By Shane Stokes
The names Contador and Armstrong will be on everyone's lips come July and the Tour de France, but there is one rider who might just steal their thunder: Andy Schleck. Twice a Grand Tour's best young rider, he stood atop the Giro d'Italia podium at 21. As Cyclingnews found out at the Saxo Bank team camp in Majorca, Schleck the younger is not afraid to meet his destiny.
Will 2009 be the year a new champion will be crowned? Many are looking at the Astana team as the big challengers for the Tour de France, yet Luxembourger Andy Schleck could rewrite the script and spoil their party. Second in his first Grand Tour, arguably the strongest rider in last year's Grande Boucle, the Saxo Bank rider now has the experience to mount a serious challenge in cycling's biggest race.
Schleck is, for many, a future Tour winner. Famed French coach Cyrille Guimard suggested as such, and he is very entitled to his opinion; after all, he's worked with Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, Laurent Fignon and Lucien Van Impe, who between them won ten editions of the race. Guimard was also heavily involved with the French amateur team Vélo Club Roubaix, where saw Schleck's potential and steered him towards a pro career.
Considering what he's done so far, it's easy to think of Schleck as an older rider than he actually is. He's finished second in the Giro d'Italia, fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, fifth in the Olympic road race and sixth in the Tour de Suisse. Overall wins in the Flèche du Sud, the mountains classification of the Tour of Britain and white jerseys in the Tour of Italy and France are also on his palmares, as are two stages of the Sachsen Tour and the Luxembourg time trial championship.
Yet he's young enough to go for the white jersey again this year, and is a full two and a half years younger than Alberto Contador.
Last summer Schleck rode the Tour for the first time in his career. He finished twelfth overall, the same position in which he began the race's 10th stage to Hautacam, where he lost any chance of winning the race when he suffered a hunger knock. But by the end of that stage, Schleck had lost a whopping 8'59 to stage winner Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval – Prodir), and spent the rest of the race riding for his team-mates Frank Schleck, his brother, and the eventual winner Carlos Sastre. Even with his domestique duties and that one bad day, he finished just 11'32 behind Sastre in Paris as the best young rider.
"Riding the Tour is the highlight of my season," he told Cyclingnews at the recent Saxo Bank training camp in Majorca. "It was something big; you watch it since you are a kid, and you are suddenly there and you finish it.
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