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The wheels keep spinning for Fränk Schleck. The veteran Luxembourger lines up at Paris-Nice this weekend for the 13th time of his career. It’s all part of a familiar roadmap to the racing season he’s followed nearly every year since turning pro in 2003.
The “Race to the Sun” leads to the Vuelta a País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), then the Ardennes classics and the Tour de Suisse before the Tour de France. Schleck has mixed it up a few times, even missing the Tour last year, but the ritual stays the same. At 35, Schleck says he’s “not done yet,” and vows to return to the sharp end of the action this season. A stage victory at the 2015 Vuelta a España confirmed he’s “still visible on the bike.”
VeloNews sat down with the Trek – Segafredo rider for an interesting conversation about the Tour de France, his brother Andy, Carlos Sastre’s 2008 attack, and more.
VeloNews: What is Andy doing these days? Does he miss racing since retiring?
Frank Schleck: He is doing a lot of work with his bike shop. I think he misses it a little bit, but he’s not riding his bike too much right now. He has his ups and downs. Sometimes he says he’s happy to be out and not have to do this all over again, to be stressed to train, to be stressed to race. Then he sometimes misses the competition, the challenge, and misses hanging out with the boys. Now he just sits at home every night. He has no drama in his life now, and he misses that.
VN: Why do you think the northern classics have grown so much in popularity, while the Ardennes seem like they’ve lost some of their luster?
FS: Maybe for the media? Flanders and Roubaix are big, but I think Liège comes close to that. For me, these monuments are the big races that really count in cycling. Of course, I cannot race the cobblestones, and everyone has the races that suit them. That’s what’s so fun about it. From the beginning of the season, you have a program for riders heading to the cobbles, and another for the riders going to the Ardennes, then you throw everyone together for the Tour de France. I think that’s really cool for cycling.
VN: How has the style of racing changed in the Ardennes classics? We don’t see any long-distance attacks anymore. Why?
FS: Amstel Gold Race has changed, especially with the last new lap they put on. Liège has stayed the same because it is so hard. It’s always decided in the last 30km. It’s not decided on La Redoute anymore, but now the key point is the Roche aux Faucons. There is always a key group going there, of four, five, six riders, and then a chase. The race stays the same — there is no hiding. It’s such a hard race, 270km, there is no mercy. It’s a monument. That says it all. I was second and third, but I have never won it. It’s still on my to-do list.
VN: What does your future hold?
FS: This is the end of a second year with the team. For me, I don’t see myself stopping next year. I have six or seven months to see how everything goes, and after that, we can make a decision. If I am not visible in the bunch, I can always look back and be really proud of my career.
VN: Many riders in your situation have converted into road captain roles to lengthen their careers. Do you see yourself doing that?
FS: We all do that. Whether you accept it or not, it’s the evolution. Or you can stop. You are different than when you are a young rider coming up, and there are always new riders coming up, putting pressure on everyone. I remember when I won on Alpe d’Huez in 2006, that was the same for me — I was the young guy, but it’s a normal evolution. I don’t see [Peter] Sagan winning like he does now in 10 years. There is going to be someone who beats Sagan, and there is going to be someone who beats [Chris] Froome. It will happen. We don’t know who or when, but it will happen. That’s as sure as we are all going to die some day.
VN: So you will help Bauke Mollema in the Tour this year?
FS: Right now, Bauke is stronger than me. He has had two great seasons. I have been third on the Tour podium before, but he has been very strong the past two years. We are all professional and we know what our job is. We are paid to do our job as good as possible, and that means we have to do the best possible results for the team. If that means I have to help Bauke to achieve the best result for the team, I will be the first to raise my hand. He is a really nice guy and he’s down to earth. I would help him anyway, and do it with passion. That’s it. Bottom line, everyone rides for what’s best for the team. And if I am the strong guy, I am sure he would do the same for me. That’s why we call it a team.
VN: A similar situation in the 2008 Tour turned out differently. How do you reflect on that race?
FS: I was in yellow and my teammate [Carlos Sastre] attacked me. He attacked me on Alpe d’Huez. Can I be disappointed? Yes. Can I be angry? No, because the team won the Tour. Can I say it was wrong? No, because Carlos was first. Was I disappointed? Yes, but in the end, we won the Tour with Carlos.
VN: Was Sastre’s attack a call made from the team car?
FS: That was his call to attack. We knew we had to do something, but it was not planned that he would attack at the beginning. He was right, and nobody gave him shit later because he won. Everyone congratulated him, and so did I.
VN: Do you think you could have won that Tour had Sastre not attacked you?
FS: I don’t know if I could have won. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we won the Tour. That’s what we are paid for. The team comes first. You should never bite the hand that feeds you. I hope people don’t take this in the wrong way, but you have to give the ultimate respect to the team.
VN: How are you feeling coming into 2016 after a rough 2015?
FS: I am not going to say it was an easy season. It was like a roller coaster, a lot of pressure, with injuries, and I really had to fight to get through it. The victory in the Vuelta [stage 16] was so worth. That reminded me why we suffer so much on the bike.
VN: Is it easier or harder to train as a professional as you grow older?
FS: I think I have to work harder, but I do it easier, meaning that I have more fun doing it. The experience helps me. Three years ago when I couldn’t race wasn’t nice [a one-year ban for Xipamide], so I enjoy it even more, racing my bike, and working even harder. It’s not something I take for granted. I also have a family life at home, and that also makes me appreciate it more.