge crowd of team minders and the world’s press as they jostle for position around him. And he vanishes out of sight.
For me a brief meeting with a hero and one of the greatest cyclists of the modern era, just moments after victoriously crossing the finish line to a rapturous reception in the velodrome. What an opportunity. What a moment in my life that I will never ever forget.