Andy Schleck will target victory in the 2014 Tour de France, and has confirmed that he will ride alongside his brother, Frank, in the new Trek team.
And the Luxembourger, who finished as runner-up in the Tours of 2009 and 2011, and who was awarded victory in the 2010 race after Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) was stripped of the title following a doping infraction, is predicting a closer race than this year’s encounter, which was dominated by Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Schleck told RoadCyclingUK that while Froome had been “outstanding”, he and multiple Grand Tour winner, Contador, who had contested victory in three of the previous five editions, had not been at their best in the centennial edition.
Froome produced one of the most dominant displays in recent Tour history, winning three stages, including a victory at the summit of Mont Ventoux, to vanquish Contador, who finished fourth overall. Schleck finished in twentieth on GC, nearly 42 minutes down.
“Chris Froome was strong but I don’t believe that he was stronger than he was before. I believe the others were not just quite on the level. I believe Alberto was not on the level; I was clearly on the wrong level,” Schleck told RCUK.
“He [Froome] was outstanding this year. He was really good, and he was really strong, but I don’t think he was a lot stronger than we were two years ago, or three years ago, Alberto and me.”
Chris Froome was outstanding this year. He was really good, and he was really strong, but I don’t think he was a lot stronger than we were two years ago, or three years ago, Alberto and me
Schleck said he would prepare for the 2014 Tour as he had in previous years, adding that he expected to return to his best form. Asked if he expected Contador, his chief rival in recent years, to return to his best, Schleck joked: “I hope I will be back next year. I don’t care about the others.”
The 2013 season was another challenging one for the 28-year-old, who missed much of the previous campaign after breaking his pelvis in a crash at the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine: an injury that prevented him from racing in last year’s Tour de France, won by Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Schleck abandoned this year’s Tirenno-Adriatico on stage six after being forced off his bike by the monstrous 27 per cent gradient of Sant’Elpidio a Mare, but by the Tour de Suisse had recovered sufficient form to earn leadership of the Radioshack-Nissan-Trek team for the Tour de France.
The team’s licence has been bought by the Trek Bicycle Corporation, which is expected to compete under the banner of Team Trek next season.Schleck confirmed that both he and brother Frank would ride for the team next season.
Frank Schleck was suspended by Radioshack-Nissan-Trek during the 2012 Tour de France after testing positive for the banned diuretic Xipamide, and later banned by the Luxembourg Anti-Doping Agency for one year; a sentence reduced from two years after authorities ruled he had not ingested the substance intentionally.
Andy Schleck told RCUK that the presence of his brother was “really important”. The elder of the Schleck siblings was absent from the races contested by his younger brother this year.
“I said we would rather stop racing our bikes than be in different teams. It won’t be the case yet,” he said.
Both brothers have found success in the Ardennes Classics and Andy confirmed that the three hilly races would again be among is goals in 2014. He won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2009, while Frank won the Amstel Gold Race in 2006.
Andy Schleck said that while the Liege parcours had been the best suited to his riding style, he had always loved the Amstel Gold Race, a race he believed he had been strong enough to win. “It would be nice if I could achieve that goal,” he added.
While the announcement of the Tour de France course for 2014 has seen a route revealed which includes five summit finishes and just one time trial, when RCUK spoke to Schleck, the unveiling was a week away and the 28-year-old said he had received no intimation of the parcours.
He said that he expected a closer race than last year, but added that he had received no hints about the course. “Unfortunately not,” he joked. “It’s the Tour and it’s always hard.”