Frank Schleck Interview: Ready for Amstel Gold and Ardennes campaign
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Frank Schleck Interview: Ready for Amstel Gold and Ardennes campaign

by VeloNation Press at 12:59 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Spring Classics, Liège-Bastogne-Liège , Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne

Team Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck will begin his spring Classics campaign this Sunday on an emotional high. The 30 year old had a double cause for celebration on Thursday, celebrating his birthday and also the birth of his first child, Leea. She wasn’t due to arrive for another couple of weeks and so the early visit of the stork was a pleasant surprise for the Luxembourg rider.

Schleck tore himself away from his family on Friday and began his journey to the Amstel Gold Race, where he will line out on Sunday as one of the past winners of the event.

In 2006 he triumphed with a superb solo breakaway and, together with his brother Andy, will be the two protected riders on the Saxo Bank team. He will also dispute Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the two other Ardennes Classics. And whilst he avoids making any big predictions, he is satisfied that he is in good condition.

“I am not going to say that I am going to win, but I am good…I am confident,” he told VeloNation this week. “Andy is coming up well, he will be ready and I feel really good. In the end, I think that to win, the race has to work out, certain things have to all come together on the day. If those do, we will do a good result, but it is not always easy.”

His younger brother dominated Liège last year, but has never won Amstel. Frank Schleck said light-heartedly over the winter that Andy should perhaps target the Dutch Classic this year and leave Liège for him to go for; he reiterates that this is his ideal scenario, but also said that nothing can be taken for granted.

“I won Amstel already. So I would say that if I really had to chose [between them], I would pick Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That would be awesome. But I think that we will go into all three of them with the same focus to win them, then we will take it as it comes.”

Unlike many other teams which will have a sole appointed leader, Saxo Bank believes that having a two-pronged approach is the best bet. Schleck agrees with this tactic, saying that having a pair of strong riders is far better than just having one.

“I think both of us will be good. Last year, Andy won Liège and we played both cards that day too and it worked out. So I think we are going to stay focussed and play two cards. We are just going to take it on the day, it is not going to be an issue as to who is going to be the leader or not…it will be who is strongest.

“It is better to have two or three possibilities than only one. At the end of the race, it is not going to be an issue about who we are going to ride for.”

Gradual build-up towards top form

Schleck has had a solid season thus far. He hasn’t clocked up any wins but has a number of high placings to show that he is not far off his top fitness. He started the season with 13th in the Vuelta Andalucia/Ruta del Sol, then was 16th in Paris-Nice and 22nd in the Volta a Catalunya.

He then headed to the Vuelta al Pais Vasco earlier this month, aiming for a high result. However he suffered a bad crash on the third stage to Amurrio, being knocked off his bike and ended up in a ditch. He suffered head and neck injuries, as well as general bruising to his body, and did not start the following stage.

At that point in time his Classics campaign looked to be threatened. It was not a case that he would be unable to take part in the big one-day targets in the Ardennes, but rather than he would lack the racing kilometres to be in strong form. However he bounced back four days later to take an excellent third overall in last Sunday’s Klasika Primavera. That result showed that he was still on course for the first big objectives of his season.

“I was happy about that,” he admitted to VeloNation. “I wanted to stay in Spain after the crash. After the fall, I knew that night that I probably was not going to start the next day as I had so much pain. I had a lot of headaches, bruises everywhere and a lot of problems with my neck. But then I decided that instead of coming home, I would stay there with the team, get massage every day, get good food and stay focussed and concentrated.

“I thought that maybe I could give it a try on Sunday. I stayed two days in the hotel room, was really bored to death, and pretty depressed watching the race [on TV]. So I really wanted to race on Sunday, even though it was very early. I wanted to compete there just to show for myself that I was all right, that I was doing well, and to get some confidence back.”

He regretted missing the stage race, and also being a part of the final battle. “It was hard seeing the guys doing really well in Pays Basques, especially Andy,” he explained. “I wasn’t there to share that with him….we could have had a nice race during the whole of Pays Basques. But then Sunday’s result was very good for my confidence.”

The Klasika Primavera was his first podium placing of the season and the result, plus the way he rode the race, showed that he is coming into good form. However he’s reluctant to proclaim the day as being the strongest he has felt all year.

“I don’t know,” he said, considering the question. “That’s a big thing to say. I felt very good. It is difficult to say, you never can say ‘this was the best I felt all season.’ But I was good, I managed to attack on the climb and go away. I had two Euskaltels working against me, so it was kind of hard to pull that race, but also [Samuel] Sanchez was very strong.

