Basso, Evans seen as biggest threats
Fränk and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) have both sounded out Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) as the main threat to Leopard Trek winning the Tour de France in its inaugural season.
The two brothers are yet to win the Tour themselves but younger sibling Andy has finished second twice while Frank will line up as a contender in his own right this July.
"I don't think we'll have big surprises, the Tour de France is too hard," Andy Schleck told Cyclingnews when he was asked to pinpoint the main GC riders.
"I think that the main rival will be Ivan Basso. Denis Menchov and Cadel Evans will be there too," he said.
Basso came back to the sport towards the end of 2008 after serving a two-year suspension for attempted blood doping. He placed in the top 10 in both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta in 2009 but won the 2010 Giro.
"He's going to be fit and concentrated," older brother Fränk told Cyclingnews.
"He makes a lot of sacrifices and the way he trains, you just know he'll be a contender. He has to improve if he wants to win the Tour, though. Winning the Giro, and don't get me wrong he was very strong and did a good race, but there's a difference between winning the Giro and winning the Tour de France. The Tour is harder to win," he added.
Andy Schleck also pointed to Cadel Evans (BMC) as a contender, who despite two consecutive bad results at the Tour, can still trouble any rider with a combination of grit, talent and consistency. The Australian, like Schleck, has finished second twice at the Tour, and claimed fifth at last year's Giro behind Basso. However, Schleck believes that the Australian has to limit the amount of targets he has in a single year if he is to get the better of his rivals in July.
"You never know with Cadel. My personal opinion is that he does too many races at too high a level. It's great to see his spirit and he's never bad in any races but if he just concentrated on the Tour he'd be a major threat," he said.
As for possible dark horses, Andy picked last year's fifth place, Jurgen van den Broeck.
"Maybe a surprise could be Van den Broeck. He was fifth last year and I believe he's one for the future."
Two riders that both brothers discounted as yellow jersey hopefuls were Carlos Sastre and Alexandre Vinokourov.
When asked about the Kazakh, Andy said, "Honestly I don't think he can do it. I believe the climbs are just too hard for him. I think he can win stages, take yellow, but he cant' take it to Paris."
Sastre on the other hand was part of the CSC team that dominated the 2008 Tour, with the Spaniard winning the race outright. After the Tour he left for pastures new at Cervélo TestTeam and according to the brothers, made disparaging comments about them in the press, claiming that they failed to support him in the race.
"Yeah he won the Tour once but the years before and after that he was far from the podium," Andy said.
"I don't see him as a threat for the GC. It was a fluke year and he had good teammates and although he won't say it he won the Tour because of us."
Sastre's win that year was built on dogged displays in the mountains with one hammer blow on Alpe d'Heuz where he soloed to the stage win and yellow jersey. He rode conservatively but wisely for the remainder of the race before securing yellow in the final time trial.
"Going up the Alpe d'Heuz I gave up my yellow jersey for him, Andy was working for him and without me and Andy that year he would not have won it. We let go of the jersey for him," said Fränk.
"There wasn't much communication between us and Carlos, not from the start of that year," Andy added.
"We were committed 100 percent to ride for the team and when he attacked it was a bit of a surprise to us. It worked though and we're happy we won the Tour but what came after from his side towards Fränk and me in the press didn't show any class."
The Contador affair
One rider that neither brother mentioned in their preliminary list of favourites was the three time winner and defending champion, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard is currently provisionally suspended by the UCI after a positive test for Clenbuterol in last year's Tour de France.
"I read in the press that it could go one way or the other but if he's there him and Ivan will be the main contenders," Andy said, before Frank added: "We trust the right people to make the right decisions. He won the Tour last year so if he's there he will be a threat."
According to both brothers Contador's biggest hurdle, if cleared to race, will come from the fans, rather than from within the peloton.
"The biggest problem for Alberto is how the people react to the story, not the riders. I believe that if he can ride the Tour then he's innocent and for me that's clear. It's innocent or guilty and nothing in between. If he starts then he's innocent and deserves to start with the yellow jersey," Andy said.
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