Following his early abandons at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, Andy Schleck finally put a smile on his face after racing at the front in the Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire that finished on Friday in Sablé-sur-Sarthe.
Schleck finished 22nd, 30 seconds behind overall winnner Luke Durbridge (GreenEdge), but was able to test his legs with a few attacks and was pleased with the feelings.
"It's been a very enjoyable race," Schleck told Cyclingnews after receiving the fair-play award from the race organizers. "The weather has been good. I've managed to ride well and I don't regret my choice to come here rather than doing the Volta al Pais Vasco.
"The bunch wasn't too big (104 starters) but it was still a fast race. Not many races are contested at such a high speed as what we experienced today, and yesterday's course was very selective. Yesterday, it was a real test for me and I was happy with how my legs responded."
During stage 3, the leader of RadioShack-Nissan went solo on the attack with less than twelve kilometers to go. He was eventually caught after the Monts des Avaloirs, which is the highest summit of west of France (416m), but he successfully passed the test regarding his condition.
Schleck was seen at the front of the peloton again during the final stage. The other test he underwent was the 6.8km time trial in Angers. He announced that he would give his best but only finished 40th. "The directeur sportif [Luca Guercilena] was happy with my time trial but in six kilometers, I've lost eleven seconds from Denis Menchov who is one of my rivals for the Tour de France. It means there's still work to be done," said Schleck.
"I'm starting to feel good," Andy continued. "The Amstel Gold Race might still come a bit early for me but yesterday, I rode for another 60 kilometers after the stage, so I should be all right for Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I've trained much more than usual. I've done more rides in the hills.
"I don't think the Pais Vasco would have been a good preparation for me this year. I knew that Armstrong, Basso and Ullrich have also used La Sarthe for their building in the past but there's not just one way to come into shape, and every year is different. Whether I can win Liège-Bastogne-Liège also depends on how the other riders go.
"One year ago, Philippe Gilbert had won almost every race he took part in and he doesn't seem to go so well now. Where is Valverde? I don't know where he's at. What I know is that my morale has been boosted by my ride at La Sarthe. I couldn't have had the same feeling if I was training alone and looking at my watts on my computer. That doesn't replace racing. My form and my mental are good now."