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Haimar Zubeldia: ‘Andy Schleck will benefit by racing with Bruyneel’

Haimar Zubeldia says Andy Schleck will have a better chance to win the Tour de France riding under the guidance of Belgium director Johan Bruyneel next season under the merger of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek.

Haimar Zubeldia will stay with the new team at least through 2013. | Andrew Hood photo.

The veteran Basque rider joined Bruyneel in 2009 at Astana and helped form RadioShack in 2010. Zubeldia said the new structure of the merged teams should help bolster Schleck’s chances, especially in time trials.

“I think working with Johan will be beneficial for the Schleck brothers,” Zubeldia told VeloNews. “Johan is a good strategist and we’ll have to see how the course will be for the next Tour, but Johan knows how to prepare the team for whatever type of race we’ll be facing. Especially if there is a team time trial, that will be an advantage for Andy to be on this team now.

“If Andy is lacking anything in the past few Tours, it’s what he’s missing in the time trials. I think Johan will be able to help him improve in the time trials.”

Zubeldia, 34, confirmed to VeloNews that’s he signed a two-year contract extension to stay with Bruyneel as part of the merger of the two squads through 2013.

He said the big challenge for Bruyneel will be to help bring together the different structures and attitudes to forge a strong bloc going into the 2012 season.

“In theory, it’s a strong team, but Johan and the directors have a lot of work to create a group and bring everyone together,” he said. “On paper, it looks like it will be a good team, of course, you have to later prove it on the road.”

Andy Schleck has finished second in the Tour three years in a row. If Contador is cleared on clenbuterol charges, the stage is set for a massive battle between Contador and Schleck on the road and Bruyneel and Bjarne Riis behind the wheel of the team cars.

“It will be a big fight. There is still a lot of time to go, but for sure this situation will give people something to talk about,”
Zubeldia said. “Alberto, when he is strong, he is a rival very hard to beat. He’s the best rider in the world for three weeks. It will be difficult, to fight man against man versus Alberto, but with a good team, you can look for his weak points.”

The movement of the star riders has created a unique situation for next season. Riis mentored the Schleck brothers before their departure last year to create Leopard-Trek while Bruyneel picked up Contador in the wake of the collapse of Liberty Seguros, but the pair had a falling out over the return of Lance Armstrong in 2009.

“Everything has been switched around, no? Before, it was Bjarne with the Schlecks and Johan with Contador. Now it’s completely switched around,” Zubeldia said. “One thing you can say about cycling is that nothing is forever and things can change from one year to the next.”

Zubeldia said creating a new team structure between the stars of both squads will be a major challenge, but he stressed that it will be clear who will be in charge during the race’s most important races.

“That’s going to be very important, that every rider knows where they belong,” he said. “We will all have our chances and what’s important is that you take advantage of the chances you get, but what’s clear is that Cancellara will be the leader during the classics and Andy Schleck will be the leader in the Tour.”

Zubeldia says he has no problem stepping back into the helper’s role, a position he’s held since leaving the leadership position at Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2008. Twice fifth in the Tour, Zubeldia rode to 16th this year, but said he will be slotting into a helper role for the Schlecks.

“This year, there were a lot of crashes on the team, so I had more liberty during the Tour, but I know where my place is inside the team,” he said. “That’s what Johan wants me for the new team.”

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