Andy and Fränk Schleck have yet to define their 2012 racing programme beyond March, but the brothers have acknowledged that there will be changes to their approach to the Tour de France under the stewardship of Johan Bruyneel at the newly-merged RadioShack-Nissan-Trek squad.
This time last year, the then-nascent Leopard Trek prioritised team-building at its first gathering in the snow of Crans-Montana, Switzerland. Twelve months on and under new management, the Schlecks find themselves part of a more traditional training camp in Calpe, Spain, with a greater emphasis placed on putting in the miles out on the road.
“It’s really different to last year, but I think this is better,” Fränk Schleck told reporters in the deserted ballroom of the Diamante Beach hotel.
“Yeah, we’re ready to at the next camp to really work hard,” agreed Andy, seated next to him, before his elder brother corrected him: “Work harder.”
Riders from the Leopard and RadioShack elements of the squad assembled for the first time in Belgium in late October to discuss their winter plans, and while it gave Bruyneel the opportunity to speak with his new charges, Fränk Schleck explained that the brothers needed to take some time before beginning structured work.
“Of course we had some talks, but Johan also understood that we need this period to rest, to get some air. We’re not doing specific work on the road,” he said.
Andy Schleck was reluctant to discuss the differences between his 2012 preparation under Bruyneel and that of years gone by, noting “if you ask me in June, I could tell you more.” Specific time trialling work will surely be a priority, however, given their paucity of the brothers’ performances against the watch last year and the two lengthy time trials in next year’s Tour de France.
“Listen, we had some good ideas already which we were doing, just totally something different to improve time trialling, but don’t expect us to tell you all the training we do now,” Fränk Schleck said.
In theory, the brothers now have access to the kind of expertise that saw Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong before them make significant strides in the discipline, albeit from different starting points. “I believe it’s going to be similar to Lance’s training,” Andy said.
Nonetheless, both riders were realistic in their assessment of their possible margin of improvement. “It’s not like we’re going to gain three minutes,” Fränk said, while Andy warned that they would still have to work on their strengths. “We have to focus to win the Tour in the climbs, because we’re not going to win it in the time trials,” he said. “Of course, we have to focus that we don’t lose it in the time trials.”
A flexible 2012 programme
Given the nature of the Tour de France route, Giro d’Italia organisers RCS are keen to entice Andy Schleck to return to the race where he announced his arrival at the highest level back in 2007. At this early juncture, however, both Schleck brothers are coy about divulging too much of their 2012 race programmes.
“We know the plan for December, January and February. Probably in January we will decide what March and April is going to be,” said their manager Bruyneel. The Belgian was seated alongside the pair throughout the press gathering, sometimes interjecting to expand on their answers, although he insisted that reporters addressed their questions to his riders.
Andy Schleck begins his season at the Tour of Oman in February, while Fränk gets his campaign underway at the Ruta del Sol, before the pair reunite at Paris-Nice. As ever, Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be the centrepiece of their spring, albeit with the Tour de France always in mind.
“Of course, we have a crush on the Classics, but the big goal is going to be the Tour,” Fränk said.
And if by chance one or other Schleck opted to ride the Giro, would it be simply as preparation for the Tour or with the aim of winning the race overall? “Let’s wait another two or three months and we’ll talk about that.”
Second and third in Paris last year, the Schlecks recognise that they need to shake off the tag of perennial bridesmaids. “Of course, I don’t want to go to Pairs and be second anymore, I want to win that race,” Andy said.
With the likes of Andreas Klöden, Tiago Machado and Chris Horner added to the arsenal of support at their disposal in 2012, expectations to deliver the biggest win of all will doubtless be heightened. Yet Fränk Schleck is adamant that the burden of pressure will not be any greater than it has been in recent seasons.
“My dad, he always used to say, if you lift 100 kilos today, you will lift them tomorrow also. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be there,” Fränk said, in a rare philosophical moment.
“We want to life more than 100 kilos next year,” Andy stressed.
“But it’s not like we do lifting,” his brother added.
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