By Shane Stokes in Plumelec
When asked to list the riders to watch in the Tour de France, Schleck brothers Frank and Andy both mentioned Thomas Lövkvist in a recent Cyclingnews interview. He is a real contender for the white jersey of the race but, if things go well during the Tour, he could also finish up with a high overall placing.
The 24 year-old former Swedish road race champion transferred to Team High Road (now Team Columbia) at the end of last year and has been riding strongly. He was third on a stage in the overall of Tirreno Adriatico, third on a stage of the Tour of Georgia and in the GP Kanton Aargau Gippingen, and also repeated that placing in two races recently.
"I was home doing the Swedish championship, going there straight after the Tour de Suisse," he told Cyclingnews before the start of the Tour de France. "I was third in both road and time trial. I was feeling good but I didn't really have luck in the road race. In the time trial I rode well but the others were stronger than me."
Lövkvist said that he was happy with his 2008 form, and was hoping to convert his good performances in shorter stage races into consistency in the three week events.
"I have been climbing better this year than I have ever done," he stated. "The Tour de France is different, though. Earlier I have been riding well in one-week races, but I have never been really good in a three week Tour. I hope I can change that this year.
"I have done four Grand Tours so far, three Tours and one Vuelta. Last year I had a lot of problems with my pelvis getting twisted. I couldn't get any help from physios, but this year we have good people around and I think that will make a difference."
Lövkvist finished 37th on the opening stage of the Tour, seven seconds behind winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). He said that he will take the race day by day, but hopes to see an improvement. "I will try to hang in there as long as possible, and if I am able to climb well enough, I will continue. Also my goad will be to support Kim at the same time. Otherwise, I will do my work for Kim as long as I can and then go in the grupetto when I have done my work, going for a stage. We will see how things develop."
He moved to his team from La Française des Jeux and is happy with his new home. "The atmosphere on the team is very good," he said. "We have a lot of fun together. Okay, it is the Tour de France and you can feel the pressure building, but everyone seems very relaxed and we are having fun together."