Andreas Klöden has welcomed the arrival of Andy and Fränk Schleck to the newly-merged RadioShack-Nissan squad, but warned that the Luxembourg duo will have to put fraternal loyalties aside in order to win the Tour de France.
The Schlecks finished second and third in the 2011 edition of the race, but Klöden believes one or other brother will have to sacrifice his own chances if they are to conquer the top step of the podium.
“One brother needs to say next year, ‘ok, I will go on the attack and you go on the counter-attack’ but this year, they rode like brothers,” Klöden told Cyclingnews. “Each looked for the other, and this is not the right tactic. It was nice for the Schlecks to be second and third, but it’s not our goal to be third and second – we want to win.”
The merger of Leopard Trek and RadioShack sees the Schlecks come under the stewardship of Johan Bruyneel in 2012, and as well as tweaking their preparation, he and Leopard owner Flavio Becca will demand a different approach from the Luxembourgers next year.
“I know also Johan a little bit,” Klöden said. “This situation is not the same as this year, because we want to win this Tour and we’ll try to win. It’s not possible to be first, second and third. Maybe Andy can win, or Fränk, but it’s not good to be second third, fifth, sixth, and not first. I think this isn’t the goal for Flavio either. He wants to win. It’s not sure that we can win, but we’ll try it, and with a different tactic maybe.”
Forced out of the Tour de France through injury on stage 13, Klöden watched the final week of the race on television, and he felt that the Schlecks ought to have put Cadel Evans under pressure earlier and more often. “Cadel was always on the wheel, and there was only one climb where he needed to ride [on the Galibier on stage 18 –ed.], when Andy was in front, but at the end.”
Now flanked by the likes Klöden and Chris Horner, however, the onus will be on the Schlecks to put Evans on the back foot by having their team set an aggressive tempo from further out.
“You need to attack earlier,” Klöden noted. “Maybe I could go on the attack before because then Evans’ team needs to react. I think we have a lot of opportunities to do other tactics with big riders because I think also that this year the Leopard Trek guys were a good team but not strong enough on the climbs.
“You have a limited tactic with what you can do if you have only two strong guys. I remember in 2009 [at Astana – ed] with Alberto, Lance, Levi and me, we had a very good team and there were more things you could do.”
With nigh on 100km of time trialling on the agenda, however, the 2012 Tour route appears to pose a significant handicap to the Schlecks’ yellow jersey aspirations. Yet Klöden reckons that the lack of obvious set-piece summit finishes might ultimately play to their advantage, and that the tactical stalemate of this year’s Pyrenean stages is unlikely to be repeated next July.
“You saw this year, I think we had four uphill finishes, but on the uphill finishes, nobody attacked and everybody had almost the same time on the top,” he said. “I remember in 2009 when the Schlecks went on the attack on Le Grand-Bornand. They attacked before and then again on the last climb, so sometimes it’s better if you don’t have a mountaintop finish and you have some big climbs beforehand instead. Everybody is saying it is not a Tour for the Schlecks but I don’t think so.”
Back in a familiar role
The veteran Klöden insisted that he was happy to see the Schlecks join the team, even if it meant that his personal ambitions would once again have to take a back seat, a recurring theme through a career that has seen him ride in the service of Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.
“For me it’s always better to have big riders on the team,” he said. “I rode in the past with a lot of big riders but if you are good, you’ll get your chance and you’ll have more opportunities tactically in the race. For me, it doesn’t change things – I want to be fit for the Tour and then we will see.”
One of the RadioShack veterans who enjoyed a startling run of wins in early 2011, and finally freed of domestique deluxe duties in July, the 36-year-old Klöden’s frustration at crashing out of the Tour de France while in such a rich vein of form can surely only have been heightened by the arrival of two marquee overall contenders at his team for 2012.
“For sure it’s a missed opportunity, but what can you do?” he said. “I had the same time as all the leaders and I came through the first week well even with all the crashes, but then I had this mistake on the descent with Vino and Van Den Broeck.
“But I look to the future. I could say now, ‘ah, I lost the opportunity,’ but in the end, there is nothing I can do now.”