Andy Schleck has been named as leader of the RadioShack-Leopard team for the 100th edition of the Tour de France but team manager Luca Guercilena has downplayed expectations admitting that a podium finish for the Luxembourger is "unrealistic."
Schleck has endured a difficult period since a fractured pelvis at the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné ruled him out of last year’s Tour. Although he was able to return to action at the end of last season, he struggled for form and motivation through the early months of the new campaign. In recent weeks Schleck has shown signs of improvement by completing the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse, and he is reported to have trained well in between the two races, enough to ensure his protected status in the team.
“We are happy to see that Andy is back,” Guercilena said. “Nobody in the team ever had doubts about the talent of Andy. Little by little he has come back to the level where we expect him. The Tour de Suisse encouraged and convinced us to give him the role he deserves and to give him the opportunity to have dedicated riders surrounding and supporting him.”
Given Schleck’s difficult start to the season and his fragile morale – in particular, the 27-year-old is said to have felt the absence of his brother Fränk, who is serving a one-year ban for a positive test for the diuretic Xipamide, Guercilena was keen to emphasis that he will line up in Corsica on June 29 unburdened by expectation.
“Of course we don’t put pressure on our champion. After the last twelve months it would be unrealistic to expect a podium place,” Guercilena said. “On the other hand, the lack of stress and pressure can be a positive stimulus to a brilliant performance.”
Schleck has finished on the podium in three of his four Tour appearances to date. He came second in 2009 and 2011, and was awarded victory in 2010 following Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol.
The RadioShack-Leopard Tour team will also feature Haimar Zubeldia, Andreas Klöden and Maxime Monfort, who have all finished in the top ten at Grand Tours in recent years.
“You can consider Haimar as our second weapon,” Guercilena said of the Basque, who finished sixth last year. “He is always consistent and delivers his best.”
41-year-old Jens Voigt gets the nod to start his 16th consecutive Tour de France, while Schleck’s fellow countryman Laurent Didier makes his Grande Boucle debut. Tony Gallopin, Markel Irizar and Jan Bakelants also feature in the team.
Fabian Cancellara had previously announced his decision to skip this year’s Tour, while US veteran Chris Horner is out of action due to a long-running knee problem.
“Every professional rider wants to ride the Tour and we had more than nine riders in good shape, ready to tackle this 100th Tour de France,” Guercilena said. “It was, for instance, a hard decision not to select champions like Gregory Rast and Stijn Devolder, but we made the choice in good conscience, taking into account the goals we want to reach in this Tour.”
RadioShack-Leopard team for the Tour de France: Jan Bakelants (Bel), Laurent Didier (Lux), Tony Gallopin (Fra), Markel Irizar (Spa), Andreas Klöden (Ger), Maxime Monfort (Bel), Andy Schleck (Lux), Jens Voigt (Ger) and Haimar Zubeldia (Spa).