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Giro d'Italia

Giro Notebook, Stage 11: Schleck doesn’t ‘know what to expect in this Giro’

Schleck says he’s not a sure bet, avoids confirming that he’ll ride all the way to Milan; no word on Armstrong’s Vuelta rumor

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ASSISI, Italy (VN) – Frank Schleck says that he shouldn’t be counted out of a shot at the maglia rosa, but also doesn’t advise betting the house on him, either.

Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) is the first to say he has no idea how he will ride once the Giro d’Italia turns into the final decisive week of the race.

“It’s still too early to say. It’s on the big climbs that everyone shows their form,” Schleck told VeloNews at Tuesday’s start. “I do not want to put any limits, but I cannot make any promises either. I still do not know what to expect.”

Some four-and-a-half hours later, Schleck crossed the line in 31st, 26 seconds behind stage winner Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and dropped from 10th to 13th overall, now 1:25 back.

“So far, I haven’t lost any time, I am in the top 10; it is already more than I expected,” he said before the start. “Stages like today are for specialists, the guys who really have the punch. It’s important that you do not lose too much time. At end of the day, you should not stress too much about stages like this. The Giro will be decided in the final week.”

The elder of the Schleck brothers is the biggest enigma of this year’s Giro, with no one really knowing what to expect from him. He only made RadioShack’s roster days before the race start when he replaced late scratch Jakob Fuglsang.

So far through the first half of the Giro, Schleck has been able to avoid any major crashes or mishaps that may have cost him valuable time. Even the losses to Rodríguez could seem insignificant once the Giro hits the major climbs in the Dolomites in the final week.

His rivals are taking notice, including former teammate Ivan Basso, who says Schleck should not be overlooked.

“Schleck is an experienced rider. He knows how to race a three-week tour,” Basso said. “Perhaps he didn’t have the ideal preparation, but he should not be counted out.”

Schleck never expected to race this Giro, which he’s started only once, way back in 2005. Since then, the Tour de France has been his singular focus.

“I like the Giro, it’s a great race, but I have always focused on the Tour, so it was impossible for me to come back to this race,” he said. “I had a preparation that I never experienced before, so I have to take it day-by-day.”

Schleck said he would continue to fight for the Giro, at least as long as it seems like a reasonable bet. The Tour de France remains his top goal for the 2012 season.

“I have finished fifth twice, last year third, so of course the Tour is a big dream and a big goal. That does not mean that it would not be nice to win the Giro,” he said. “In a grand tour, it’s like a roller coaster. You have ups and downs. Sometimes you have a good day; sometimes you have a bad day. You are never sure about the condition, especially in my case, with the preparation for the Giro I had, I will never be sure.”

When pressed by VeloNews if he was going to ride all the way to Milan, he paused and said with a smile, “Next question, dismissed!”

Guillén: ‘We have heard nothing about Armstrong’

Vuelta a España race director Javier Guillén says he’s heard nothing about whispers involving Lance Armstrong racing the Spanish tour as part of preparation for the Ironman world championships in October.

“I think that’s only a rumor,” Guillén said. “We have heard nothing about Armstrong wanting to race the Vuelta. I do not know if it’s even possible.”

Guillén, who visited the Giro d’Italia on Tuesday, said he’s much more excited about Alberto Contador’s presence in the Vuelta. Contador will be returning from his controversial, two-year racing ban with his sights set on winning a second Vuelta crown.

“Contador is confirmed,” Guillén said. “For sure he’s coming to the Vuelta. It will be huge for the fans and very important for the Vuelta.”

Race notes

The jerseys
Stage winner: Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) wins first career Giro stage to complete stage-win sweep in all three grand tours
Pink leader: Rodríguez ends Ryder Hesjedal’s three-day run in pink on time bonuses
Red points: Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) defends the points jersey for the eighth day
Blue climbers: Miguel Rubiano Chavez (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela) keeps KOM jersey for fifth day
White young: Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) keeps the young rider’s jersey for a third day

The weather: Under a Tuscan sun
Spectacular Italian spring weather continues for the Giro’s 11th stage, with forecasted highs in the upper 60s F, NNW winds between 10-15mph and sunny skies.

Tomorrow’s stage: Longest day in saddle
The 95th Giro d’Italia continues with the longest stage in this year’s corsa rosa. The 255km stage from Assisi to Montecatini Terme rolls over the green hills of Umbria and Tuscany in what will be one of the most picturesque days of the entire race.

With the Alps looming, the sprinters will want to control breakaways and secure what will be one of their final chances at a mass gallop in this year’s Giro.

The course features a third category climb at 154.5km but a short, intense fourth-category climb with 11km to go on a 14km finish circuit could knock some of the heavier sprinters off their trains.