With his doping-related ban set to expire on July 14 Fränk Schleck has told Cyclingnews that he is ready and able to return to racing.
Schleck tested positive for the banned diuretic and masking agent Xipamide during last year’s Tour de France in an anti-doping control after stage 13, and received a 12 month ban.
“I’m fit and I’m training so I’ll be ready to step in,” he told Cyclingnews which contacted him on Wednesday.
Schleck would not set any date for his return though and would not talk about any of the speculation that has surrounded his future in recent weeks, with current team boss Flavio Becca reportedly contemplating firing the rider.
“We’ll see when that is,” Schleck said when asked about a possible racing return date.
“I’m not going to talk about that now though. We’ll see. I’m training between four to six hours a day and I’m fit.”
When pressed on whether he has a contract for next year the former Tour de France podium finisher said, “I don’t want to talk about that, so please respect that.”
“I’m happy that the team has a sponsor,” Schleck told Cyclingnews.
Cyclingnews understands from a reliable source that Trek is currently renegotiating contracts with both Schleck brothers for the 2014 season.
While younger brother Andy continues to impress in the opening days of the Tour, Fränk has watched on from the sidelines and has tipped his brother to animate the race in the mountains.
“They did a very good time trial yesterday and Andy looks pretty sharp. He’s been at the front and that looks good. It’s not easy being on the sidelines. If I’m not out on the bike then I’m watching,” he said.
“He has the experience and he knows how to climb and in a week he should be going even better.”
World time trial champion Tony Martin has been fined 1621 Euros for having the world champion rainbow stripes on his bike yesterday. According to the UCI, they are allowed for individual time trials but not for team time trials.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere was naturally not happy. “World champion Tony Martin Individual & team time trial # opqs this is scandalous. Good job # UCI destroy your own sport! # fine # tdf” he tweeted.
Too close for comfort
While it's true that cycling offers fans unrivalled access to their heroes, some get a little close for comfort, with Benjamin Noval (Saxo-Tinkoff) left injured following an incident during Tuesday's team time trial in Nice.
Noval's left hand collided with a spectator shortly after the first time check, resulting in a torn tendon in his index finger.
"The pain will have an affect on Noval's abilities in the race and surgery might be needed after Tour de France," said a team statement.
Noval is expected to start on Wednesday.
Team time trial one for BMC to forget
BMC finished a disappointing ninth in the Nice TTT, 26 seconds behind the winning time of Orica GreenEdge.
Philippe Gilbert blamed some of his performance on his handlebars which inexplicably dropped mid-race.
"I missed a turn and the whole team disordered," he explained of the incident's aftermath to nieuwsblad.be. "I rode in third position and had to take over. I was completely surprised. Afterwards I almost had no strength. I gave it the full effort, but there was no return by the changed position. "
The result saw the team's GC hope Cadel Evans drop from ninth to 28th overall after he lost 25 seconds.
"Obviously we came here with high expectations and with the overall general classification in mind, so losing seconds was not our objective, but as it turned out, we didn't perform as we needed to and conceded a lot of time over such a short distance," explained the Australian in his blog. "Now, it puts us on the back foot, only by a small margin but a margin none the less. Fortunately, there are a lot of kilometres left to race, so we will put this bad day behind us and look ahead to those."
What you didn't know about Robert Gesink
It was a 'relieved' Robert Gesink (Team Belkin) that finished the team time trial in Nice on Tuesday. Belkin crossed the finish line in 14th place for the stage.
"I am always nervous for team time trials," Gesink told De Telegraaf. "I need to go to the toilet ten times."
O'Grady became just the second Australian after Phil Anderson in 1998 to wear the yellow jersey and is riding a record 17th Tour while White, now a sports director, rode the Grand Boucle in 2005 after being robbed of a chance in 2004 due to an ill-timed incident the day of the grand depart, before guiding Garmin and now Orica GreenEdge through the epic three-week race.
O'Grady said that for Gerrans to earn the yellow jersey off the back of the Orica GreenEdge victory in the team time trial, made it extra special.
"It's one thing to cross the line on your own and win a stage and get the yellow jersey, but to do it with your group of mates that you've been racing with, that you sacrifice with… So much hard work, so much suffering and you lose 99 percent of the year so to be able to do it together, it's really a magical moment," he explained.
