Andy Schleck has once again talked of his dream of winning the Tour de France and an Ardennes Classics but has admitted that Team Sky has become the benchmark for success in major races.
Speaking at the Trek Factory Team camp before the holidays, the Luxembourg rider also talked about his excitement at being part of a new team. With his brother also set to return to racing, he is hoping for another title bid for the maillot jaune.
Since both finishing on the podium in the 2011 Tour de France, the Schleck brothers have been dogged by injury and poor form. Older brother Frank was handed a year-long suspension after traces of Xipamide were found in his system during the 2012 Tour de France, while Andy has taken much longer than expected to return to his previous high levels after fracturing his hip in 2012. At this year’s Tour de France he struggled to 20th place overall.
However with an injury-free pre-season behind him and his brother back in race team colours from January 1, Andy is keen on making a point in 2014.
“I have one goal and I believe I’m right on track. I have a good bike and once I have good feeling in the races I can work on the results. Right now I’m working and I’m feeling good. Frank returns now and of course that’s good for me also as it’s a new start with a new team. I want to show that I’m still there but I don’t put a mark, set a target,” he said at the team’s recent training camp in Spain.
The Schlecks became the first brothers to stand on the same Tour podium in 2011 when they finished behind Australia's Cadel Evans. Andy officially became the post-dated winner of the Tour in 2010 after Alberto Contador was stripped of his title. He also finished second the year before to Contador as well. Despite that pedigree, the younger sibling is aware that setting his sights too high may be premature.
“Everyone that knows me and knows what I’m capable of doing. I have big ambitions but after the last two years I don’t want to say I’m going to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege. My dream is to win Liege, the Tour, the Vuelta and all the other races, but I'm aiming lower. I want to get the good shape back first and then we’ll see where I go from that.”
“The first goal is the Ardennes and I really want to focus on them and then I’ll focus on having a good Tour de France. Right now I can ride pain free and I’m good.”
Sky the benchmark
Since 2011 Team Sky has won back-to-back Tours with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome laying down dominant performances. The last time the Schlecks and Wiggins genuinely locked horns in a Grand Tour was as far back as 2009 when the British rider was at Garmin. Froome's rise to the top has almost coincided with the brothers' two-year slump.
“They do things differently,” Andy said when asked about Team Sky and if whether their marginal gains approach has left the Schlecks behind.
“Everyone talks about how they train and it’s impressive how they race but this year at the Tour, in terms of the whole team, they lacked a little bit. If Froome wasn’t that strong he would have lost because of the team. We do our thing and maybe Sky are a benchmark but we don’t copy them.”
“They also have the science and the training but they also have a big budget so they can have the best riders in the world. Big riders cost money and they have it. I don’t think at all that we’re behind. Maybe we’re ahead, maybe not of Sky but certainly of other teams.”