Schleck convinced he can win the Tour, outlines season plans and blasts Sastre
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Schleck convinced he can win the Tour, outlines season plans and blasts Sastre

by Conal Andrews at 9:08 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

Tour de France runner up Andy Schleck will once again avoid the Giro d’Italia as he builds up for next year’s Tour, deciding to add the Tour of Flanders to his usual Classics campaign. His reason for doing so is to become more accustomed to the cobblestones that will be an early test for the riders next July.

“I'll do the Classic and the Tour, not the Giro,” he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. “Liège, Amstel and also, for the first time, the Tour of Flanders to prepare for the pavé that will await us on the third day of the Tour. It is an area where you cannot win the Tour, but where you can lose it. It’s nonsense, I think it is ridiculous.”

Schleck showed his pedigree in three week races when he placed second in his first Grand Tour, the then-21 year old finishing as runner-up to Danilo di Luca in the 2007 Giro d’Italia. Since then he’s turned his focus to the Tour de France, finishing twelfth overall and best young rider last year, then netting second behind Alberto Contador this season.

He was the only one to really challenge the Spaniard in the mountains, although he admits that he needs to step up another level if he’s to top the final podium in Paris.

“I can win it, sure,” he stated. “If I finish second, I think I can win. I need a strong team and to improve in the uphills, because it is in the mountains where you can lose the five minutes that can cost you the Tour.”

But it’s also the time trials where he needs to become faster. “Next year’s Tour will have a 50 kilometre time trial, on the penultimate day. It will be very important but I am working hard. I am doing mental training, I have been working hard with Bobby Julich.

“I was terrible in the time trial, finishing in 45th place. I’m improving every year, though, and I’m not so bad. I’ll never be Cancellara, but I can improve a lot.”

Schleck’s Tour debut in 2008 saw him take that twelfth place, but that finishing position gives a misleading picture of his form. He was actually one of the strongest riders in the race, but was hampered by one bad day in the mountains. After that, he dedicated himself to riding for the team for the remainder of the race.

On stages such as the one to Alpe d’Huez, he was clearly on superb form, but he dutifully closed down breakaways while his then-CSC Saxo Bank team-mate Carlos Sastre stormed to a solo victory and a yellow jersey he would keep until Paris.

In theory, Frank Schleck could have held onto yellow that day if things had played out differently, or if the two brothers had decided not to hold back and thus enable Sastre to build such a lead. After the race things appeared to sour between the Spaniard and the team and he soon left, going to Cervélo. Scheck confirmed that there were tensions.

“We didn’t get along. I never understood what was his problem,” he explained. “He won the Tour and everyone who watched the television and knows a bit about cycling could see that we sacrificed ourselves for him. And then he went to the press and said things that didn’t make sense, like that we did not want to work for him. We were one hundred percent with him, working for him. He has a problem in his head!

“Frank was pretty good that day [on Alpe d’Huez]. He could have won the Tour, but Carlos attacked, won and that’s it. All happy. It bothered us what he said in the press.”

On the subject of intra-team rivalries, he confirmed that things were strained between Armstrong and Contador at the Tour launch in Paris. Schleck was sitting between the two, and could feel the hum of tension. “I had a strange feeling. You could see that they are no longer friends.

“I was second this year and he [Contador] and I were ahead of Armstrong. I believe the American will be stronger [than 2009] next year, but I think I will too.”

Contador upstaged Armstrong in this year’s race, much as the younger Schleck did to his older brother. But the difference is that the latter relationship is still a good one. The two are very close and that makes them superb team-mates.

“It is a luxury,” he told El Pais, with conviction. “We started the Tour as the two leaders of the Saxo Bank team but in the Pyrenees he told me that he was not there [in his best form]. He said I’d be the sole leader and that he’d work for me. With him I have a confidence that I can’t have with anyone else. With whom else could you say, ‘jerk, where have you put the shoes!’ And things like that. Apart from the professional relationship, we share a great friendship. I also have a great relationship with O'Grady, Breschel, Fuglsang…”

Things also appear to be healthy enough with Contador, despite the fact that they will be fighting tooth and nail for the Tour title next July. Schleck confirmed that Contador had invited him to go shooting partridge with him, echoing an invite made decades ago by Bahamontes to his rivals Coppi and Anquetil.

“I cannot wait to come hunting with Alberto, even if it will be difficult to find a weekend that will suit both of us,” he said.

The two will shoot it out as rivals next July but, before then, they have a chance to do so together as friends.

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