Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, last year's best young rider and runner-up at the Tour de France, is confident in a strong showing at this July's Grand Boucle. The Luxembourg Champion will celebrate his 25th birthday on Thursday, as he prepares for for his final Tour de France tune-up, the Tour de Suisse, which starts on Saturday in Lugano.
Just like in California, Saxo Bank will be sending nearly its full Tour de France squad to Switzerland as not only preparation for the individuals, but to prepare as a team.
The all-important question of his thoughts on his overall chances for the 2010 Tour de France elicits a smile and a shrug, but his words are nothing to shrug at:
"I think my chances are pretty good this year. The course fits me pretty well. There's a lot of climbing, a small time trial at the beginning, which won't make a big difference, and then we go to the Pyrenees, where there will be a lot of climbing. I think the course is something that will fit me pretty well. I think I have a good chance."
Schleck is happy to be heading into what he feels is a more difficult Tour de France: "Last year, I missed some more climbing. I hope it doesn't hurt anyone's feelings on my team for me to say this, but there were not enough climbs last year. I'm happy that there's a lot more this year."
The difficulties posed by the early stages should have many general classification hopes a bit worried, but Andy knows he has a team of the best to help him through the early going: "We have the cobblestones in the beginning and a lot of wind. The first three days are going to be really tricky, but for that, I'll stay on Fabian and Stuey and Matti's wheels."
As Alberto Contador continues to sizzle everywhere he takes the start line, Andy Schleck's 2010 campaign has been a lot quieter. His best finish so far this year was at Liege-Bastogne-Liege with a solid 5th place, but Andy isn't too worried: "I don't compare myself to Contador. I know he's going to be good. I also know that I'm going to be good. I'm doing my thing to get better, so it's not like I'm always thinking about him. I try to be good in the Ardennes and even better for the Tour. If it's enough, I can beat him. If I'm really good and a little better than last year…I can do it."
It's hard to argue with the younger Schleck. When it comes time to put up the big performances, he has never come up short. There was a time earlier this year when questions did begin to form after he hit a car, then injured his knee, then fell ill. It was a series of unfortunate setbacks, but a series of bad luck that didn't worry Schleck all that much.
"I was never stressed out. This might sound arrogant, but I'm not arrogant, ok? When you're good, you're good. It's just a matter of self-confidence and training. When I truing, and I'm serious, and I do everything good, I know I'll be in good shape."
Earlier this spring, I spoke with Jens Voigt on the topic of the Brothers Schleck. Jens perked up even more than usual on the topic of the two brothers. He predicted that we'll see a very different Tour de France this year, mainly because of a healthy Frank Schleck. His words shine even brighter now considering Frank Schleck's recent success in Luxembourg.
"Andy's brother is going to be stronger than last year, because Frank had a lot of knee troubles before last year's Tour. He would do a day of training, then take a day off, a day of training, then two days off. It was an on and off training situation for him, so, sure, he won a stage, but he was not in top shape. Believe me, that's a mistake that won't be repeated, so I'm really counting on Frankie being a lot stronger."
With the two brothers both racing at full capacity, the racing could take on a very different aspect once the Tour hits the mountains according to Jens.
"In the ideal scenario, we have only the top contenders at the end of the stage, everybody is alone: Cadel is alone, Sastre is alone, Lance is alone, Contador is alone, and then we have Frank AND Andy there, and then they can work together as a team. They're brothers you know, they're not just colleagues, they're brothers! They love each other, they like each other, they like to help each other, they like to see each other winning, there's no jealousy between them. They're like one unit. So that makes them, for other teams, really dangerous for the Tour de France, you know?"
It's hard not to see the possibilities in Voigt's words. After another sterling performance in the Dauphine's Prologue, there only seems to be one name and two brothers that could possibly stand between Alberto Contador and his third Tour de France victory: Schleck.