Despite losing time to the other race contenders on Thursday’s stage to La Punt at the Tour de Suisse, Andy Schleck has said that he is pleased with his condition and is on course for a strong Tour de France.
He was aggressive from the bottom of the day’s final climb, the Hors Categorie Albulapass, surging clear, being joined by Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and then by several other riders, then attacking once more. Gesink caught and passed him and he was then reeled in by the other contenders, eventually dropping back going over the top.
All in all, he said that he had a good chance to assess his form. “We had a couple of objectives today, with the first to see how Fabian would be set for the finish,” he told a group of journalists in La Punt. “When he said it was okay, that he couldn’t climb, I attacked. I wanted to do a little test today, so I attacked and got into a group, but the final col was a little longer than I had hoped. I kept going but Gesink got up to me and attacked right away. At that moment I was a little finished.
“I got into the group with Frank but when they attacked in the final kilometres, I lacked a bit of force as I had been riding a lot since the start of the climb. But okay, it is a good test for me and I am pretty happy.”
The Luxembourg road race champion eventually crossed the finish line with team-mate Jakob Fuglsang and RadioShack’s Andeas Klöden. They were one minute 20 behind Gesink and 38 seconds off the chasing group of eight riders, led home by Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d’Epargne) and also containing Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas).
He felt that if the parcours was a little more typical, with the climb being immediately followed by the descent, that he probably would have been okay as regards the time loss. “I was dropped near the top but was just behind. But the fact is that the last kilometres after the summit is not downhill, it continues with a false flat and that was not too favourable for me. I think if the descent was right away, I would have been okay.”
However had he been focussed on not losing any time, he would have done things differently. “When I look at the circumstances, if I had ridden the whole climb on the wheels, I would have finished with Frank without problems. But at the end, it is good to test the limit.”
Schleck was the second-strongest rider in last year’s Tour de France, taking the runner-up slot behind Alberto Contador (Astana). He’s a year older and should be stronger than he was before. Yesterday was, he said, a chance to really push himself and see where he is at.
“It is like a screw – sometimes you have to turn it and keep turning it…if you never break it, you don’t know how far you can go,” he told Cyclingnews. “So today was a good test…I knew myself if I waited and stayed in the wheels of the guys, I would finish with the group in front. That was basically not the goal, though…I am here to work out well.
“If I compare myself to this time last year, I am ahead…I am better than I was then.” That should be enough to worry his rivals.
So where does he see their form? “Gesink was very strong, he’s pretty impressive right now,” he said. “Lance is going well. Klodi was up there with me. Levi was, for me, also pretty okay. There were not really that many up there.”
Some other riders who will aim for the Tour de France title rode the Dauphiné Libéré. Schleck feels that the level in the Tour de Suisse is higher than in the French race, but said that he knows Alberto Contador is going well. He expects to be battling once again with him in the mountains.
However he underlined that it is still a little early to be judging how everyone is going. “There are still five weeks to the Pyrenees. You have to already by pretty good in the first week, but in the last part of the Tour you have to be really, really good.
“When I think of the level I have now, I am very happy.”