The 27-year-old is still trying to regain the form that propelled him to the 2010 Tour de France title (after the disqualification of Alberto Contador) following a broken pelvis sustained in a crash nearly one year ago.
Much criticized in the media for several false starts in his comeback, Schleck is hoping to complete his first week-long stage race since his injury after dropping out of first the Tour of Beijing last fall, and then the Tour Down Under, the Tour Méditerranéen, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco earlier this year. He showed some spark of his old self in the final Ardennes Classic, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he had his best result in a year in 41st place.
"I think I did a good race in Liège, which is a hard race. I was ready there, not to win, but I was in the final, which gave me a lot of motivation for the coming races. That was the goal I had in my head, and it was the first goal I reached this year, so [the form] is going up," Schleck told Cyclingnews.
Although he's had good training since the Ardennes Classics now that the dismal weather that plagued the European spring finally turned to sunshine, Schleck isn't putting any expectations on himself for the Tour of California.
"I don't count myself among the GC favorites. I'll see how I am in the race. It's different here than in Europe: I know I will suffer, but if I'm not so bad I'll be up there."
Because of his injury, Schleck said he hasn't been able to practice so much on his time trial bike during the off season, and with a 31.9km test in his near future in San Jose he isn't sure how he will go.
"A time trial is something that when you're strong on the roads and the climbs, you're also OK in the time trial. I don't concentrate so much on it - of course I want to do my best. I'll have to see how it goes, I'm taking it day by day. It looks like a nice time trial."
Schleck hasn't had time to preview the other key stages to Palm Springs or Mt. Diablo, but having last shown himself here in 2011, with a second place finish atop Sierra Road, he expects it to be a tough week.
"I don't know how hard it is exactly. A few years ago it was Sierra Road, it was bloody hard, and I think I made a good race up there, I finished second. Palm Springs is different, I haven't seen it so it's hard for me to say. It's all still preparation for the Tour."
The Tour de France: he's been declared winner, but still has yet to have the honour of standing on the top step of the podium on the Champs-Élysées, holding the winner's trophy while wearing the maillot jaune. There was been much expectation heaped upon his shoulders, and much skepticism since his injury, but Schleck himself is taking a cautiously optimistic approach to this year's race.
When asked if he needed to either get a stage win or at least show himself in the mountains of California to gain confidence, Schleck gave a firm no. "I stopped doing that, because I know what I have to do to get on a good level. I think I showed that before the Ardennes, to get on an OK level which I expected to be, and I was in the end. I don't need to win a stage to take more confidence. I just need to keep working on what I'm doing and I hope I'm OK.
"I will do everything to be 100 percent, but maybe my 100 percent now isn't the same as what it was two years ago. I'm getting older even though I'm still young, and last year there were six months (sic) where I didn't ride my bike, I'm still suffering from that. But I have fun and I feel good on the bike. I believe - I will do everything to be in my best possible shape coming into the Tour, and only then can I tell how I am."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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