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The Swiss Spartacus gears up for success

(Reuters)

Apart from Roger Federer, cyclist Fabian Cancellara is arguably Switzerland's greatest medal hope at the Beijing Olympics.

Cancellara – from Ittigen in the canton of Bern – will be going for gold in the men's individual time trial on August 13.

He is already champing at the bit. "I've been waiting for this moment for the past four years. I know perfectly well that it's only a time trial, but this one is more important than any other I've ridden. I'll be doing my utmost to win."

After getting off to a flying start this season with victories in the Tirreno Adriatico and Milan-San Remo respectively, Cancellara again performed well in the Tour of Switzerland and the Tour de France.

Courtesy of his victory in the prologue in London and by winning the third stage, Cancellara managed to hold on to the leader's precious yellow jersey for seven long days in the 2007 Tour de France.

Warrior

Cancellara – a mean machine on the road with a gladiatorial physique and nerves of steel – has been nicknamed "Spartacus" by his team mates.

Like his Roman namesake, Cancellara makes a habit of accumulating victories. He has two UCI World Championship Time Trial rainbow jerseys to his name (2006 and 2007) and is regarded as the leading contender for time trial gold in Beijing.

Yvan Girard, Swiss national junior team coach from 1997 to 2005, was last year quoted in Fribourg newspaper La Gruyère as saying that the young Cancellara was "head and shoulders above everyone else" in the time trial.

Thanks to his strength on the flat, Cancellara has already tasted success in the Classics. Not only did he win this year's Milan-San Remo, but he also rode to victory in the 2006 Paris-Roubaix – thus becoming the second Swiss rider in history to win the notorious "Hell of the North", 83 years after Heiri Suter achieved the same feat.

Main priority

Yet Cancellara is now aiming for what would be the biggest win of his career – a victory in Beijing would eclipse everything, unless he wins the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France later in his career.

Taking on the mantle of favourite, Cancellara's preparations have been meticulous. The red letter day of August 13 has already been etched in the rider's mind for several months. His masseur and mechanic from his CSC team will both be allowed to accompany him to Beijing.

"I know from experience that it's hard to perform when I have relatively unfamiliar people around me who have an incomplete understanding of what makes me tick," he explains. "I'm glad my CSC team colleagues will be there, because they're used to working with me."

Positive pressure

Although he has already studied the Olympic time trial route on DVD, Cancellara intends to arrive in China early enough to be able to judge the lie of the land for himself.

"I've had a number of meetings with representatives from the Swiss Olympic Association and the Swiss Cycling Federation, but I wanted to get my own first-hand impression of the route. By arriving early, I can acclimatise better, and I'll also be able to pick and choose my training routes more easily."

And as if to underline his chances for gold, Cancellara says he believes he now has enough experience under his belt to negotiate any difficulties the time trial – and even one of such importance – may throw at him.

"Over the past few years and countless races, I've learnt to use the pressure of competing in a positive way," he says. "If you let the pressure get to you, you've lost already. I won't be making that mistake."

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara was born in Wohlen near Bern in 1981. Among the cycling fraternity, he is known as "Spartacus".

Cancellara, a world junior time trial champion – and trainee electrician – became a professional cyclist when he joined the Mapei team in 2001. He raced for Fassa Bortolo team between 2003 and 2005, before joining CSC in 2006.

He uses his 186cm/80kg frame to good effect in the time trial (he is the double world champion), in the prestigious one-day Classics and when breaking away unexpectedly from the peloton at the death to claim improbable stage wins.

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Career honours

Cancellara has already won the Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo this season, as well as finishing second in the Paris-Roubaix (a race he won in 2006).

He was world time trial champion in 2006 and 2007, and he has also won a number of stages in the Tour de France – an event in which he wore the yellow jersey for seven days in 2007.

For Cancellara's full career record, please click on the "Career highlights" link below.

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