Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) has identified Tony Martin and HTC-Highroad as the favourites for overall glory at Paris-Nice. The Luxembourg rider was reticent to rate his own chances, but admitted that it would be difficult to finish in the top 5.
“The most impressive team on paper is without doubt HTC-Highroad, with Tony Martin as leader,” Schleck told L’Équipe. “This Paris-Nice is made for him. There are no long cols and it’s only a week of racing. I’m also thinking of Roman Kreuziger and Alexandre Vinokourov, and Sylvain Chavanel of the French riders. There will be others too: the race will be very open.”
In his eight previous Paris-Nice appearances, Schleck has finished outside of the top 10 on just two occasions, and was second overall in 2009. This time around, however, he reckons that the course may not help his chances.
“It will be very difficult to seek out a place in the top five,” he said. “There’s a 27km time trial, and the stages that precede it won’t allow gaps of minutes to be formed. I’m here above all to build up confidence by getting the best result possible.”
The Race to the Sun will serve as a useful test for the elder of the Schleck brothers as he continues to build up to his primary targets later in the spring.
“I haven’t specifically prepared for this race but it’s important for evaluating my level of form before my first major objectives of the season, which are the Tour of the Basque Country and the Ardennes Classics,” he said. “I started in Mallorca, and then went on to the Ruta del Sol, where I felt I was getting better and better.”
While Andy Schleck will lead Leopard Trek’s challenge at the Tour de France, Fränk is ready to step into the breach if needed.
“If one of us is the stronger, then the other will help him to win. That’s the deal between us,” Schleck said, before joking: “But if there were a real mano a mano between us, we’ll get by. I think that he’s going to have to slip me a few notes if he wants me to let him win…”