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Fabian Cancellara is without a doubt one of the best riders of his generation. He holds the record for being the most days in the Yellow Jersey (28 days) without actually winning the race which is an amazing feat in itself. Fabian was the first rider born in the 80's to win a stage in the Tour and since that first prologue win in 2004 has stood on the top step of the tour 8 times. He has also had numerous other wins outside of the tour, but we will save them for other blogs!
The year was 2007 and it was stage 3 of the tour finishing in Compiegne. It started off as what looked like a traditional sprinters stage. Infact, the finish was on a slight downhill for the final km meaning that only the fastest of the fast would be at the front on the pointy end of the race. As always there was the break up the road early on in the day containing Nicolas Vogondy who became the virtual yellow jersey holder after only a few kilometres of racing in the break.
The stage seemed like would pan out into a traditional sprinters race, however about 65km to Stephane Auge bridged the gap to the breakaway riders, adding extra firepower to the escapees and also adding some panic to the peloton. Auge wasn't just riding for the stage win though - he was ahead of Vogondy on the general classification so had a once in a lifetime chance to pull it over his shoulders if the time gap was more than a few seconds to Fabian when they crossed the line.
With the increased intensity from Auge chasing yellow in the break, they looked likely to stay away until the finish. Coming in to the final downhill straight the peloton had them in their sights. The breakaway riders were attacking for the stage win, no doubt feeling confident they could grab a victory at the tour. As the bunch passed under the 1km to go sign, a yellow figure appeared at the front.
The cameras panned out and the yellow figure became clear- Fabian was taking it into his own hands to save his yellow jersey. Fabian showed enormous amounts of power and closed the gap to the escapees. He came around them with such speed they couldn't even hold his wheel, and they never even looked close to matching it either. He opened up his sprint, or rather what he had left in the tank, as the sprinters breathed down his neck closing in on him. With every pedal stroke he had already preserved his yellow jersey, but now he wanted the stage win in yellow... The line just couldn't come soon enough!
Luckily for Cancellara, it came in time for him to raise both arms in the air and show off his CSC jersey to the cameras and cap off a great ride, which must have taken a huge amount of power to ride away from the peloton. If only we had strava back then I'm sure he would have picked up a few KOMs.
I must admit though i did feel a bit sorry for Erik Zabel, who was arguably the best sprinter of the last decade, and hadn't actually won a stage since 2002. He had been the brides maid so many times in sprint stages recently. Every other time he placed second was to another sprinter though, today he crossed ahead of all the other sprinters - but Fabian outsmarted them today.
There will be more of Fabian throughout my blog series so stay tuned if you're a fan and watch the video of the stage below!