Sunday’s stage 8 winner Andy Schleck said he’s happy about his stage win, but re-emphasized that he has bigger ambitions than a stage win at this Tour de France.
In front of a packed room at the team’s hotel, Schleck’s Saxo Bank team held a rest-day press conference Monday. And though the entire team was there, nearly every question was directed towards Schleck, who, with his stage win Sunday and flawless performance over the cobblestones on stage 3, now sits 41 seconds ahead of defending champion Alberto Contador. (Related: Current standings)
Following his stage win — with a final kilometer attack that Contador could not follow — Schleck said it would take some time for him to realize what he’d done.
Asked 24 hours later if the significance had set in, Schleck said it had.
“I realize I won a nice stage of the Tour,” Schleck said. “Besides (the 2009 Liège-Bastogne-Liège) it was my biggest victory so far. I’m really happy with that, and I’ll keep it in my back pocket. But I have bigger ambitions than winning a stage here.”
Schleck was quick to thank his teammates, saying that his win, and his second overall GC position, was to their credit.
“Especially on the pavé, with Fabian (Cancellara), he worked so hard for me, so with my win I can give something back to the team,” Schleck said. “More importantly it gave me a huge boost in my morale. I could see I’m up there. I think I have the best shape in my life.”
Almost as big a story from Sunday’s stage as Lance Armstrong’s implosion was the fact that Contador was unable to cover Schleck, who he considers his main rival. Asked what it means that Contador could not respond, Schleck played it coy.
“I don’t know what it means,” he smiled. “Maybe you should ask him what it means for him. I’ve not seen him in difficulty (before Sunday). It was the first real mountain stage, and it was maybe the easiest of the mountain stages. I haven’t seen the footage on TV. Maybe I can get on YouTube and check it out this afternoon. I heard he tried but couldn’t follow.
“I was surprised he couldn’t follow,” he continued. “The day before (stage 7) Contador made a really strong impression. I was really struggling in the heat, and I didn’t feel good, but he looked very good. The fact that he couldn’t follow me, maybe in the next days it can be the same. Still, there are other riders on other teams to watch.”
One of those riders is BMC’s Cadel Evans, who now leads the race, sitting 20 seconds ahead of Schleck. Throughout this Tour Schleck has downplayed Evans’ chances of wearing yellow in Paris, and he didn’t sway from that perspective Sunday, saying only that Evans is “one of the contenders for the podium.”
“Cadel is definitely strong,” Schleck said. “He has a hard Giro behind him, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Yesterday was hard, but it was not a steep climb. Anyway, of course he is one of the contenders for the podium. Yesterday (Bradley) Wiggins was struggling, and Lance’s Tour was over. So I’ll focus on Alberto, Cadel, Ivan (Basso), (Denis) Menchov, (Robert) Gesink — all those guys.”
Following Sunday’s stage win Schleck said he’d felt sorry for Armstrong’s bad luck, and hoped Armstrong might still leave the Tour with a stage win.
Given Armstrong’s rocky relationship with Contador, and Schleck’s warm relationship with the American, speculation was rife that should he take the maillot jaune from Evans, Saxo Bank and RadioShack might form an alliance to prevent Contador from winning — perhaps at the expense of gifting a stage win to Armstrong.
Schleck dismissed any notion of alliances between the two teams, saying, “No I don’t see any alliances. Of course I like Lance, I think it’s great what he does. When he made his comeback, he knew he could win, but also that he had a lot to lose. We can say we are friends, but I’m also friends with Alberto, and he knows that as well. I have no enemies, but of course in the race we are all contenders. But Levi (Leipheimer) is still up there, and he looks good and sharp. For me (RadioShack) are going to fight for him 100 percent.”
Since his brother Frank was forced to abandon the race due to a broken collarbone suffered on the cobblestones during stage 3, the younger Schleck has been asked repeatedly about his absence. He told the packed press conference that while losing his brother from the race was a tough blow, he’s focused entirely on what lays ahead of him over the next two weeks.
“I spoke with Frank straight after (stage 8),” Schleck said. “He was full of emotion. He was very happy for me, but also really sad that he wasn’t there. Every big race I have done so far, when I was up there in the front he was there for me. We always communicate in those moments, and I didn’t have that yesterday. I feel the absence, but on the other hand, I don’t give up because of that. The team is surrounding me. I have two strong climbers to surround me (Jacob Fuglsang and Chris Sorensen). Yesterday we had Matti (Breschel) up there, even though he’s not a climber, but he did fantastic work on the climb. I’m sorry to lose Frank, but it won’t affect me in my goal.”