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Rivals wary of Schleck-Bruyneel tandem

Frank and Andy Schleck at the route introduction Tuesday. AFP Photo PARIS (VN) — Rivals are taking a wary approach to the merger between the Schleck brothers and veteran sport director Johan Bruyneel for next season. Defending champion…

2012 Tour de France route introduction. Frank and Andy Schleck
Frank and Andy Schleck at the route introduction Tuesday. AFP Photo

PARIS (VN) — Rivals are taking a wary approach to the merger between the Schleck brothers and veteran sport director Johan Bruyneel for next season.

Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) said the merger of Leopard-Trek and RadioShack will make the Schleck brothers even more dangerous next season.

“You have to respect that Bruyneel knows how to win grand tours,” Evans said. “You know that they will have a strong team and they will be one of our top rivals, but I am confident we will have a strong team too.”

That feeling was echoed at SaxoBank-Sungard, where team manager Bjarne Riis is watching the merger plans with an interest. The Schleck brothers left his team last year to create Leopard-Trek, only to have that team merge with Bruyneel’s RadioShack outfit going into 2012.

“Of course, they will have a strong team, but I have the best rider,” Riis said, referring to three-time Tour winner Alberto Contador. “We will have a strong team, too. We will all ride for Contador. We are not afraid of anyone.”

The Schlecks will obviously be at a disadvantage on the time trial-heavy course unveiled Tuesday in Paris.

Andy and Frank admit they will have to work to improve their prowess against the clock, but longtime sport director Kim Andersen said there might not be as much improvement as some people suggest.

“They have already been working on their time trial, so we cannot expect too much improvements,” Andersen said, who is staying on as a sport director with the team merger. “They have to win the Tour with their talent and they are climbers. This Tour is not ideal for us, but we will have a very strong team. And with a strong team, you can make a difference.”

With the merger of the two teams, the Schlecks will be able to count on even more support than before. Fabian Cancelllara and Jens Voigt will be staying with them, but the brothers will also see new support from RadioShack riders like Andreas Klöden, Haimar Zubeldia and Chris Horner.

Bruyneel said the Schlecks will be able to make a good race despite the more than double distance of time trials compared to 2011.

“There are three time trials, not one 100km one, but it’s not an advantage,” Bruyneel said. “At the end of the day, it’s the rider who makes the race. Sometimes on a big mountain stage, everyone waits and then there’s little difference. This course has room to attack.”

Andy Schleck said he’s looking forward to working with Bruyneel in the coming weeks and months to hatch a plan of attack.

“We’ve been talking quite a bit the past few weeks and I am excited to work with (Bruyneel). He’s won a lot of grand tours as a director, so he knows what he’s talking about,” Schleck said. “Lance Armstrong won seven Tours because he was the strongest, but maybe he wouldn’t have won so many without Bruyneel there to help him. I think I can improve as a rider working with him.”

After finishing second three times in a row, the younger Schleck is hoping Bruyneel’s winning formula can help him move one step higher on the Tour podium come July.