In at the deep end: Schleck looking for positives in late Giro call-up
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Friday, May 04, 2012

In at the deep end: Schleck looking for positives in late Giro call-up

by Shane Stokes at 9:12 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Giro d'Italia
 
RadioShack Nissan leader hopes freshness will lead to strong final week

Frank SchleckEver had a nightmare where you had a crucially important college exam, but forgot to study and were completely unprepared? If so, remember waking up in a cold sweat, then realizing – with considerable relief – that it was all a bad dream?

Spare a thought, so, for Fränk Schleck, who finds himself still grappling with the thought that he is on the verge of something that he had no expectations of doing.

The Luxembourg rider had raced hard in the early season to prepare for the Ardennes Classics, starting in Mallorca, then riding the Vuelta a Andalucia, Paris-Nice, Criterium International and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

After taking twelfth in the Amstel Gold Race, 20th in Flèche Wallonne and 23rd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he was looking forward to taking some downtime and recharging the batteries prior to building up again for the Tour de France.

Then, without warning, those plans changed. “I was at the playground with my daughter Leea when I got the call from Johan [Bruyneel],” he said, speaking of the moment when he learned that he was required to step in and replace an injured Jakob Fuglsang, the intended Giro leader for RadioShack Nissan. “I had been off my bike for five or six days, since Liège, so I panicked a bit and jumped on my bike straight away.”

Speaking at a pre-race press conference held for the big names in the race, he explained that he initially wasn’t too happy with the idea. “He [Bruyneel] asked me to step up and take the leader's role for RadioShack Nissan Trek. Of course, it was in a way a bit of a cold shower for me, because my big season goal was the Tour de France and riding the Giro is not ideal to prepare for the Tour,” he said.

It’s easy to imagine Schleck being very frustrated by the request, particularly as he finished third in last year’s Tour and hoped that either he or his brother Andy could take the top spot this year. Riding the Giro could well mean that he is tired for the Tour.

However, after weighing things up, he accepted his role in the race and started to believe that he could have an effect on the outcome. “Then, I had a look at the parcours and I think there are good opportunities for me,” he said. “I'm happy to be here. That the start is in Denmark is particularly nice, because we all had a great World Championships here last year. Also, having raced for a Danish team for several years makes it extra special."

Had Jakob Fuglsang’s knee not flared up and ruled the Dane out of the race, he would have been the leader and chased what he hoped would be a top five finish, or better.

Schleck explained that if things worked out differently, he’d currently be in the wind tunnel with his brother at this point in time, working on improving his time trial performance. The ability to race against the clock will be of major importance in this year’s Tour as there are so many solo kilometres.

After the wind tunnel work they were due to train at Sierra Nevada, return home for a few days, then head to France and ride some of the mountain stages of the Tour.

Instead, the reconnaissance that he’ll be doing is of the time trial course for tomorrow’s prologue. Schleck will repeatedly ride the 8.7 kilometre route in Herning in order to try to limit his losses as much as possible tomorrow. After that, he will aim to stay out of trouble and remain close to the other race contenders before hitting the mountains in Italy.

“We will need to see how the race evolves. The first week is fortunately not so hard and I will be able to take the pace of the race,” he said. “I'm hoping to find again the form I had in the Classics.”

Bruyneel has said that there are parallels between Schleck’s situation and that of Alberto Contador, who was a late call-up to the 2008 Giro and who ended up winning the race.

However, with all respect to Schleck, he’s not Contador, and doesn’t have the same results as the Spaniard. Winning the race is a possibility, of course – this sport is sufficiently unpredictable and the history of cycling is littered with cases where riders have ridden above expectations – but a podium place appears to be a more realistic target at this point in time.

Still, there remains the chance that in going into the race slightly undercooked, he could hit peak form in the very tough third week.

“The least you can say is that I'm fresh coming to the start,” Schleck acknowledged. “I have never started a Grand Tour with a preparation like this, so we'll need to evaluate in eight or ten days to see how it's going.

“The last week however is going to very hard. If I'm good by then, I'm really looking forward to it…”

The equivalent, I guess, is in doing an exam you haven’t prepared for, and somehow getting full marks. The next three weeks will determine if the 2012 Giro will be a nightmare or a dream for Fränk Schleck.

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