After completing the Tour of Luxembourg in 9th place overall, Fränk Schleck now has his sights set on the Tour de Suisse, where he will aim to secure his berth in the Trek Factory Racing team for next month’s Tour de France.
Schleck finished second on his last appearance in the Tour de Suisse in 2012, a month before he had to leave the Tour de France after a positive test for Xipamide. Although Schleck’s ban expired in July of last year, he didn’t return to the peloton until this season with the revamped Trek Factory Racing Team.
After one and half years without racing, Schleck started the season early in the Tour Down Under. Throughout his absence from the pro peloton he had kept training with his brother Andy and teammate Laurent Didier.
Schleck drew similarities between his story and that of Michael Rogers, who was cleared of wrongdoing after returning a positive test for clenbuterol at the Japan Cup last year. The Australian missed the start of the season as he was provisionally suspended, but recently claimed two stage victories at the Giro d’Italia.
“Michael faced the same thing as I did. You know that you didn’t do something wrong but the procedures take long. Knowing you did nothing wrong keeps you on track, keeps you fighting and keeps you motivated for training. It’s good to see what he does. I’ve missed some luck up until now,” Schleck said.
Schleck is happy with where he stands now, although an important result would have been preferable. Schleck showed good form in Paris-Nice, almost winning the last stage on the Boulevard des Anglais in Nice, and subsequently took sixth place in the Critérium International.
“In the Ardennes classics I was always in the first group. I am competitive,” he told Cyclingnews about his Spring Classics campaign. “My shape is good. I am very optimistic that the race will once be in my favour.”
Tour de Suisse
For Schleck, the Tour de Suisse will be a last and vital test for the Tour de France. The man who finished third overall in the 2011 Tour is by no means sure he’ll be there this time around. “Nobody is sure. The team will take that decision. We all have to wait for that and respect that decision.”
Schleck won the Tour de Suisse once and finished in the top ten in eight out of a total of ten participations. But a selection for the Tour de France is not only about results, he says.
“It depends. You don’t always have to win. You have to show that you are good and that you are ready. That is also what the team considers in its decision-making, it’s not always about winning. You have to show that you want to go to the Tour de France. To go to the Tour should be an honour, not a duty.”
The chances that his brother Andy will be at the start in Leeds next month are a lot slimmer. The 28-year-old’s best result of the season was 34th on the Green Mountain stage at the Tour of Oman and he didn’t finish any of the Ardennes Classics because of a crash and subsequent knee injury.
“I know there is a lot of criticism about Andy at the moment. And yes it bothers me because they are always asking me about it. You should ask him.”
In the Giro a new young generation came to the front with riders like Nairo Quintana, Fabio Aru and Wilco Kelderman. The competition doesn’t face the Luxembourger.
“It’s a normal process that there are new riders every year. They grow up and get better. They want to get on the big guys’ tail. It’s so much harder to stay at a certain level than to arrive there. You can go from hero to zero very fast. But also the other way around.”
For the 34-year-old Schleck, age is not an issue at the moment. He is out of contract at the end of the season but has a clear vision for his future. “I would like to be a team leader for another two years. And after that I would like to be there for young riders.”
The Trek Factory Team has a wide range of young talents with Tour of Luxembourg prologue winner Danny van Poppel, sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo and Giro stage and mountain jersey winner Julian Arredondo.
“I can teach them a lot of things but the most important thing is to learn them to have passion for cycling, to have fun. That’s what pulled me through last year; my wonderful wife and my passion for the sport, my love for the bike,” Schleck said.
“Winning is my drive, it’s still very special. I still dream about winning the Tour de France. I know it’s going to be very, very hard but the day I wake up and I don’t dream about winning anymore, you automatically lose the passion and it’s the time to quit.”
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