Tales from the peloton, June 20, 2007
Fränk Schleck further highlighted his ability with a storming stage win on yesterday's stage of the Tour de Suisse. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes was at the post stage press conference to hear the new yellow jersey talk about his victory and hopes for the race.
Schleck took off approximately seven kilometres from the finish of stage four, tearing up the near-ten percent slopes of the Triesenberg-Malbun climb and opening up a healthy lead over the other main contenders.
"I think there is a big difference between being a leader and a protected rider." - Schleck on riding the Tour de France as CSC's main man.
Russian rider Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) was 32 seconds behind the victorious Luxembourg rider at the line. José Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was 42 seconds in arrears, while Matteo Carrara (Unibet.com) and Schleck's compatriot Kim Kirchen came home a further six seconds down. Gilberto Simoni was sixth while big names such as Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel), Linus Gerdemann, Patrik Sinkewitz, Michael Rogers (all T-Mobile), Andreas Klöden (Astana) and Sastre were all much further back.
Schleck is already a proven winner, having taken the Amstel Gold Race last year plus the l'Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France, but winning a stage and taking the overall lead in the Tour de Suisse means a lot to him.
"It is a fantastic victory, to win on a summit like this. I am a fairly good climber," he said modestly. "It is a victory which gives me confidence for the Tour. I dedicate it to my team and to my younger brother, who rode very well and got second at the Giro."
The 27 year-old rode aggressively on the final climb, choosing to go early rather than wait until closer to the end. "I had good legs and wanted to make a selection," he explained. "I saw that Carrara was on my wheel so I went a bit faster. Afterwards some riders came back to me but I accelerated harder to make them tired. At that moment, I saw that I was alone. I think it was a good idea to continue the effort then.
"The two last kilometres were very tough. It is a very, very hard climb and I think everyone suffered a lot. I was being updated about the other riders and they were riding together but it was fine, I knew the distance, I maintained my rhythm and it worked well."
When he crossed the line, he waved his finger, as if to make a point. "It was a gesture for the people who are very close [to me]," he explained. "Kim Anderson is my directeur sportif but he is also a very, very good friend. It was also for my family, my brother, and for all the team.
"I asked them to put the pressure on during the first climb and without hesitation everybody – including Fabian [Cancellara] - agreed. They had 100% confidence in me and for that, when I crossed the line I thought of these great people."
One of those teammates was Carlos Sastre. He eventually finished 5'48" back, prompting a press conference question as to whether he is on course for a good showing in July.
"I think that Carlos has much experience and will do a very, very good Tour," stated Schleck. "I have full confidence in him and he will have a good Tour for the team. I am sure that he will be in form, he is very, very professional."
Team manager Bjarne Riis has designated Sastre as the leader for this year, but is on record as saying that he believes Schleck is a Tour contender for the future. Yesterday's performance plus that at l'Alpe d'Huez certainly backed that up. However, is there any way he could end up being a leader as early as this July?
"I think there is a big difference between being a leader and a protected rider," he answered. "Carlos has much more experience than I do and I have full confidence in him. To be a leader you need to have experience. I think I will be a protected rider but that he will be the leader of the team. I am happy to be there with him and to learn from him."
For now, talk of the Tour is premature. He has taken the lead in one of the biggest stage races in cycling and if he can hold on until the end, it will be the biggest victory of his career. The team will focus one hundred percent on fighting until Bern on Sunday.
The list of likely rivals was narrowed down considerably yesterday. He names a compatriot as perhaps the biggest threat. "I haven't seen the classification yet, but I think that Kim Kirchen will be very, very strong. He was very strong in the prologue and is a very, very good rider. What happened today is a dream for those from Luxembourg. Kim is one of the favourites to win."
He plays down any talk of holding back in order to [possibly] be stronger at the Tour. "The Tour de Suisse is a beautiful race, one of biggest races of the year. If I can win this race, then that is important. The Tour is something even bigger but I will just take it as it comes.
"If you have got the jersey it is a big thing. You have to show some respect for this jersey too. Switzerland is a beautiful country and that is why I would love to keep the jersey. I have two weeks afterwards before the Tour starts and I can take a rest then."