Can Andy Schleck win the Tour?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Andy Schleck

Everyone has Alberto Contador as the big favourite to win the Tour de France. Rightly so, if you had to pick a rider then the Spaniard would be most people’s choice. But it’s one thing to dominate the Giro d’Italia and another to walk away with the Tour de France. But in case we forget Andy Schleck has come close to winning the Tour de France. Twice.

My kingdom for a banana
In 2008 he was riding well but on the stage from Pau that climbed up to Hautacam via the Col du Tourmalet he got too nervous and didn’t eat enough and consequently cracked, losing eight minutes. Whilst team mate Carlos Sastre went on to win, he was left ruing the idea that he was probably stronger than anyone else in the Alps… but inexperience cost him too much time.

Communication breakdown
Similarly in 2010 he was scared of Contador. On the climb to Avoriaz he ignored Bjarne Riis’s radio instructions to attack 6km from the finish, preferring to make his move late in the stage when the flamme rouge was in sight. Contador later admitted to not being 100% that day, if Riis had got his way then Andy Schleck could have taken more time. Similarly the dropped chain incident saw the Luxembourger lose time, a moment of bad luck.

Don’t get me wrong, Contador wins precisely because he gets things right when others make mistakes. El Pistolero might have an annoying victory celebration but he rarely misses. By contrast, it was an elementary mistake to forget to eat enough in 2008, just as shifting gears with the chain crossed is something most people learn to avoid early. So I’m not saying Andy Schleck should have won in the past. But simply that he has come close and as much as everyone is talking about the race for second place this July, things could actually be closer than we think.

Recent results
It’s true that the Tour de Suisse was bizarre at times, watching Andy Schleck play with each stage it looked like he wasn’t interested. But the national championships weekend suggest Contador’s not on top of his game either, getting beaten twice. With a bit of luck the race could actually be closer than we think.

Summary
History shows Alberto Contador rarely makes mistakes but he’s won the Tour three times ahead of Andy Schleck, the margin has been slim. Whisper it… but if history repeats, there might not be much between these two again.

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{ 73 comments }

robin June 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I hope you’re right it would be good to see a decent fight. One thing you’re definitely right about is the annoying victory celebration.

gkeller June 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Schleck wasn’t in ’07 Tour so Contador hasn’t “won the Tour three times ahead of Andy Schleck.”

El Gato de la Cala June 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

It´s Kim Andersen vs Bjarne Riis!

vincent June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I think young Andy is too polite and lacks the ruthlessness to take it one step higher on the podium. I would like to be proved wrong though.

Neil June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I used to like Schleck until his moaning about sportsmanship and him dropping his chain. An incredibly talented athlete but he doesn’t have the mentality of a winner like Condator or Nadal. He needs a ruthless streak. Contador goes into every race trying to win it, do training when you’re training, race to win when you’re racing. It was a bit embarrassing watching him in the Suisse just messing about.

Contador is going to be tired at the tour so I reckon we’ll see something more like Contador’s first Giro victory where he limits losses then will take it in the TT.

David June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm

He can win the Tour, but I don’t see him winning it this year. If he is slightly off his peak (and the same with Contador) we could see a really close race with four or five people competing for the win. That would make for a great race, even if it is very unlikely.

Fleur June 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Andy hasn’t come close to winning the Tour twice. In 2009 he was about 4 and a half minute back, I wouldn’t call that close to winning. Also this: (quote) he’s won the Tour three times ahead of Andy Schleck, the margin has been slim. No, Contador hasn’t won the TdF three times ahead of Andy, in 2007 Andy wasn’t there. And the margin, as I stated before, was only slim in 2010, when Alberto was obviously not on his best form. He was sick the night before the final ITT, and slept barely. And he said it himself, he had alot of “bad days”. And for the people who are going to argue that Andy had just improved a lot, and Alberto wasn’t in bad shape (like Andy said) : Contador is almost always in the top 10 of a time trial, mostly even top 5 and he wins a lot of time trials as well. In the 2010 ITT he finished somewhere around 35th. Menchov finished about 2 minutes ahead of him, whereas Alberto normally beats the crap out of him. That’s clearly bad form.

