So far this season, as far as pre-race favourites go, no one man stands taller than Fabian Cancellara before the Ronde van Vlaanderen. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be beaten, writes Anthony Tan.
By
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Oyé... Foreman boma yé… Foreman boma yé.

A chant before the Ali-Foreman 1974 world heavyweight title fight in Kinshasa, Zaire.
Hear this... Foreman will kill him... Foreman will kill him.

He has not loomed as large since last April but five times previous April is when Fabian Cancellara lands a Monument.

He is yet to win big this season – or at all, for that matter – but one can tell his engine is humming. Likely, inevitably, as De Ronde enters its denouement, his turbocharged V12 (note to UCI inspectors: the motor is in him, not his bike) will sing a tune no other rider can follow.

Flanders is made for Fabian. Even more so since organisers decided in 2012 to remove the Muur van Geraardsbergen/Kapelmuur and Bosberg as the final two climbs and turn the finale into a series of finishing circuits, centred around the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Alas, there has been less unpredictability since, and this year, even more so. On paper, the parcours is as tough as it's ever been. For me, Ronde van Vlaanderen translates to Last Man Standing, now more than ever.

If it wasn't already, there is no other race which exemplifies professional road cycling's attritional nature more than the RVV. Strongest man wins. Simple as that. And no, it is not a game of chess; a trite expression parroted by overzealous broadcasters who try to pretend the race is more cerebral than it is but really know it boils down to a good old-fashioned street fight.

It is, quite simply and mercilessly, about survival: Survival of the fittest.

There is nothing ethereal about the Ronde.

Unlike the beguiling mist that hovers high over the craggy scree slopes of the Pyrenees right now the centuries-old stones that comprise the six sections of pavé and a number of the seventeen hellingen to be tackled Sunday have much blood spilt on them. And they can drink more, but as the saying goes, you can't draw from them. Each is like a coven of vampires, ready to suck the marrow out of you, should you stumble.

Before the starting bell has rung we already know what Cancellara will do – punch, punch, punch and punch till only he, only Spartacus, is left standing.

But he doth not know what they will to do to him. And that is how you beat Spartacus.

"I imagine," Foreman, by most people's reckoning the pre-fight favourite, said in his dressing room, soon after ceding the 1974 world heavyweight title to his great nemesis by knockdown, "that the punch that knocks a man down he doesn't really see. I suspect he doesn't know about it."

Cancellara, like Foreman, can punch all day, that much we know. He is brutal in his execution – he is a street fighter by nature. You simply cannot wish to go to the end and expect to stay with him, let alone beat him, without first doing some damage beforehand.

Like Ali did in Zaire, you must hold him, then assiduously work away, using the ropes to absorb his blows, then counter him. Get him angry early; let Fabian punch himself out.

Otherwise, when it's all too late and his rivals, one by one, look down, searching for gears before trailing in his apoplectic wake, you will hear those rabid roadside voices cheer, 'Oyé... Fabian boma yé… Fabian boma yé.'