Once perennial contenders for the Ardennes and now ceaselessly asked if they can return to their ‘glory days’, the Schleck brothers lined up for one of their first major objectives for the season at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday morning in Maastricht.
Older brother Fränk won here in 2006 and finished second two years later, while younger sibling Andy won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2009. However, not since Philippe Gilbert handed the pair a lesson in one-day racing in 2011 have the Luxembourg pair featured in the finale of an Ardennes race.
Injury, illness and in Fränk’s case a positive test for the diuretic Xipamide in 2012 have hampered their careers. In fact you have to go back to 2011 to find the last time either rider stood on the top step of a race podium.
This year Fränk has started the season in better form, picking up placings in a number of early season stage races. As a result he has been handed the leadership role at Trek for Amstel, with Andy pigeon-holed with greater responsibility for next week’s Liege.
“I was working well and feeling better in Pais Vasco,” Andy told Cyclingnews at the start of Amstel.
“I think I can make it to the finish today. I was training well over the last few weeks so I believe that if I don’t have a bad day I can be near the top. The final is different for me this year but that should make the race harder but we’ve done the training, we’re motivated so we’re hoping for the best. Until now it’s been about preparation but this is a major objective.”
Frank pulled out of Pais Vasco on the final stage, citing tiredness and illness but appeared in more confident mood as he drew alongside his brother on the start line.
“I had a hard time in Vasco and got sick but I think I’ve recovered. Today we’ll see. The Ardennes are Classics that suit us, they’re great events and for us they’re some of the biggest races in the year,” he told Cyclingnews.
“Of course I always put pressure on myself but the team are supportive and they let us race. They know that as long as we do our best that’s good enough. We’ve done our homework so today we’ll see.”
“These races still give me the same excitement and it’s a special feeling. Don’t expect me to say I’m going to finish in the top three or top ten today. It’s tough race, it’s tactical and there are a lot of ups and downs. There are maybe 30 riders who can win. Ask me tonight if I’m satisfied with the race.”