After a year that he confessed had been extremely testing in all kinds of different ways, Andy Schleck said he is feeling good and happy to be back at the Tour de France. The RadioShack rider missed last year's race after breaking his sacrum at the Dauphiné, then had another blow when his brother Fränk tested positive during the Tour.
"I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that it was easy because it wasn't. I had a rough time," he said. "But I had my family, my friends, the people sitting next to me who believe in me and helped me through this. I managed it pretty well."
Schleck acknowledged he has no idea what his prospects are for the Tour, saying he will only get an idea of this when the race reaches the first mountain stages. "I did a pretty good Tour of Switzerland and before that we did a lot of work, more than I've ever done before, but we will have to wait until the mountains to see how I really am," he said.
"I think I'm not too bad. The riders and the team believe in me and support me, and I believe in myself as well. I don't consider myself as a favourite to win this year's Tour de France. I could maybe be described as an outsider, and we'll see what I can do in that role."
He said, "I had some problems at the start of the season, which were perhaps related to the injury I had last season, but I got to the point where I thought, 'I don't want to get dragged down by negative things any more.' Instead I looked at small things like going up a climb in training with 10 additional watts and that was a positive thing for me. I was happy when I achieved small goals. That's how I got back up, by taking small steps. They say, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger', and I believe in that."
The Luxembourger said it was impossible to make comparisons between his condition now and how he was in 2011 when he finished runner-up to Cadel Evans at the Tour. But he did admit that if he were contemplating this year's route with the form he had in 2011, he would be going into the race believing he could win. "Today I can't say that. This is the first time that I've ever had problems in cycling. Now I have to pay attention to details, and really small details. For example, when I first rode the Tour my off-season weight was 66kg, but now it's 71 or 72kg."
As well as working hard on his condition, Schleck has also done a lot of reconnaissance of the route, riding no fewer than 21 of the race's categorised climbs. He's very happy with most of it, but had some harsh criticism for the "queen" stage featuring two ascents of Alpe d'Huez.
"The Alpe d'Huez stage is the kind of innovation we want to see - I really like it. Well, I like the climbs, but I don't like the descent. It's very dangerous. We went to see it a week after the Dauphiné and there were other riders there looking at it, and they also criticised it," he said.
"I don't understand this, because having a descent like this is not acceptable. But we have no choice. It's very dangerous because if you puncture and crash off the road you will fall more than just a few metres. It could be 50 or perhaps even 300 metres. We were shocked by that. I hope the organisation find a solution to that. There is still time before we reach that stage to do it."
Schleck played down the significance of his lack of victories this year, pointing out that's sometimes been the case in the past. "It's true I've had no victories this year and I don't know my limits are [given the problems I've had], but maybe that's a good rather than a bad thing," he said. "I hope my condition will increase during the race and that I will finally find out what my limits are during the Tour."
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