AP Sports Writer
BERN, Switzerland — This is why Fabian Cancellara is retiring. His mind was willing but his 35-year-old legs couldn’t deliver.
For his last Tour de France, the classics specialist and time trial expert earmarked Monday’s 16th stage for a special, emotional finish on the medieval streets of Bern, just four kilometers from his house.
Cancellara has been in the background, working for his Trek-Segafredo team leader Bauke Mollema, who lay second overall. But on his home roads, which he claimed he could “ride blind” and were lined with fans’ signs of encouragement, he was rejuvenated and up front.
Furiously pedaling the customized white bike emblazoned with his “Spartacus” nickname, he fought hard in the tricky finale featuring some cobblestones, a terrain on which the three-time Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen champion excelled throughout his storied career.
He was in contention for his first Tour stage win since 2012, but his hopes were dashed by Peter Sagan, head of the new generation of sprinters. Cancellara was sixth.
“Fabian is a big name in cycling, and for sure he will also be a legend,” said Sagan, who defeated Cancellara when he claimed his first Tour stage win in 2012.
“When I won for the first time, he was the yellow jersey, we were in a breakaway, and I wanted to beat him. Maybe he was angry at the time. Today, for sure, he wanted to try, but it was not a finish for him.”
Cancellara, surrounded by dozens of fans, said at his team bus, “The best riders were at the front fighting it out. In the end, I was missing a little bit of strength, but I gave it my all and that’s the main thing.
“It’s special to ride in your own streets but, for now, I’m more tired than anything else.”
A big star in Switzerland, Cancellara will retire at the end of the season. On the Tour, he wore the yellow jersey for 29 days, a feat only two-time champion Chris Froome has been able to better among the current peloton.
Cancellara, a time trial world champion four times, first made his mark at cycling’s biggest event 12 years ago, when he won the prologue in Liege in his maiden appearance and seized the yellow jersey at the expense of Lance Armstrong. Last year, he briefly led the standings after the second stage, but was involved in a spectacular crash that left him with broken bones in his spine.
Age and the heat have hit him this time.
“Yesterday I lost five kilos, but tomorrow is a rest day. Maybe I’ll drink a beer,” he said. “The wine will be for the end of the season.”