In history (and in Hollywood,) Spartacus is a tragic figure, who rises up to fight the good fight but is doomed to go down in defeat.
In cycling, however, Spartacus goes out a hero.
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, known as “Spartacus” for his prowess in cycling’s toughest races, the one-day Classics, announced at the start of the 2016 season that this would be his last. Naturally the 35-year-old hoped to end his career with success—and how much more success could he hope for than to claim his second Time Trial gold medal at the 2016 Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil?
Ten times the Swiss national time trial champion and four times the world champ, Cancellara was facing fierce competition from England’s Chris Froome, Australia’s Rohan Dennis, and Holland’s Tom Dumoulin. Froome was coming off victory—his third—in the Tour de France, while Dumoulin had crashed in that race, breaking his wrist, and was eager to return and grab some glory.
The course was one of the toughest in Olympic history, two laps totaling 54.6 km with each lap including two short but very steep climbs, followed by tight and twisting descents. The course demanded strength, speed, and bike-handling ability—in other words, a course perfectly suited to Spartacus.
The day dawned rainy—the women, who rode the same course for their time trial, had to compete on a dangerously wet course—but had mostly dried by the time the men’s race started.
Cancellara was slow though the first third of the course, possibly checking out the road conditions. By the third time check at 35 km, the big Swiss rider was 18 seconds ahead of Australia’s Dennis Rohan.
Rohan had a mechanical failure, and had to change bikes, which ruined his day. he ended up fifth.
By the fourth checkpoint at 45 km, Cancellara was 30 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands and another ten seconds ahead of England’s Chris Froome.
This left only the final flat eight km for Cancellara, and he gained time on his opponents, finishing the course in 1:12:15.42, 45 seconds faster than Dumoulin and over a minute quicker than Chris Froome.
“This was the last time for me to try to win an Olympic medal. It means so much to me,” Cancellara told sbs.com.au.
“To leave the sport at the end of this season with the gold medal is just a perfect way to end my career. “
Both Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome admitted after the race that Cancellara was in a class above at Rio.
“Fabian was the strongest rider out on the road today,” Froome told cyclingweekly.co.uk. “As Tom said, had it been a smaller time gap in front of us, maybe five or 10 seconds, then you can think about what might have gone wrong, and where you could have made up that time. But for me, I was going to be making up a minute on him.
“I gave it everything I had out there today, but Fabian was unbeatable.”
“I had my objective at the beginning of the year, and that was the gold medal. I didn’t succeed. Everyone keeps telling me how proud I should be proud of myself especially after the injury, and I know I should be, and I know I will be tomorrow,” Dumoulin told cyclingweekly.co.uk
“On the other hand, 47 seconds is a lot. Too much for me today. Fabian was absolutely flying. He was much better than Chris or me. It’s not like you miss a corner—he was just a lot better than the two of us.”
Track cycling starts its competition schedule Thursday, August 11, with BMX and mountain biking coming up in the final week.