CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. (VN) — Claiming that the only other times he’d been close to 10,000 feet elevation was “in an airplane,” Leopard-Trek’s Fränk Schleck said he was “surprised — very surprised” by his third-place finish in Crested Butte Tuesday on the opening road stage of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
The Luxembourg national road champion keyed off an attack by his brother Andy in the final 3km of the 99.4-mile stage from Salida, disrupting an already-dwindling group of GC contenders on the final slopes up to Mount Crested Butte.
That move promoted a counterattack by eventual stage winner Levi Leipheimer, with Colombian rider Sergio Henao (Gobernacion) leapfrogging Schleck for second on the stage.
Fränk Schleck crossed the line third, seven seconds behind Leipheimer, while Andy didn’t fare as well, finishing a full minute behind the RadioShack rider.
After summiting the 11,312-foot Monarch Pass early on the stage, the stage reached its climax on the 3km run-in to the Crested Butte ski resort.
“All the big teams were there, HTC, Rabobank was working for Gesink, RadioShack and Garmin, and they all had their last helpers swap off with about 2km to go,” Frank Schleck said. “Andy was there, I guess he also adapted well to the altitude. All the big leaders were alone, except myself and Andy, and it came to the point where Andy knew what to do. We raced the way we’re used to racing, and that’s together.
“As soon as the last helper from Rabobank swung off, I said, ‘Andy if you can go, now would be a good moment.’ I got an angry, hateful look from him … but he went anyway. He did his job, and he tried for himself, too. It could have been a good move, and it made the race harder. As soon as we caught him, I attacked, and then Levi counterattacked me and I couldn’t hold his wheel. He was the strongest today.”
Asked about the effects of altitude, Fränk Schleck said that more than hurting more, it’s the power output that suffers.
“The altitude affects everybody, that’s the good part,” he said. “Everyone has to ride at the same altitude. Some of the riders, like Levi, are more adapted to it — they have spent more time at altitude, racing in Utah. You feel it deep in your lungs. You can’t output the same watts. You just don’t have the same power.”
Schleck had a busy schedule after finishing third at this year’s Tour de France. He first traveled to Holland for post-Tour criteriums, then Spain, for Clasica San Sebastian, and back to Holland before flying to the U.S. earlier this month to visit his team’s bike sponsor, Trek.
“I was only home for one day before we flew to Wisconsin for Trek, which was great,” Schleck said. “It was great to see the Trek family. We had some events there for four days, then I flew home for five days, and then I flew over here.”
He hasn’t had a chance to preview Wednesday’s queen stage, the 130-mile ride from Gunnison to Aspen, which features the dirt climb over Cottonwood Pass, elevation 12,126 feet, and the final climb over Independence Pass, elevation 12,095 feet. But Schleck said he has heard enough to have a healthy respect for what lies ahead.
“I just came to Colorado three days before the race, so I haven’t seen it,” he said. “I had to spend one day out at a river, fly fishing. There was no time to ride those climbs; that takes too much energy out of you. You want to rest and take easy rides to get used to this altitude. I’ve heard a lot about (the stage 2 route), especially the first climb (Cottonwood Pass), and I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s the queen stage, and we’re going to see the first big contenders come to the front — if we haven’t already seen it today. It will be one of the big showdowns of this race — stage 2, and the (stage 3 time trial.)”
Unlike some riders at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Fränk Schleck isn’t utilizing the race as preparation for the early-September Québec and Montréal Grand Prixs. He will instead return to Europe for the September 14 Grand Prix de Wallonie, and the late-September world road championships in Copenhagen. Then, he said, depending on his form, he may also race the October 15 Tour of Lombardy.
“I was very motivated to come to Colorado, but I think I might be even more motivated after today,” Schleck said. “Cycling in America is a big, big passion, there are a lot of fans in the U.S., and I’m really feeling that support. To get this third-place today is a small way to give something back to the American fans. I’m more motivated now than ever.”