Fabian Cancellara's connection with the Tour de Suisse began in 2003 with his success in the time trial prologue in Egerkingen; ‘Spartacus’, as he was to become known, was just 22 years old when he beat the Spaniard Oscar Pereiro and the Australian Bradley McGee. But the Swiss had to wait another four years before he’d win the opening time trial stage again – in Olten in 2007-, when he kept the yellow jersey for three days.
Cancellara delivered great performances in the 2008 Tour de Suisse with two perfect examples of his ability as a finisseur: he won two stages and the points classification. Fabian attacked about 10km from the end of the seventh stage towards Lyss, gathering a small group that also included the yellow jersey, Kim Kirchen. Four kilometres later, he went solo and managed to keep the peloton away by pushing at maximum effort on the extremely fast roads through the Swiss countryside.
Two days later, he celebrated his second victory at home, in Bern, with a great comeback to beat the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, who tried to anticipate the bunch sprint. That year, Cancellara also won Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, a stage of the Tour de France and the Olympic Games individual time trial (ITT) in Beijing, China.
Spartacus opens and closes the 2009 Tour de Suisse
There were great expectations for Cancellara the following year. The 2009 Tour de Suisse started in Liechtenstein with a classic time trial prologue - 7.8km from Mauren to Ruggell –, and no other riders had a chance: Fabian won ahead of defending champion Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic by 19 seconds, and 22 seconds ahead of the German Andreas Klöden, to become general classification (GC) leader. The next two stages were flat, and went to the sprinters, Austrian Bernhard Eisel and Briton Mark Cavendish.
Cancellara lost the yellow jersey on the 4th stage to Stäfa, when a small bunch with some dangerous outsiders – including the Dane Matti Breschel, who won the stage, Andy Schleck from Luxembourg and Slovenian Tadej Valjavec, who became the new GC leader – finished one minute ahead of the group.
But in the next stage, the Swiss showed that he had no intention of abandoning his general classification goal, putting himself among the protagonists of an exciting fight in the last kilometre of the ascent of Servaus in Austria. Cancellara was defeated only by his compatriot Michael Albasini in the small group sprint and moved back up to third place overall, tied with the other Swiss, Oliver Zaugg. He then climbed to second place on the sixth stage to Bad Zurzach, thanks to five seconds picked up via bonus sprints. It was clear that Cancellara was dedicating all his effort chasing the yellow jersey without waiting for the final time trial.
Spartacus got a precious sixth place and managed not to lose any seconds in the tough seventh stage up to Vallorbe Juraparc, which was won by Kim Kirchen. The Luxembourger attacked out of the peloton in the final metres, catching Roman Kreuziger – who had attacked solo - to win by a mere two seconds. Cancellara was in a bunch that finished five seconds behind Kreuziger.
Then, in the other difficult stage with the final climb to Crans Montana, Cancellara grabbed third place behind the winner, his time trial rival Tony Martin from Germany, and the Italian Damiano Cunego. Thanks to the bonus seconds, Fabian then had just a four-second gap to the race leader, Tadej Valjavec who finished fourth.
The 2009 Tour of Suisse would be decided on the final 39km individual time trial in Bern and it was crystal clear that Cancellara had the best chance of his life to win his home race after a week of attacks, bonus sprints and excellent performances in the climbs. And of course, the finish was in the city where he was born. Against the clock the two-time UCI World Champion used all his power to push the previous race leader, Tadej Valjavec, three minutes away – and with it, to claim the final victory. Second was Germany's Tony Martin, of course. Valjavec lost not only the overall leadership but also a final podium position: Martin moved up to second overall and Roman Kreuziger third.
The four time trials in 2010, 2011 and 2016
It was the first and only Tour of Suisse overall victory for Fabian Cancellara, who won another four stages in the following years: the prologues of 2010 and 2011 – both in Lugano – and one in Baar in 2016, along with the final individual time trial of 2011 in Schaffhausen. Cancellara won 11 stages in total, matching two other Swiss legends, Ferdi Kübler and Hugo Koblet. It wasn’t until the 2016 edition that the then UCI World Champion Peter Sagan overtook the record of stage victories in the Tour of Suisse; the Slovakian currently has 17.
2016 was also the last year of Spartacus' career: he retired in the best way possible after earning his second ITT Olympic gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games in Brazil.