LES HERBIERS, France (VN) — Andy Schleck says he’s locked and loaded to take on the challenge of winning the Tour de France.
A two-time runner-up, Schleck says overall victory in this year’s Tour is what he’s aiming for. A new team with a lot of familiar faces will make the challenge of taking on Alberto Contador perhaps a little easier.
“Everything is just perfect for this year’s Tour,” Schleck said. “Last year, I was still the young guy and I could aim for the white jersey. This year is different. I have no more excuses. I am too old for that white jersey. Being on a Luxembourg team has been a big adventure. Everything is set and I will be aiming 100 percent for the win.”
Schleck enters 2011 as the most dangerous rival to Contador. Backed by the loaded Leopard-Trek team — which includes seven riders from last year’s Saxo Bank team — Schleck knows it’s time for him to step up.
Whether or not he can knock Contador off his Tour throne remains to be seen, but Schleck insists that he’s up to the challenge.
A mountainous course, with four summit finishes and only one individual time trial, will give Schleck his best chance ever.
“I am calmer than last year. I know in the mountains I will be up there, playing for the victory,” he said. “This year’s course doesn’t have too much time trials, and that’s an advantage for me.”
Schleck says he’s worked to improve his time trailing abilities, long viewed as his Achilles’ heel, but he said if he’s going to win the Tour, it will never be won against the clock.
“We’ve worked on the time trial quite a bit since last year’s Tour and the goal is to lose less time,” he said. “I need to train on my strengths. I am not going to win the Tour on my weaknesses. Already last year, I showed that I am improving in the time trial and in the last time trial last year, that I could do well. The climbs is where this Tour will be won. I hope the Tour will be decided long before the final TT this year.”
Behind Andy is older brother Frank, who also starts with ambitions of doing well on the GC front. Frank crashed out of last year’s Tour on the cobblestones of stage 3, something that would later have a huge impact on the duel between Andy and Contador. The team hopes that having both Schleck brothers at the front of the battle will give them a one-two punch against the Spaniard.
“We’re not here to beat Contador. We’re here to win the Tour,” Frank said. “We like this Tour route. We’ve seen the stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps and we’re happy there’s only one time trial. We have a strong team for the team time trial as well.”
Andy Schleck said he’s put last year’s Tour out of his head and rolls into this year’s edition motivated to win.
“The past is over and last year’s Tour is in the history books,” he said. “I am ready for the Tour and of course we want to win.”
Frank also defended his brother against such criticism that he doesn’t have the mental toughness to challenge Contador.
“He has a very big engine. He has the talent and he recovers well because he has a very big engine,” Frank said. “He has never missed a big (race). He always trains and he is always there for the season’s top goals. … He just told me, ‘the switch is turned on.'”
Backed by such stalwarts as Stuart O’Grady, Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt, Leopard-Trek starts with perhaps the deepest and most experienced team in the peloton. Everyone is lining up to help Schleck.
“We are all going to be working hard for one of the Schlecks to win in Paris,” said Cancellara. “This year’s Tour is different. There is no prologue, there’s not a time trial until the end. We have the team time trial, and we have big ambitions there. I am looking forward to a different kind of Tour. Before it was one week in the yellow jersey. Now I can have a little more fun. We want to win it with Andy or Frank. I am ready to give everything for the team. Maybe I will (get) some space to move at some point and take something personally out of this Tour, but that’s not the top goal.”
The top goal is a Schleck in the yellow jersey in Paris. Contador and the other rivals might have something to say about that.