While Schleck acknowledged that the Tour’s testing foray into Brittany in week one would require vigilance, he is confident that the first decisive blows in the battle for the general classification will not be dealt until the Pyrenees.
“You’ll have to be ready straight away all the same in this Tour de France, where a finish like the one at the Mur de Bretagne won’t be easy to manage,” Schleck told Le Quotidien. “There’s no secret, the Tour really starts in Luz Ardiden. I always say that the first week serves to build your strength in order to be at your best for the last two weeks.”
Last year, the time Schleck lost to Alberto Contador in the prologue exceeded his final overall deficit of 39 seconds, while the Luxembourg rider also benefited from a truce in the peloton to chase back on after crashing on the treacherous descent of the Côte de Stockeu on stage two.
On that controversial day, yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara succeeded in slowing the bunch to rescue his teammate’s Tour de France, and Schleck acknowledged that his teammates would play an important role in shepherding him through the opening week.
“For me, the most important one is Stuart [O’Grady],” Schleck said. “He’s always with me. He watches behind me, in front of me, like Fabian does for Fränk [Schleck]. That’s how the roles are divided up. We practised at the Tour de Suisse. The guys tell me: ‘Don’t worry Andy, if there are echelons, we’ll be there.’”
Schleck also maintains that his team is stronger that Alberto Contador’s Saxo Bank-SunGard line-up, which he thinks may feel the effects of its endeavours at the Giro d’Italia.
“The way I see it is that maybe Contador has the motor to do a Giro-Tour de France double, but I don’t think that his teammates do,” Schleck said. “We’ll see how they are in the mountains. I don’t think that all the riders on the team who were with him on the Giro have his motor. With us, nobody did the Giro. From a team point of view, I have an advantage on him. I don’t think it, I’m certain of it.”
Indeed, Schleck was bullish about his chances of beating Contador after finishing second behind him in each of the past two Tours, although the Court of Arbitration for Sport will have the final say on the results of the 2010 edition. The pair have raced against one another just once so far this season, at the Flèche Wallonne in April.
“Our paths don’t cross before the Tour, because in general we don’t have the same programme,” Schleck said. “He did the Giro and was second at the national championships. I think he’s there. But I think he is beatable.”
Schleck finished second behind his brother Fränk in Sunday’s Luxembourg road race championships, and he is pleased with his form since returning from a brief training camp in the Pyrenees last week. Schleck travelled directly from the Tour de Suisse to the south of France to continue his preparation for the Tour.
“I was very tired when I got back from the Pyrenees, but you must never forget that recovery is part of training,” he said. “I stayed calm this week. I’m sharp, I’m at my ideal weight. I’m reassured.”
Schleck reached the finish of the Luxembourg championships in a two-up break with his older brother, but the pair decided not to sprint it out for victory.
“It wasn’t a secret that we weren’t going to do the sprint,” Schleck admitted. “All the same, I think that at the end of the day, Fränk was the strongest. He made the attack and pulled a lot. So he won, and then in two weeks, he’ll work for me…”