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Andy Schleck: ‘I will be ready for the Ardennes’

Virus wiped out the early season for 2009 Liège winner

Andy Schleck has hardly had the smoothest start to the 2012 season, but he’s not losing any sleep over it now.

July is what really counts for the RadioShack-Nissan superstar and a few bobbles in the opening months of this season will soon be in the rearview mirror as he hopes to be hitting all cylinders for the upcoming Ardennes classics.

“If you have a rough start of the season, you had to adapt to it and change the program a little bit. I am not worried,” Schleck told VeloNews. “I am focused on the big part of the season and I am on schedule. I will be ready for the Ardennes.”

Schleck started Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl ahead of what he hopes will be a return to the Andy Schleck that everyone has become accustomed to seeing in the hilly classics.

Speaking to VeloNews last week during a break at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, Schleck explained that a virus derailed his opening weeks of racing.

“I had a really good winter and when I started the season, I was on schedule and perhaps a little bit ahead, but my start hasn’t been so good,” Schleck said. “I was sick, I missed two or three days and then a week. That’s when I knew that I had to take it easy.”

Scheck’s early 2012 hasn’t gone well on the bike, either. He pulled out of Paris-Nice ill and then abandoned Volta a Catalunya along with nearly 40 riders in horrendous weather during stage 3.

“Of course, I will like to start the season with some results, but when you’re sick, you’re sick. You cannot change that,” he said. “It was a virus; that’s why I couldn’t get rid of it so quickly. I was tired, I didn’t feel good, I didn’t pay so much attention to it too early, then at Paris-Nice I felt worse and worse in the race. I went home, got my blood checked and took antibiotics for five days. Then I had a nice eight days of training around Nice. So now I feel really good.”

The three races in the Ardennes are always Schleck’s first major goal of the season. A winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2009, Schleck said he would race all three of the Ardennes classics.

First up is Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, where Schleck went on a late-race attack last year only to be swooped up at the foot of the Cauberg by Joaquim Rodriguez and race-winner Philippe Gilbert.

“We have Fränk and me leading the race, so we’ll see how it goes. I think the team will be strong for the Ardennes,” he said. “I will not say Amstel Gold is easier, because it’s all about positioning and fighting for position all day. I have been good in it every year, but I’ve never really had a great result. Last year, I came close, but they caught me.”

Then there’s Flèche Wallonne on April 18 and Liège to close out the spring classics on April 22.

“I think it goes without saying that Liège suits me best of the three of them. It’s the hardest, it’s better for me because the climbs are longer,” Schleck said. “Of course, I target all three of them. The strongest are always in the front.”

Schleck says he’s ready to plow full steam into the Ardennes. His victory in Liège in 2009, when he attacked on the Roche aux Faucons and soloed home for the win remains one of the brightest memories of his career.

“The year I won Liège remains very special. It’s the biggest one-day race I have won. I was really strong that day,” he said. “It’s the biggest one-day race of the year for riders like me. It’s the only one that truly suits the GC riders. I always get excited about racing there.”

Even if he doesn’t do well in the Ardennes, Schleck says that the Tour remains his top goal for 2012.

Nearly 100 kilometers of individual time trials haven’t dimmed his view that he can win the Tour. (The UCI retroactively awarded Schleck the 2010 Tour title in February, following Alberto Contador’s doping sanction.) Schleck has already been working hard to improve his TT skills, including putting some time on the track at Mallorca back in February to hone his time trial position and test new equipment.

“My big target this year is the Tour de France and my training has changed quite a bit,” he said. “I have been doing more distance, more longer climbers, but I think I am going to be good in the Ardennes.”

After Liège, Schleck will take a short break, then re-up with training camps and preparation for the Tour. He’ll likely race the Criterium du Dauphiné in June as well as the Luxembourg national championships before the Tour.