When Spartacus enters the room, the energy suddenly changes. It's as if the sovereign returns from a long journey. The chit-chat suddenly stops, and the volume of the voice gets quieter. But a sense of respect and attention arises. Cancellara has arrived.
As an authoritative leader, he moves fluidly and composedly - almost as if he were walking on tiptoe. He has a suave, gentle manner. But he's also blunt, ready for a joke, and he gets straight to the point without too many frills.
The white turtleneck sweater and the long hair give him an extra touch of class. He looks like a Hollywood actor on vacation in Aspen. Or Andermatt, Switzerland, where he often goes skiing with his family in the winter.
The snow and the mountains
A packed room for Fabian Cancellara and Imogen Cotter at Rouleur Live. Photo: Sean Hardy.
"It's still a bit early, but now winter is coming, and I always enjoy going cross-country and downhill skiing with the family and kids. It's been a bit of a long summer, but now winter is here, and we can enjoy the mountains and the snow," Cancellara told us at Rouleur Live, our event in London.
However, between family and professional commitments (Cancellara is still super busy with many cycling-related projects), it's hard to find time to enjoy the outdoors, even for Spartacus.
"The weeks go by fast, and then, if I can, I still go cycling - because that remains my passion," he says. "But we also have a lighted [ski] track a half-hour drive from home, which isn't bad either."Although cycling remains his greatest passion and main professional activity, Cancellara enjoys cross-country and downhill skiing. Photo: Sean Hardy.
For Cancellara, cross-country and downhill skiing are disciplines that allow him to maintain cardiovascular fitness through cross-training. And they did so even when he was a kid, and in the later years of his career."Cross-country is a different kind of workout and gives you other benefits, like being able to train outdoors even when the winter weather is tough," he says. "Even though riders, these days, have other options like riding on Zwift."
Cancellara believes there will be more and more online races and that maybe, in 10 years, there will be a smart trainer that can simulate even the Arenberg Forest. Photo: Sean Hardy.
But while cross-country was accepted because it was most associated with endurance training, not every team he raced on saw downhill in a good light.
"In some years with Bjarne [Riis, an executive on many teams], I could go downhill, while in other years the team didn't want me to," he says. "I always say though: even on the bike, you can go out when it's cold, and you can fall on the ice and get hurt. But I treated downhill skiing as a proper workout: I wasn't stopping at noon to eat and then hit the après-ski and all that stuff. I would do two or three hours and then go home and do some rollers."
Now, of course, no contract prohibits him from going skiing whenever he has time, and prefers, and maybe indulging in some après ski too.
The evolution of cycling without Spartacus
Cancellara at Rouleur Live, with a stardom aura. Photo: Sean Hardy.
Although he retired only five years ago, cycling has changed a lot since then. Online racing has become more popular, and riders get IRL contracts online through their avatars' performances. And that's something that if you had told him in 2016, he might not have believed possible. Because in the end, he was and still is a man who loves the outdoors.
"The pandemic has pushed the different platforms so much that many people are now on different platforms. And I think it's cool, and it's not over yet."
Cancellara believes that indoor races, hosted in a stadium like Wimbledon and then broadcast to a broader audience, are a format that will open more doors and enhance the sport to develop further.
"I think something new, something modern, that also implements the way professional sport can be done (indoor and outdoor), I think this is a huge push for that sport." However, he also stresses the importance of riding outdoors and skill development for races like the classics: "You need the outdoor skills, and you need to adapt to riding outdoors. In terms of skills, you need to know how to go down the hill, break on different road surfaces, and so on. So I think a combination of indoor and outdoor is what you need to have."
Cancellara at Rouleur Live. Photo: Sean Hardy.
But he's also a visionary, as you maybe need to be to win the way he did in his career and then be a successful entrepreneur and businessman as he is now. And he believes that maybe one day, smart turbo trainers will reduce the gap between indoor and outdoor riding even more and will be able to simulate the Forest of Arenberg's notorious bone-cracking vibrations indoors.
"I mean, on Zwift you have already this kind of feeling, this noise," he says. "It's not like going over it, but I think it's possible. It's possible to make vibrations. Maybe not 100%, but I think this is the direction that they can go."
Something that is already very real, and not only an option, is the women's edition of Paris-Roubaix, the Monument he won three times in his career.
"It's something new and something different. Of course, it's still two wheels, and it's a bike race, but it's definitely different to watch. And for many reasons, it was a spectacular first edition for them."