To the author of this article: The next time you write something, make sure the things you state are correct.

Mark June 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm

@Fleur Chill out, don’t get so hung up over one minor error in the original post (which doesn’t acutally make much difference to the general point which is being made). Especially when your own post is littered with vague remarks, like ‘somewhere around 35th’ , ‘about 2 minutes’, ‘about 4 and a half minutes back’.

The Inner Ring June 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm

gkeller: thanks for pointing out that they haven’t met three times in the race.

Fleur: I meant the margin would be different if he’d eaten properly in 2008. Subtract the failure on the day and things would be different. Of course this is “could, would, should” nonsense but it suggests he can look for improvements, that the race might not be a procession.

Vincent: the French media were calling him “bisounours” last summer, Mr Care Bear.

natalie June 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I have high hopes it will be close. From a purely fannish point of view, that’s the best Tour de France we can get. I am looking forward to it very much.

Andy at the Tour de Suisse was odd because you could tell when he was pushing just to see how he could do. The question mark I have is over stage 6 where Kim Andersen said he simply didn’t eat enough but Andy himself said he was sick. The conflicting stories make me puzzle but it could mean nothing.
All we know is that is he is in better form than last year and so theoretically we should be in for a good battle. It’s interesting to note that Leopard seem to have dropped the whole “we go into this race with two leaders” spiel and now it’s firmly “Frank will work for Andy”. I think that’s a change for the better. It remains to be see whether we get a punishing dual Schleck attack on the climbs or if they just wait around looking for each other. I hope for the former (I have a lot of hope really).

Contador has that whole potential Giro-fatigue but I actually rate his tactics as being sharper than the Leopards. Not even just because he has Riis calling it (and that’s an interesting relationship I find, Contador absolutely listens to Riis’s advice on when and what to do) but just generally. The joy in watching him is his aggression and attack, we don’t always see that from Leopards/Saxo 2010. Tactics so much as form could really make this race.

StevenCP June 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I hope so. I think one big issue last year that’s often over-looked – apart from that chain incident – was the early retirement of Frank on the cobbles stage. I think if both Schleck’s stay safe to the mountains this year then it will be a very interesting race. Saying that, I personally question the logic of riding on the same team as your brother. Surely there’s a tendency to look over your shoulder and wonder where they are all the time?

Totally agree about the lack of a killer instinct though. You have to be ruthless to win a Grand Tour and it will be interesting to see if he backs up on his promise of not waiting should Contador have a problem at any stage.

And let’s not forget that this is a new team, which can sometimes take some bedding in. Just as Sky.

Guilherme Neves June 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

We’re bound to have a great Tour. As always. I also believe the race for 2nd should be much tighter this Tour as well.

Gingerflash June 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I wonder if in the past Andy has been a little conservative wanting to keep his podium place, knowing a failed attack could cost him minutes and drop him down the GC. Now that he’s been 2nd twice, just being on the podium might not have much value, allowing him to risk it with more attacking riding. He might feel that coming 5th having ridden aggressively and lost is no worse than riding conservatively and finishing 2nd yet again. With the former approach he has a chance of winning, with the latter, none.

In Switzerland, I got the impression that he was very strong, tested his legs a few times, but wanted to keep it under wraps. The way he could bridge from one group to another was amazing. He rarely looked stressed and did seem to be toying with the mountains.

Fingers crossed that it’s a little more exciting and competitive than the Giro!

Qwerty June 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

True, I want to see a closer race too. If Contador’s having it easy then the race for podium places just is not the same. My main concern is the race is like the giro with many mountain stages and each day is a repeat of the previous day.

PT June 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Maybe he can.
But if we’re going to look at maybe’s, Cadel has just as many close misses as Andy. Even closer according to the clock I think. Not to mention the 2009 Vuelta where a slow (???) neutral service for a flat cost him the 1’28″ which Alberto won by. As the cliche says, winners make their own luck and Alberto seems to have had quite a run of that.

Whoever wins, here’s hoping we see a great spectacle with tight racing from all these guys.