Watch the video below to see O'Grady's thoughts on where the team time trial was won, and White's reflections on the road ahead as the team try to hold on to yellow.
Cannondale rider emotional after missing the TTT time cut
An emotional Ted King (Cannondale) was at the start of stage 5 of the Tour de France in Cagnes-sur-Mer, but race judges refused to allow the American rider to continue after he finished outside the time limit in the team time trial.
The 195-rider peloton rolled out towards Marseille, King would not be amongst them and could only share his emotions and disappointment with the media and then find comfort with his parents, who had arrived to follow their son in his debut Tour de France the day before.
"I'm shredded. It's been an emotional rollers coaster for the last four days and especially the past 12 hours, they've been sickening," King said, often struggling to talk due to his emotions, but managing to control his anger against race organisers ASO and the UCI judges who showed no mercy despite him fighting the pain of a separated shoulder and finishing just seven seconds outside the time limit.
"I'm crying on the inside right now. I've already cried a few times. My folks are in town and only got in yesterday. It's been a difficult to travel for them because my father had a stroke 10 years ago," said King. "I wanted to race for them, and it's tough not being able to. They're so tremendously supportive. So is the team, they understand and know that all I want to do is race."
King also appreciated the support he received from fans around the world via Twitter and the internet.
"The outpouring of support from across the world has been amazing, but I'm shredded. It's been heart warming to feel the support," he said.
"I wanted to race, it's the Tour de France," King said, the emotions welling up inside him and affecting his voice.
Not pointing fingers
It would have been easy for King to criticise the race judges and the Tour de France organisers, or even is own Cannondale teammates, who did not wait for him after he was dropped just two kilometres into the 25km team time trial. His SRM power metre indicated that he finished inside the time cut, but the official timing ruled otherwise. The record breaking average stage speed of 57.841km/h set by Orica-GreenEdge also played against him.
King refused to vent his anger, showing his class and intelligence, while still letting out his frustration and emotions.
"I'm not going to point fingers. There's a lot of ambiguity in there. I'm not looking for generosity or a hug from ASO, I'm looking for some empathy and some understanding of the situation," he said.
"There are rules for a reason and there are exceptions made here and there. That's what I'm torn up about. I woke up half a dozen times in the night thinking it was a bad dream. I wanted to wake and hear it was a different story but it was bad to see things were still the same and that I was out of the Tour de France."
For the 2013 Tour de France, Cyclingnews has partnered with British Eurosport to offer a subscription discount to their online video player.
That means that in July alone you'll be able to watch up to 280 hours of cycling, including 87 hours of live coverage of the world's greatest bike race. Eurosport's season-long coverage also includes live action from more than 30 events, including the three Grand Tours, major Classics and stage races.
Eurosport Player is accessible on multiple devices, including PCs, Macs, laptops, Apple and Android mobiles/tablets and connected TVs.
Sign up at Eurosportplayer.co.uk using the code TDF2013 (UK) or TDF2013-DEIR (Ireland) and you'll get 12 months subscription for the price of 11 (£32.88/€36.57).
Tour de France coverage details
British Eurosport will begin each day with a Tour de France studio session, hosted by James Richardson and featuring analysts such as Dan Lloyd, Magnus Bäckstedt and Sean Yates.
Immediately after the stage ends, Eurosport will produce Tour de France Extra, a special live programme from the finish line. This show will feature top riders, team managers and other guests, who will analyse and discuss the stage's talking points. On the finish line, Eurosport are the only channel to show the riders a selection of the key moments of the stage via a screen, capturing the true reactions of the champions right after they've finished racing.
Eurosport also have an international team of consultants who will share their experience and insight with cycling fans throughout the Tour, including multiple stage and Classics winner Sean Kelly in the UK, and seven-time Tour de France King of the Mountains winner Richard Virenque in France.
"We're extremely happy to announce Orica-GreenEdge's participation in Canada's biggest and most important stage race on a day that has been historic for them and their country," Duane Vinneau, the Tour of Alberta's executive director, said. "As one of the top teams in the world, we congratulate them on their great accomplishment and look forward to seeing them in Alberta this September."
