Andy Schleck returns to the Tour de France this week with the weight of being the twice-consecutive runner-up. With brother Fränk Schleck and a custom built Leopard-Trek squad around him, Andy told VeloNews that he hoped to put to work a specific offseason training regimen, work on the TT bike and the hard weather in Brittany in winning his first grand tour.
“I have no excuses now. Everything around me is 100 percent. It’s now up to me. I have to play the cards in the Tour. It’s Frank and me,” he said. “I know it’s a heavy weight, but I’m 100 percent professional. I know how I have to train, what I have to eat and the lifestyle I need. I think that when I do that, I’m 100 percent and I do my best, and there’s no more I can do.”
The 2011 Tour parcours is climbing heavy, with just one individual time trial, which comes on the penultimate stage. Fränk said the route may suit Andy and him better than ever, but both brothers looked to the first week of the race, when the unpredictable weather in France’s western Brittany region could provide the first differences in the general classification.
“You shouldn’t focus so much just on the mountains,” said Andy Schleck. “I believe the first week is going to be nasty. I know that area of France and I know there’s no day that there’s no wind. There’s going to be a nervous peloton, tons of people. If bad weather comes to Brittany, it can change from sunshine to 10 minutes later storm and rain.”
Defending Tour champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) was caught out when he missed a split in the wind during the third stage of the 2009 Tour in the Rhône region near the Mediterranean coast. The time loss forced Contador into a surprise attack, into a headwind, four days later on the climb to Andorra Arcalis to take back time on teammate and rival Lance Armstrong. Schleck would go on to finish between the two on the final podium, with Armstrong third.
With Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady among his supporting cast, the younger Schleck said he hoped the opening week would see splits again.
“I’m not scared of the wind. I’m not scared of the team time trial,” said Andy Schleck. “I have the best guys around me… I hope we’re not going through the first week with everything in same time. The team time trial will make a difference, but I hope we see cross winds and bulges.”
With his new, Luxembourg-based squad Andy Schleck approached 2011 differently than previous seasons. He spent more time than ever doing focused power workouts in the gym, running and Nordic skiing. The time trial has been his weak point and Schleck also spent more time on the TT bike, in the wind tunnel and the velodrome, and working on elasticity with his soigneur in hopes of finding a more powerful – and aerodynamic – position on the bike.
“I believe I can do it. I believe I can do a good time trial,” he said. “There’s no big secrets. I learn a lot from Fabian. He goes out and rides five, six hours with his TT bike. If I train three days, I’ll do one on the TT bike.”
The new training approach earned Schleck top form for the Ardennes classics, where he couldn’t overcome Philippe Gilbert, who Fränk called “unbeatable.” He did, however, show his strength in a long solo move late at the Amstel Gold Race and the Schlecks were the only riders able to run free with Gilbert at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But Andy has fallen under scrutiny lately, as some called his results at the Amgen Tour of California and Tour de Suisse underwhelming. When compared to 2010, Schleck’s pre-Tour results were similar, even in face of the tragic loss of his teammate Wouter Weylandt in May.
“I know what it takes to get there, to be 100 percent,” he said. “There are so many things that come together. You can have a crash. You can get sick and it’s all gone. That’s cycling and I know that. Even if I’m 100 percent, there are 20 other guys with the same dream and they are working hard… I don’t take it easily on my shoulders.”
One of those 20 guys is Contador. Schleck infamously ceded the yellow jersey to the Spaniard last year after dropping his chain high on the hors categorie Port de Balès climb. He said he’s finished looking back at that day.
“I would lie if I said I wasn’t happy to go second at the Tour, but it’s been two times so I want to make that final step to be on the top and the national anthem of Luxembourg is playing on the Champs Elysées,” he said. “You have to learn out of your mistakes, but I don’t look so much back on that. It was just a bad day; I was unlucky that day.”
His Leopard team has struggled at times this year, but with the right pieces around him in France next month, Schleck will have all the right cards at his disposal. How he plays them – and a little luck – will determine whether he makes that final step before the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.