Luxembourg's young star Andy Schleck currently sits in second overall after the first week of the 2010 Tour de France, trailing leader Cadel Evans by only 20 seconds. During the race's first rest day on Monday, Schleck talked with the press in the team hotel - appropriately named l'equipe [the team in French - ed.]. The leader of the Saxo Bank squad made clear that he is confident that the overall victory in this year's Tour de France is within his grasp.
During the first mountains stage on Sunday, Schleck managed to shake off general classification rival Alberto Contador (Astana) in the last kilometer. It's been ages since Contador has failed to follow another GC-contender uphill; think back to the edition of the Tour featuring Michael Rasmussen in 2007.
Though Contador himself felt his performance wasn't a big deal, Schleck gained a lot of confidence from the stage finish, by which he had earned 10 seconds on the Spaniard. When asked what it meant to drop Contador, Schleck passed on the question to his Spanish rival. "You should ask him what it meant to him. Of course, it was a huge boost for my morale because I've not seen him in any difficulty previously. I haven't watched it on television yet, but I heard that he really tried to follow but that he couldn't. I need to get on Youtube and check it out."
"I was surprised he couldn't follow (me) because the day before, I had formed an impression of him as strong. The fact that he couldn't follow me means that during the next days, hopefully the same thing can happen again," Schleck said. "It was the first real mountains stage, and also the easiest of the mountains stages."
"The Tour has started yesterday for me. I'm second overall. Everything is going as we planned, more or less."
In the general classification, Schleck now has a gap of 41 seconds on the Spanish favorite. Despite realizing that he needs much more or a time gap in advance of the 52km long individual time trial later in the Tour, Schleck is happy with the current standings.
He had hesitated about whether to attack earlier. "We talked about it through the radio. But we have a plan, and I'd like to stick to it. If the plan works out, it's going to be good. Yeah, maybe I should have attacked (earlier), but then maybe they could have organized themselves behind me and caught me and then I wouldn't have had these 10 seconds. Now I have the stage victory and 10 extra seconds. I know I need more time ahead of the time trial, but there's still a long way to go," Schleck said.
Andy's brother Fränk didn't make it through the first week. He crashed out during the stage heading toward the Arenberg forest. It is widely known that Andy and Fränk are getting were getting along well and the latter surely has been missed by Andy. "We talk three times a day on the phone. I spoke with him straight after yesterday's stage. He was full of emotion. He was really happy for me, but on the other hand also really sad that he wasn't there.
"Every big race I have done so far, he was there. We always communicate with each other in some way. I didn't have that yesterday. I was really focused on Alberto because I really thought he would be the first to attack. I feel my brother's absence, but I didn't give up because of it. I'm not happy with his absence, but it won't affect me in my goals."
"Crashes happen. I broke my collarbone twice already. Unfortunately he's out now. The team is there to surround me and give me super support. Yesterday, Matti was there. He's not a climber but yesterday he did fantastic work in the climb."
When Schleck was asked whether he lacked teammates deep into the finale, said no. "Astana might have Daniel Navarro, but he's not a leader. If he attacks, I know he's not a real threat for the GC. It's up to Alberto. When the GC-riders attack, only Alberto can follow from their team," Schleck said.
Talking about other GC riders, Schleck noted the performances of race leader Cadel Evans and others. "Cadel is certainly strong. He has a really hard Giro behind him, and I don't know if that is a good or bad thing for him. Yesterday was a hard climb but not a really steep climb. Of course he's a contender for the podium.
"With Bradley Wiggins struggling and Lance's Tour being over, our focus is now on Alberto Contador, Cadel [Evans] and Ivan [Basso] is still up there... [Denis] Menchov, [Robert] Gesink... these guys."
Belgian Jurgen Van Den Broeck was up there, too, even trying an attack too in the final kilometers. "He's an upcoming rider. He's my generation, even younger than me. [Van Den Broeck is actually two and a half years older. - ed.]. He looks really good. He lost - for him - quite important time in the cobblestone stage. I believe he can do a nice result, but I don't see him on the podium, not this year; for sure in the future. He's up there. He was there yesterday so he's good."
The Schlecks had appeared to be in big trouble - losing several minutes to Cadel Evans - during the stage through the Ardennes until there was a sort of cease-fire among the favorites for the overall.
"That's cycling," said Schleck. "One day you're on the ground, and the other day you can rise above the sky," Schleck said. "We lost Fränk during the cobblestone stage, which was really hard for the team. On the other hand, that day was a good trial for me, too. I've put it behind me. My wounds are healing."
"I won't have any more crashes," said Schleck optimistically. "I can't promise though. I take care. I hope I can arrive healthy to Paris."