Orica-GreenEdge will join fellow WorldTour teams Belkin, BMC Racing, Garmin-Sharp, Cannondale and Argos-Shimano, and is expected to bring time trial powerhouse Svein Tuft, who is currently with the team racing his first Tour de France.
Also on the roster are Champion System, Equipe Garneau-Quebecor, SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis and Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.
The remainder of the 15 teams will be announced later.
Cycling's greatest rider Eddy Merckx paid a visit to the Tour de France in Nice on Tuesday. The now 68 year-old Belgian living legend was spotted at the Orica-Greenedge bus just before their final recon ride. Perhaps the Australian team's motivation was boosted by the presence of the Cannibal. In a chat with Cyclingnews, Merckx looked back on the Corsican prelude, the lack of potential Belgian Tour winners and the role of Chris Froome (Sky) as race favourite.
"Froome is the big favourite and then Contador, Evans, Van Garderen, Rodriguez and so on," Merckx told Cyclingnews. While Lucien Van Impe, winner of the Tour de France in 1976, stated that Froome was too nervous to win the Tour de France this year, it was clear Merckx thought differently. "It's too early to say that he's nervous," Merckx said.
Froome's attack on the Côte du Salario at the end of stage 2 from Bastia to Ajaccio was a much-discussed action. "The effort he did there will not cost him anything in the remainder of the Tour. He probably wanted to test the other GC-riders a bit. There was also the descent ahead. It wasn't harmful at all."
When asked about the chances for the Belgians to finally get another Tour de France winner Merckx played down the expectations. "I can't see a Belgian winner of the Tour de France for now," Merckx said. Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fourth in 2010 and 2012 but as it turns out Merckx felt more was needed to win the Grande Boucle. "If he improves then it's possible. He has to improve. The boy is working very hard for it. He's a real example of professionalism for others but that's not enough." Is it the engine, talent? "Yes."
The five-times winner of the Tour de France also offered his view on the three Corsican stages which kicked of this centenarian edition. The first thing he thought about was the big crash which occurred at the end of the first stage. After a relatively easy build-up the finish line was modified twice and a crash in the bunch made a lot of casualties.
"There was the big crash in Corsica. If the pace isn't high all day long then you get situations like that. Corsica is quite hard. There were nice winners with Kittel, Gerrans and Bakelants. What Bakelants did was quite a number he pulled off. The spectators lacked a bit but I think that Corsica was beautiful. I know it as I've been riding my bike over there with friends. It's quite hard to ride around in Corsica."
Cannondale rider continues his run of placing in Marseille
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) kept the green points jersey for yet another day at the Tour de France after the high-speed stage 5 sprint in Marseille, but the Slovak rider struggled to consider it as a consolation after finishing third behind Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky).
"Va bene cosi," he said in Italian after pulling on the green jersey. "I'm just glad I didn't crash. I scored some points with third place and I've kept the green jersey, so it's an okay day."
Sagan was ahead of the pile-up in the finishing straight but is still looking for his first victory in this year's Tour de France. He crashed on stage one to Bastia, was second behind Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) in Ajaccio and was beaten by Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) in Calvi on Monday.
He has a healthy lead in the green jersey competition, with 111 points, while Cavendish is second with 76 points. However Sagan is a natural born winner and wants to celebrate a stage win with one of his special victory salutes.
"It's nice to have the jersey but I want to win stage too. I'm trying every day," he said with a hint of frustration in his voice.
"I'm not perfect after the crash but I'm getting better and better. Hopefully I can win a stage in the next few days. Today's sprint was a bit crazy and was a bit dangerous. Mark Cavendish is the best sprinter in the sport and so it's not easy to beat him. I think I did a good sprint, I didn't lose many points to him, so I have to be happy."
Sagan came from behind with a late surge to take third place. He was on Andre Greipel's wheel after the last sweeping corner but admitted he would have had a better chance of victory if he'd been on Cavendish's wheel.
"Edvald Boasson Hagen was a bit lucky because he was behind Mark, while I did my sprint alone. That's the difference but that's also sprinting," he said.
"Tomorrow is another stage for the sprinters. I hope it will finally go my way."
The 176.5km stage from Ax-en-Provence crosses the north of the Camargue region of southern France and is almost totally flat. The last sweeping corner is three kilometres from the finish and so a fast sprint is expected, with lead out trains again playing a vital role.