“I definitely felt good, though, although I wouldn’t say the best all year long. I think I had a good Paris-Nice….the issue there was that I think the cold weather affected me a lot. I never really recovered from the cold four days in the beginning. I think that is why I didn’t feel that good in the race. I was definitely going for a nice result there, otherwise.”

He spoke to VeloNation prior to Fabian Cancellara’s decision not to ride the Amstel Gold race. The big Swiss rider dominated the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and Team Saxo Bank owner Bjarne Riis was convinced that he could also contend for the Amstel Gold title.

That won’t now happen as Cancellara decided that he was mentally exhausted and needed a break. But, for the record, Schleck also agreed that the world time trial champion would have been very strong.

“What he showed in the last two weekends is incredible, and he could do very well,” he said earlier this week. “Even though the next Classics are a little more hilly, especially Amstel, as it is up and down all long with short climbs. The way he is riding, the way he handles the bike, is just amazing, so I think he would be good there too. Definitely.”

It won’t happen in 2010, but the Swiss rider may well give the race a shot next year. It’s littered with short, steep climbs, he’s not a natural climber, yet if he’s in the same kind of form, nobody would rule him out.

Targeting the Tour

Once the dust has settled on the Classics, Schleck will have some time off back home with his wife and his new daughter. It will be the perfect distraction after some tough racing, and will allow him to recharge his batteries prior to building up towards an even bigger target, the Tour de France.

“After the Classics, I am going to have a good break,” he revealed. “There will be about three weeks when I am not going to race. I’ll then start up again with the Tour of Luxembourg, the Tour de Suisse and then the Tour itself. That is the preparation I have always done before the Tour. It has worked out in recent years so why should I change anything?”

Schleck has a solid history in the French race, netting final placings tenth, fifth and fifth overall, wearing yellow, and taking stage wins at Alpe d’Huez in 2006 and at Le Grand Bornand last year.

What team for 2011?

Sometime around the Tour de France, Schleck will have to make a decision about which team he will ride for in 2011 and beyond. He, his brother and Cancellara have been rumoured to be considering moving to a new setup run by Marc Biver and based in Luxembourg.

They have been with Saxo Bank for several years and are an important part of the team, but with Riis still working hard to try to secure a new sponsor to take over at the end of 2010, there is much uncertainty about the Danish team’s future.

Schleck didn’t confirm or deny the new team rumours, but did indicate that he would be open to offers from Riis.

“At this moment in time we want to focus on racing,” he said, when asked to clarify the contract situation. “Now we have the Classics coming up and then we will focus on the Tour. This year we know for sure that we are racing for Bjarne, and whatever happens next year…

“I hope that Bjarne is going to find a sponsor and he can make us an offer. That is where we are at this point in time. I cannot confirm all the rumours.”

What’s certain is that the recent run of big victories will have made Riis’ task a little easier. “I think they will only help us to find a new sponsor,” he said, referring to the wins by Cancellara and others. “Let’s hope that it works out. We had good results recently.”

Clearly a win or two in the Ardennes Classics would further aid that search.

Despite that consistency, most see his brother Andy as being the more likely of the two to take the final maillot jaune in Paris, thanks to the strength he showed on Alpe d’Huez in 2008 and in general in 2009. He was the only rider to put Alberto Contador under pressure in the mountains, although the Spaniard was clearly the strongest in the race.

Frank Schleck said afterwards that he felt he could come back in 2010 and challenge for the win, believing that he can reach a higher level of form than he had in 2009. As is the case with the Ardennes Classics, he feels that the team should have two equal leaders for the race.

“I just missed the podium by 40 seconds. Andy was second, I was fifth,” he said. “That’s two times I have been fifth in the Tour de France. I think I can be good too [this year], we will see. We will do the same thing as for the Classics, we will start off with two leaders and see how the race goes. We will see for whom we are going to ride.

“It is better to have two leaders than only one; it is much more difficult for guys like Lance and Alberto to concentrate on two riders than only one, so we will start with that point of view.”

What’s clear is that the addition to his family should give him extra motivation to succeed. He’s 30 years old now, and a father; that role brings with it an additional responsibility, and will increase his motivation to ride as well as possible in 2010 and beyond. Leea may end up being a birthday gift in more ways than one.


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