Andy Schleck will not be Leopard Trek's overall contender at this week's Amgen Tour of California. However he does hope to win a stage and put up a strong performance. The Luxembourg native is using the eight-day race as his first block of preparation for the Tour de France in July.
"It's not a big secret if I tell you that my goal of the year is the Tour de France, which is still a long time from now," Schleck said. "But, I believe that if I can follow Levi [Leipheimer] on the climbs then I can do a nice race. I will take it as it comes."
Leopard Trek is expecting Linus Gerdemann to put forth a strong showing in the overall classification this week. The remaining riders on the team include Stefan Denifi, Martin Mortensen, Jakob Fuglsang, Anders Lund Den, Martin Pedersen and Jens Voigt.
"We have three guys here to focus on a nice classification," Schleck said. "If I could choose to win a stage, I would love to win a stage. I'm not going to sit back in the peloton and relax. I'm going to fight for as long as I can. If I see that I am up there then I will try to be in the classification. Like I said before, I have been here for a week, I trained good and I feel pretty good but I will have to take it on the road as it comes."
This year's parcours includes the addition of two uphill finishes at stage four on Sierra Road and at stage seven on Mt Baldy, the more significant of the two ascents. Both climbs are well-suited to Schleck's ability and are likely the two places that he will perform well.
"I did the Amgen Tour of California last year and two years ago and this is going to be my fourth time," Schleck said. "If I look at the profile it is definitely, by far, the hardest of all three of them."
Schleck's early season focus was to have strong performances in the classics. He ended the block of racing with third place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, behind winner Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma-Lotto) and his brother Frank.
"I'm pretty happy with my season so far, which I was trying to do some good placing and trying to win one but unfortunately it didn't work out," Schleck said. "After that I took a break with a few days off my bike and I came to California pretty early to get over the jet lag and get some good miles in. I feel alright but I will have to see."
The Amgen Tour of California moved from February to May for the first time last year now conflicts with the Giro d'Italia. Schleck has chosen to participate in the stateside race for the last two seasons. When asked which race was better for his preparations for the Tour de France, he replied, "I could choose, I choose to come here."
"First of all, this is the best preparation for me for the Tour," he added. "Second, I believe that if you take the Tour de France ... at the Tour of California, the organization, security, and there is everything for us, it is the best race of the year. The Giro is too hard, it is getting harder every year, and more stressful every year. I believe that if I want to do a good Tour de France, I can't do both."