Guilherme Neves June 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm

@PT Alberto didn’t race 2009′s Vuelta. It was Valverde and Sami Sanchez who placed ahead of Evans.

STB June 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Andy Shleck’s performance in the Tour de Suisse was poor. Even if he was holding back his performance in the final day time trial was not a good sign. Either this is a bluff or he is genuinely well below top form.

On his best form Andy can challenge Contador, the big question now is will his fitness be good enough by the time they get to the Pyrennes. Contador looks the clear favourite, but the competition for the other podium spots looks like it will be close with Evans, Wiggins, van den Broeck, Basso, Leipheimer, Kloeden, Martin, and others all at a similar level.

The first 10 days will be important as well, many riders could lose time before the mountain stages if they are not careful.

Flashing Pedals June 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

any Schleck victory at the Tour de France, will truly reflect the ‘team’ effort.
I get the impression that whilst he may have the physical ability, mentally, he is lacking.

Stupid mistakes are encountered under distinct pressure, an over reliance on a brother (trained by a gynaecologist) and when the radio controlled element of race radios was removed from the teams, Schlecky chops is clueless & panics.

It needed the help of Cancellara to recover his chances – If Schleck manages to win the TDF it will be solely because Fabian said he could……

Patrick June 28, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I don’t mind who wins, as long as it’s decided on the road, I appreciate that the controversies and irregular rulings are part of the story but for me they distract from the racing itself. If it looks like Contador is going to walk all over everyone, I just hope they get the right national anthem for him at the end.

Champs June 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm

No, at least not without some outside help. It will take crashed-out rivals and a touch of the bizarre like Cancellara’s neutralization in stage 2 or an adverse ruling at CAS to overcome the fact that he climbs no better than Contador and bleeds minutes with his time trialing form.

grolby June 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I’m hearing a theme…

I think young Andy is too polite and lacks the ruthlessness to take it one step higher on the podium.

I used to like Schleck until his moaning about sportsmanship and him dropping his chain. An incredibly talented athlete but he doesn’t have the mentality of a winner like Condator or Nadal. He needs a ruthless streak.

Totally agree about the lack of a killer instinct though. You have to be ruthless to win a Grand Tour and it will be interesting to see if he backs up on his promise of not waiting should Contador have a problem at any stage.

I get the impression that whilst he may have the physical ability, mentally, he is lacking.

I think it’s just so much nonsense – just repeating this idea that Andy Schleck doesn’t have the “killer instinct” to win a grand tour doesn’t make it any less silly. The brothers do have this kind of dopy “Aww shucks” press persona, and Andy Schleck is probably still gaining experience in managing his presentation to the press (though he showed flashes of real personality last year, especially post-Tour), but don’t be fooled. These are scary, scary boys. Schleck put up a hell of a fight last year; arguably, if he hadn’t done such a crappy prologue, he might have squeaked out a victory. This kid has won LBL. He’s been the podium of the Tour twice. He made a piece of seriously class riding on the Roubaix stage last year over the cobbles to come in at the same time as the winner, Hushovd. Of course, he did in fact manage two mountain top stage victories last year. Third in this year’s LBL behind Gilbert and his brother was no mean feat, either. Talking about a lack of “killer instinct” (a nebulous , intangible thing at the best of times) from a racer who has shown very clearly that he can be relied upon to get results is inane, and a poor excuse for commentary. Look deeper, people.

Gingerflash had an interesting thought:

I wonder if in the past Andy has been a little conservative wanting to keep his podium place, knowing a failed attack could cost him minutes and drop him down the GC. Now that he’s been 2nd twice, just being on the podium might not have much value, allowing him to risk it with more attacking riding.

A criticism of Andy Schleck, and it’s one with substance. There’s something here, for sure; I don’t know that I agree that it’s just conservatism, though. Frankly, I don’t think Schleck has shown much in the way of tactical brilliance at any point in his career thus far. He certainly knows how to race a bike, and he’s not a complete dummy, but it makes me think a bit about Cancellara, masking the lack of a truly deep racing intelligence with sheer talent. Which puts him in a tough spot when it comes to beating Contador, because in order to do that, he needs to not only be on top form (and by the way, I will be surprised if he’s not), but to do a very smart race. I don’t think he was lacking the strength to beat Contador last year, had he not made some mistakes. Who knows, it may not have been enough, but there was not a lot of light between them by the end, and a couple important errors by Andy.

