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Stage winner Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) looks pleased after earning his first victory of the season.
Tour de Suisse winner reflects on 2010 season and challenges ahead
With his 2010 season finished, Fränk Schleck is taking time out at home before he embarks on a new chapter in his career with the yet-to-be-named Luxembourg Project team.
The Tour de Suisse winner and brother of two time Tour de France runner-up, Andy Schleck, recently returned from the Worlds where he finished 16th in the men's road race. However, his top-five placing at the Vuelta drew the curtain on his time at Saxo Bank, ending an eight year partnership with Bjarne Riis. With new challenges on the horizon he's already looking ahead to the New Year and his new team.
"The goals will be the Classics and the Tour de France," Fränk Schleck told Cyclingnews. "I believe we can win the Tour next year but the opportunity to ride for this team came out of Luxembourg and obviously we are very proud of our country and want to be good ambassadors."
As yet the team's sponsor has to be announced, however team principle Brian Nygaard has made public several elements, including the managerial staff and partnerships with Luxembourg Mercedes and Trek. It is understood that both Schlecks will be joined by a large proportion of former Saxo Bank riders, while Maxime Monfort and Fabian Cancellara have also been linked with the team.
"It's not going to be 'the Schleck team' though. It's going to be a team that we're part of and we'll go for the Tour. I'm not going to lie and say that the team for the Tour de France won't see Andy and me being leaders but we'll have a strong team with a lot of good guys," Schleck said.
As for when the team's sponsor will be announced, Schleck is happy to leave everything to his management, instead concentrating on riding his bike and spending precious time with his young family.
"It's up to Brian [Nygaard]. I know they want to announce it very soon and it's up to Brian to do that. So far I've been concentrating on riding my bike. The managers handle the rest and I'm just happy to race my bike. That's how I want it to be for the next five or six years until I retire."
One thing Schleck won't want to repeat before ending his career is crashing out of the Tour de France. During the critical stage to Arenberg this year he hit the pavé, breaking his collar bone and putting an end to his Tour bid.
"What most people forget is that you need to recover physically and mentally. Mentally I thought I was still doing the Tour with team even though I was just watching them on television every day. It's been a long hard season. I'm very satisfied with how things have gone."
Suisse victory the 2010 highlight
Would the race have been different if he'd not crashed seems irrelevant now, but coming into the race Fränk Schleck was arguably in the best form of his career, dishing out a regal performance to be crowned winner of the Tour de Suisse in June.
"I don't like to go back on things and give ifs and buts but for sure it would have been more exciting if I'd stayed in the race. Last year I almost finished on the podium and this year I think I could have done it. I was very good in Luxembourg and Tour de Suisse. What we saw at the Tour was exciting but I think there would have been even more suspense and excitement if I'd been there.
"Winning Suisse was a sign that I was in super shape. I'm very proud of winning that race. I've done it many times and I've finished well but to go there and win is different. It's a great race, beautiful climbs and always something any rider wants in his palmarès."
Despite his crash at the Tour de France, Schleck recovered in time for Vuelta. He lined up alongside his brother but with Andy breaking team rules and drinking alcohol in a bar he found himself a teammate short after Bjarne Riis ejected the younger brother from the race.
"Andy lost me in the Tour and of course I would have needed him in the Vuelta to help me. I would be lying if I said it was all fine. It was an issue when he was taken from the race and yes, there was a lot going on behind the scenes but I promised Bjarne and myself that that I owed him something and that I'd continue to focus.
"We'd worked together for eight years and we had a super strong team. Even though everyone there knew we were changing teams everyone was great and we stuck together without any questions. Every rider gave everything and you can't ask for more than that.
"At the end of the day I didn't have to agree with Bjarne, it wasn't my decision. Of course I have my opinion on it. As Andy said he made a mistake and has to live. No, I didn't agree with the decision but I respect it and had to live with it."
Loyalty despite all differences
Fränk Schleck's time with Riis has seen the climber win a number of races including the Tour de Suisse, two stages in the Tour de France and Amstel Gold. While the Operación Puerto cloud will always be a low, the Luxembourg rider believes that the relationship between former boss and employee will always remain strong.
"I heading for new challenges - we both are - but we'll still respect each other on or off the bike," Schleck said, putting aside any of the perceived friction that was on display during the tail end of the season.
"Bjarne gave me a chance and I remember it like yesterday. I remember reading online that the CSC riders were preparing for boot camp and I was sat at home and didn't know if I was going or not. I almost gave up and then a day later Bjarne called me and told me to get on a plane. I was so excited when I was packing, I had to get everything, flashlight, everything. He gave me a chance to grow and gave me a good programme."
Next year, any respect will be put to one side when the Riis and the Schlecks will be part of different teams. At next week's Tour de France presentation in Paris, the Schlecks will sit aside Nygaard, while Riis, presuming he attends, will be without his leader, Alberto Contador, who is still fighting to clear his name from doping allegations.
As Prudhomme unveils his 2011 route both Schlecks and Riis, assuming Contador clears his name, will be already thinking of opportunities to take the fight to each other and win next year's race.
"Yeah, that's going to be strange because we had a great friendship. We've tried to be as professional as we could, at all times. I raced the Vuelta and gave my all and Andy is at Lombardia right now. I'm sure that we'll sit down with Bjarne for a beer after a race from time to time.
"Professional cycling is a competition but we have friends in the bunch and once you finish a race you leave everything on the road."