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Eyes on the prize: Frank Schleck on his way to taking the overall at Suisse
Saxo Bank rider takes his biggest stage race win, dedicates it to Kim Kirchen
Heading into the Tour de Suisse, Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck decided that he wanted to hold back and not push to hard in the race. To the surprise of many, himself included, he uncorked a surprisingly strong concluding time trial and jumped from fourth to first in the general classification, winning the event.
“The week before this we did the Tour of Luxembourg. I was good there, getting second,” he said at a post-race press conference. “I said to my friends and to journalists at the race, ‘okay, next week I am going to the Tour de Suisse but I better chill out, so I keep something for the Tour de France.’
“But then it came to the stage where I won [day two to Schwarzenburg]. Suddenly I was fourth in the overall. Before the race, I’d also had it in my mind to try this stage over the Albulapass. I rode that hard, then when the last day came around, I was still fourth. Then of course you tell yourself, ‘okay, you are fourth in the overall, so you cannot just chill out today.’ And it’s a good test for the Tour. So I gave it a try….yep, it worked really, really well and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Schleck’s lack of time trial results in the past meant that most people overlooked him when assessing the potential winners of the Tour de Suisse. Robert Gesink was in yellow and was one of the favourites, while the second and third-placed riders, Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d’Epargne) and Steve Morabito (Astana) were also touted as candidates. Armstrong was himself thinking big and was on the list of those to watch.
Yet it was Schleck who took it, coming out of nowhere in virtual stealth mode. In fact, even he didn’t realise his showing was so good, according to Armstrong.
“Speaking to Frankie, he said that he got on the bus and his team-mate said, ‘hey, dude, you are going to win.’ He was like, ‘whaaat?’”
Schleck confirmed that disbelief in his post-race press conference. “I am surprised, of course, as I am not a time trial specialist. But I have trained a lot for this and today I didn’t have any stress and was able to do a good time trial. It is a good sign for the Tour de France, that’s for sure.”
He said that there were several elements that brought about the improvement in his time trial performance. One help was talking to Fabian Cancellara, his Saxo Bank team-mate and friend, who is the current Olympic and world time trial champion.
“He always gives me advice for the TT,” he confirmed. “He is the best [at time trials] so I try to follow that advice.
“I did a lot of training behind a scooter. It is useful to keep speed and watts constant. The time trial is a lot in the head, so it is important to concentrate and to maintain the power output. I ride with a SRM, too.”
Kirchen in mind
Soon after starting the press conference, Schleck mentioned something that was weighing on his mind. Fellow Luxembourg rider Kim Kirchen collapsed with a suspected heart problem on Friday evening and Schleck made it clear that he was in his thoughts.
“This victory I dedicate a Kim Kirchen, who fell sick two days ago,” he said. “I want to say to him and his family and that we hope he gets better very, very quickly. I also express all my sentiments to his wife Caroline, who is about to give birth. I am a father myself and I hope that Kim recovers very fast. I dedicate this victory to him.” That was met with a burst of applause from the room.
Looking forward, it’s certain that he has taken a bit confidence boost from his victory. “I am a bit surprised to have won the Tour de Suisse. I won a stage, I was going well, but winning the Tour de Suisse is something which was done by many legends, many big champions and it is something very special. The race is very good and I won it – I think that will take a few days to fully realise that.
“This gives me confidence for the Tour. Andy is also very strong. He attacked very strongly on the Albulapass. He is going very well, and I think he will be very good in the Tour de France.
“We have both worked hard and it is great to see it pay off.”