Andy Schleck has rejected the idea that he might switch his focus to winning the Giro d'Italia in 2012 after three consecutive second-place finishes at the Tour de France. A latter day eternal second place finisher at La Grande Boucle, the RadioShack-Nissan rider nonetheless maintained that returning to the Giro, where he first announced himself on the world stage in 2007, would mark something of a regression.
"I've been three times second in the Tour so I think it would be a step back in my career if I say ‘'I'm not going to win the Tour, so I'll try and win the Giro,' Schleck said in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg. "I want to win the Tour. I don't want to go back and start with the Giro and see if maybe I can go back and reach the level to win the Tour.
"If I never win the Tour, then maybe I might choose the Vuelta or the Giro one year, but for now the goal stays like it was last year. I want to go for the Tour and that's priority. The Giro is a beautiful race and so is the Vuelta. But nothing else for me in the whole world of cycling is the Tour de France and it never will be."
With almost 100km of time trialling on the menu at the 2012 Tour, Schleck is painfully aware that he must improve against the watch if he is to make the final leap onto the top step of the podium in Paris. Although he conceded 2:31 to Cadel Evans (BMC) in the final time trial last year, the Luxembourger has set himself the rather lofty goal of attempting to limit his losses to 20 seconds in a 40km test this time around. "I really believe myself that I can reach a level to perform also like that," he said.
Schleck explained that he had already begun efforts to tweak his time trial position, but he was less enthusiastic about working on his descending, in spite of his travails on the road to Gap and Pinerolo last July.
"I don't really know how you should train descents. I think that it's a little too dangerous to train on," he said.
When the road goes uphill, however, Schleck's support should be bolstered significantly in 2012, thanks largely to the addition of the veterans Andreas Klöden and Chris Horner to the arsenal of talent at his disposal. The 26-year-old Schleck acknowledged that he could benefit from the experience of his new teammates and was adamant that their ambitions would dovetail rather than collide.
"Maybe I'm the leader, but I'm not the road captain," he said. "I listen to these guys. Maybe in the Tour, in the end I am the one who gets the flowers if everything goes as I dream of, but actually Klödi is the road captain - he has experience.
"We're not going to have conflicts because we are all smart guys. So if we come to the second week of the Tour and Klödi is ahead of me, I will ride for him, I have no problem with that."
Going against Contador
Schleck's 2012 season will again be built around the pursuit of a maiden Tour de France victory on the road, but he may achieve that goal in the courtroom in a matter of weeks, should the Court of Arbitration find against Alberto Contador. The Spaniard tested positive for Clenbuterol en route to beating Schleck into second place at the 2010 Tour, and the three-time dauphin said that he would abide by whatever verdict CAS reaches.
"This case is black or white," Schleck said. "If they're going to suspend him, then for me it's the right decision because there's not a lunatic sitting there - it's educated people who know what they are doing and are taking the decision. On the other hand, if he is free, then he didn't do anything wrong, and I believe it.
"It's not up to me to make the decision. I believe the decision coming out of CAS is the right one, and I think for cycling it's good that it's finally over."
And if Contador were sanctioned, would Schleck accept a belated yellow jersey?
"If he is disqualified, yes. Because then, as I said, it was the right decision and he was doing something wrong. But if he is not, for me he never did anything wrong."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.