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Planes, trains and underwear

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Luxembourg's Schleck starts the Tour of California despite being a bit under the weather

Luxembourg's Schleck starts the Tour of California despite being a bit under the weather (Image credit: Mark Johnson)
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Schleck enjoys the California crowd's help.

Schleck enjoys the California crowd's help. (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Andy Schleck at the Tour of California

Andy Schleck at the Tour of California (Image credit: Emory Ball)

March 3, 2009

I don't like airports. The queues, traffic jams, security checks, belt off, shoes off, arms up, left leg in, left leg out – it's just so painstaking. I'm in the Copenhagen, Denmark, airport right now and I've just managed to make it to the departure lounge in the nick-of-time.

It's been a whirlwind few weeks but before I tell all about I need to get this airport angst off my chest. Call it self-therapy if you will, but without it you'll click onto Cyclingnews tomorrow to read a news flash about an incensed cyclist being bundled off a 747 after an episode of plane rage. I'm kidding of course, but anyone who knows me knows I'm a relaxed guy - perhaps too relaxed at times – so maybe it's the stress of travelling that gets to me and puts me out of sync. I don't like airports.

I remember picking Fränk up from an airport once on our way to a criterium. Despite some early fretting I thought everything was on track, until, after 150 kilometres of driving, I realised that I'd forgotten my bike. "My bike, Fränk. It's not in car!" I said, looking back to the rear seats. He checked over his shoulder before mumbling, "Quite important for a bike race, don't you think?"

The worst thing was that I'd washed it that morning. Yes, Andy you'll have a nice clean bike for today's race, I'd thought as I'd eagerly stood over my sparkling machine. It looked spotless on the porch. These things happen though. In another episode I took Fränk's shoes to a race and left him with mine. He's two sizes too small and I almost ended up needing an operation by the end of the race, my feet were so sore. He was at Milano-Sanremo and ended up having to borrow Matti Breschel's second pair.

So why am I in Copenhagen? Well, I came back from the Tour of California two days ago and after a quick shower and coffee, I headed to Denmark with Jens Voigt for a Craft presentation. Craft makes our clothing and they were showing off their new range, including their cycling underwear.

Don't worry, they didn't make Jens and me prance around in just bib shorts and a discreetly stuffed arm warmer, and it was actually a really good trip. It's important to see what we'll be wearing during the season. Small details you might think but for us it's vital. We wear that gear day in, day out, so it has to be good and Craft has done a nice job.

Of course the highlight and lowlight of the month was California. As soon as we arrived in the US we launched into our training camp, but I got sick on the first day and missed six days of riding. I'd already been suffering with an Achilles problem and things weren't looking great.

Bjarne Riis knocked on the room door one night and we had to have that dreaded chat that makes every rider break out in a cold sweat. It's the one where the boss and you talk about whether starting a race is a good idea. He knows you're out of form, you know you're out of form, but all a rider ever wants to do is race, no matter his condition. With some relief we both agreed I could start and see how things went. I didn't want to come all that way and not race.

The team got off to a great start. I got through the prologue without any problems but Fabian Cancellara's win was fantastic. Over that distance no one in the World can beat him. What made it more impressive was that he was sick that day and he'd been coming down with a fever and had pain all over his body.

I was really surprised with how I did on the first road stage. Unfortunately, Fränk suffered badly but I tend to go quite well in the cold and when the selection was made I was able to stick with the leaders. The situation was good and I was even thinking of a crack at the overall but on the next stage I was struggling and decided to take things easy. There was no point busting a gut just to lose four or five minutes, so I decided to sit up and not worry about the clock. Sometimes that can be good as it means you can go for stage wins.

On the last stage the bunch never really let us go and for about 40 kilometres the gap was never more than a minute, with Astana chasing really hard. But on the final long climb we still had a good chance. The leaders were closing and with Fränk amongst them, I decided to wait and then bury myself in order to shed him of his rivals. It paid off and he broke clear with Vincenzo Nibali, and then beat him in the sprint.

Race over and I can safely say that California is my favourite place outside of mainland Europe. I've been there for training camps a few times and I love the place. It's perfect for training; it could not be better.

So next I'm off to Eroica and then after a few days of training I'll tackle Tirreno-Adriatico. I wasn't down for that race but because I'm a bit behind where I want to be in terms of preparation and because Fränk is really strong we've decided to swap racing schedules. It's not a big deal, and Tirreno will still be a good test for me. We're sending a strong team to the event, with Stuey [O'Grady], Fabian, Matti and me.

Right, they're calling me to board the plane. Bag, check. Passport, check. Self, check. See you next month.