Schlecks to join Sastre in three-pronged attack

CSC's two brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck are aiming high in the 2008 Tour de France. They, along...

An interview with Fränk and Andy Schleck, July 3, 2008

CSC's two brothers Fränk and Andy Schleck are aiming high in the 2008 Tour de France. They, along with Carlos Sastre, have the goal that one of the team will wear the final yellow jersey in Paris. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes spoke to the Luxembourg duo in the lead-up to the race.

Although Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) are regarded by many as the big favourites for the 2008 Tour de France, the CSC trio of Carlos Sastre, Fränk Schleck and Andy Schleck cannot be discounted. Sastre has finished third and fourth in the past two years. Schleck senior (Fränk) won the stage to Alpe d'Huez in 2006 and placed tenth overall, and his younger brother stunned the cycling world when he finished second in his debut Giro d'Italia last year.

The palmarès of Evans and Valverde suggest, on paper at least, that they look like bigger contenders for the race victory, but when the team strength of CSC is factored into the equation, nothing can be dismissed. If each are on form, their three-pronged attack could well shape the race and determine in which direction the battle turns.

"A big favourite for me is also Menchov, plus Sastre - and why not Fränk and me?" -Andy doesn't count the Schlecks out in the hunt for Tour glory.

The two Schleck brothers finalised their preparation for the Tour by riding the Tour de Suisse and then the Luxembourg national championships, where Fränk won the road race and Andy was fifth. Both had been happy with their form at the Tour de Suisse, feeling that they were moving in the right direction to be in peak condition at the Tour de France. "I am really happy," said 23 year-old Andy on the morning of the final stage. "I didn't think I was going to be as good. I came to the race with the main ambition of preparing for the Tour, my big goal of the season, but I felt better every day. It is pretty good, I am where I want to be for the Tour."

He finished second in the Giro d'Italia a year ago and could, realistically, have targeted the overall win in the race this season. However he decided not to do it, peaking once in April and then continuing a big build-up for July. "The whole season has been focused on the Tour. Of course, the first goal of the season was the Ardennes Classics. I think I did well there," he stated, referring to his fourth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

"Liège was the highlight. It was the biggest race and, for me, it is the hardest [one-day] race of the year. I missed the podium but it was still something special to be up there with my brother. After that, it was everything for the Tour. I had a good break, I did some training and before this, I have only done the Tour of Luxembourg as my first race. When I started the Tour de Suisse I didn't feel super, but in the last days I feel really good."

Fränk Schleck also showed strong form in the Tour de Suisse, looking almost certain to take the race leader's jersey on stage five until a spectacular crash on the descent towards the finish. He was away with Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) at that point and would have ended the day well clear in the overall classification.

His attack on that final climb was very impressive and showed his fine form, but the aftermath of the crash caused him to ride a little below his true level in Switzerland.

"I have got a problem with my hip due to the crash, because my back was tight," he said the morning of the final stage. "I went really deep in the time trial because I wanted to test myself. I was also super-motivated because Bjarne was here, he went behind me [in the car] and he told me the way I should ride. I gave it everything.

"This morning my whole back and hips didn't feel very good. With a couple of days rest it should be okay. I will go and see my chiropractor, my neighbour, she is really fantastic and she always helps me a lot."

His win in the Luxembourg road race championships [he finished 22 seconds ahead of Benoît Joachim] showed that she had indeed sorted out the problem. He's therefore on target for the Tour.

Brothers' unified goals

Both brothers stress that Carlos Sastre will start as team leader – as might be expected, given his third and fourth places in the past two years – but they will also have a protected status.

"We will go to the Tour with a captain of the team, Carlos Sastre," said Andy. "But I will not be going there as a domestique…put it this way, I will not be the first one who will go and get bottles. When we get to the climbs, if I can stay with the best I will do that. Then we will decide in the race what tactics to follow.

"Fränk and I will go with more or less the same goal, to ride as well as possible. Carlos is the captain of the team for the Tour…in the end, we will see how it goes. If we stay with him in the climbs it is good, if we are better [than him], he is going to help us."

His brother said less on the leadership matter, but it was clear that he is hoping to ride very well. "Carlos is the leader, we will see what happens in the race," he stated. "As regards to my targets, I have been sacrificing a lot, I have been training a lot. I am not going to put pressure on myself [by stating a desired finishing position – Ed.].

"Let's put it this way, if I finish 30th but I have done everything I could, then I am happy. If I get 30th, then it is just because it was meant for me. But I have been trying everything, I have been training well and sacrificing a lot.

"I don't want to look back and regret something. I want to give my best and, whatever happens, I hope to be in the top ten."

Andy Schleck took the white jersey in the 2007 Giro d'Italia and would love to do the same in the Tour. "Of course it is a target. But I think we are going to see a lot of good young riders this year at the Tour. We have seen a young guy like Roman Kreuziger, who is really, really strong, and also Thomas Lövkvist. I think he will also go for it."

He isn't limiting his goals to that, however. When asked who he saw as challengers for the yellow jersey, he listed several names and then put himself and his brother in the mix. "I think we will see Cadel Evans and Valverde [going for yellow]. I think Lövkvist is going to be really good, and also Kreuziger. A big favourite for me is also Menchov, plus Sastre - and why not Fränk and me?"

Post Tour plans

Coming to the race this week, the Tour will be the overriding goal in their minds. All of the CSC riders – and, indeed, all of the other riders in the race – will be focussing on the three weeks ahead and riding as well as possible. But when asked to look beyond July, the brothers have an idea of what they will do for the rest of the year. They will essentially follow the same programme as each other, targeting one-day races that will suit their characteristics.

"I will do San Sebastian, and then the Olympics, of course. After that, I think I'd be happy to stay home for a few weeks," stated Fränk. Andy said likewise. "After the Tour I will do San Sebastian, then from there I will fly to the Olympics. That is also a goal, but we'll see how things are after the Tour. There are two possibilities - you're either really good or really bad [after a Grand Tour]. We will see how it goes there."

Both will then take a break and prepare for the world championships and the Tour of Lombardy. That'd make it a long season, but Fränk Schleck said that he didn't mind. "I have been doing this for two years. I always go for the whole year. I am always good in the end of the season, so why not?

"Otherwise, the winter is too long, I will be getting too fat," he added, laughing.

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