Andy Schleck believes that his fellow countryman and former teammate, Bob Jungels can win the Giro d'Italia. The Etixx QuickStep rider leads the race after 12 stages but with several mountain stages ahead the next few days will fully test the young maglia rosa's GC credentials.
According to Schleck, his former teammate is riding without pressure, having already exceeded all expectations with his ride thus far.
"He has no pressure," the retired Schleck told Cyclingnews during a cruise through Europe with his family.
"If he's dropped on Friday during stage 13, that's fine because he's already done more that what was expected of him and with all these factors in play I think that he can win the Giro."
"In his case he doesn't have the pressure. He's young, he has a contract and he's got a team that believes in him. When he goes to bed at night he just thinks 'I need to hang on, and to try to ride well'. It's a different situation for the other riders who fall asleep thinking 'I need to get all these seconds back in order to justify my salary.' That's a huge plus."
Schleck and Jungels both rode on the same team in 2013 and 2014, when they wore RadioShack Leopard and then Trek Factory Racing colours, and the elder of the two drew comparisons between Jungels' 2016 ride and his own experience of riding the Giro in 2007. That year Schleck finished second overall behind Danilo Di Luca, and claimed the white jersey. It was Schleck's debut in a Grand Tour.
"It's a bit like my ride in the Giro back in 2007. I had no pressure after stage 8 or 9 so everything that happened after that was just a bonus. That's one of the reasons I was riding so well."
Andy Schleck on the 2007 Giro d'Italia podium (TDW Sports)
Like most observers, Schleck is still unsure as to how Jungels will fair in the high mountains at the Giro. Last year Jungels performed admirably in the final week of the Tour de France, and picked up a few placings in the Alps. Competing at the head of a Grand Tour is a completely different experience and Jungels is facing his toughest challenge yet as a professional rider.
"I'm still a little bit concerned about the high mountains and some of the stages to come but he has the wind in his sail. He's a nice guy, he comes over well with the press, he's good looking, so the ladies love him and he has empathy with the fans."
Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) was aggressive during his first day in the pink jersey on stage 11 (TDW Sports)
Schleck's best advice is for Jungels to remain calm and pick his battles. Andrey Amador is second, 24 second in arrears, while Alejandro Valverde, Steven Kruijswijk and Vincenzo Nibali are all within 1:10 of the pink jersey.
"I saw the stage on Wednesday and I think it maybe wasn't the best move to attack. Maybe he's getting too enthusiastic and really he should just keep calm. He spent a lot of energy and he showed how strong he is. I think he should stay calm and follow. If he does that he wins the Giro. He needs to focus on two or three guys, and Valverde instead of Amador. He should let the others make the race and then just follow them."
Schleck knows Jungels far better than most. The Luxembourg racing scene is relatively small and Jungels' talent was apparent at a young age. Now 30, Schleck looks back to his first racing encounter with Jungels.
"I've known him forever, since he was maybe 12-years old. He was always successful but of course back in those days he was this little chubby kid, so a little bit overweight. I think the first time we met, it was during the cyclo-cross season."
"I see some of myself in Bob. When I was a young rider I was a bit like him in that I didn't really care too much. He was this typical kid who was playing football on Sunday and then at 2pm he had a race, and then in the evening he was wining tennis tournaments. He's got to where he is now with a lot of work but also by having a lot of enjoyment. When he came to our team I really tried to help take care of him, and really loved him.
"Honestly for the last two years I felt that he would make a big breakthrough. The first time he really surprised me was at a national championships and he was a junior and we did the time trial. I did two laps, he did one lap and of course as junior he was on smaller gears but he was only around 16 seconds slower than me."
As for Schleck, he has spent the time since his retirement adjusting to life outside of the pro cycling bubble. He has set up a bike shop, Andy Schleck Cycles, and spent time with his young family.
"I've invested a lot of energy and money into making the shop as good as possible. It's been almost four months and I'm very happy with how it's running. We've had a lot of good comments. The owner from Trek came by and said it was the best shop in the world. That made me really proud."