Contador is no genius either, but unlike Schleck, he doesn’t really need to be, he’s just so damn good. I’m not trying to say that any of these guys are idiots, because they’re not. They’re no Virenques when it comes to tactics. But nor are they Bruyneel. It does seem likely that Contador has the upper hand again this year, but this Giro-Tour thing is interesting – it may be too much. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Inner Ring June 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Some great comments so far, thanks.

jza June 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm

The problem with Andy is that he’s just not very good at bike racing. He’s got the engine, but not the brains or guts.

Last year summed it up, shit was gonna get hot, he mis-shifts and then cries about it.

If anyone is gonna beat Contador, it’s gonna have to get tactical. And if it gets tactical, Andy won’t win. Even if Andy gets a couple seconds on climbs, he’ll lose minutes in the TT. He’s gotta find more time than he’ll get on climbs.

Gadi June 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm

As a well known fact (about the preferences of the author) concerning the preferred winner (whenever AC is involved), it’s really a nice piece of a WISH FULL THINKING.
One has to remember that Schleck never met AC in his best form, and should AC be healthy, it surely be enough, this time around, but the margin will be much bigger.

gkeller June 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm

A. Schleck – pro since ’05, never won a multi-day stage race. ’nuff said.

Playvelo June 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I think last year would have been a different story if Frank was still there in the later stages. Andy would have won the Tour.

I also agree with Andy’s comments that Contador’s team may be his downfall. Perhaps Contador can do the double but will his team be able to as well. I don’t think so.

Andy wins the Tour.

I’m actually just as interested in who will finish in the Top 3. This years tour has a plethora of riders able to finish well.

Guadzilla June 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm

What everyone seems to forget is that Contador was notably under-par last year, as shown by his TT performances (and the fact that he had allergies and other issues most of the summer). And dont also forget that when it came down to on-road riding, an under-par Contador put time on Andy in both TTs and held even in the mountains (Cancellara’s attempts to play peloton patron is the only reason Andy gained time on AC).

I’ll say it here- Andy will not be in the top 2 steps of the podium this year.

Playvelo June 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

Ok Guadzilla, you seem to be strongly in the Contador camp & I’m in the Andy Schleck camp.

Lets have a bet for 100 virtual credits. I get Schleck. You get Contador.

Simma June 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

The Schlecks definitly do not lack killer instinct, you don’t win in pro cycling from pure talent alone anymore, you have to make the decisive moves to cut away the followers in any race.

The problem for andy so far has all been mental, being a “young rider”, being unsure of his talent and what people have told him… having to race with his bigger brother up mountains and only just measuring up for so long and not realising he can easily push beyond him.

Andy does get better and better the more barriers he knocks down… the LBL win probably pushed him to be that close to ‘bert last year at the tour… and losing his brother was an early distraction he did not need (in fact i think he’d be a much better rider if frank gave up cycling completely, but frank has the skills to pay his bills so he won’t), after effectively giving up the yellow last year you see the annoyance on his face, he knew then, “i have the ability required, and i bottled it”, he’ll come back an entirely different monster, you don’t go through that without responding..

take the tour de suisse, it wasn’t up and down, andy was hiding form, the whole race, the press pushed him, he took the mountains classification and sat up to shut them up… that ITT wasn’t all out, you can tell by the body language and how easily he crossed the line.

I’m far more curious about ‘bert’s form, not winning the spanish titles when clearly going all out for them… and the other big names must have form… basso, evans, sanchez, kloden (good suisse TT), they’ve got to have something, and this is evans first ever easy year so to speak, he’s gotta be aching to ride! exciting to say the least, i do not expect a 2 horse race at all. Anyone who does is throwing some real injustice around.

roomservicetaco June 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm

By my observation, Schleck and Contador are equals when it comes to pure climbing. However, Contador is a much better TT rider and a significantly better descender.

2010 was close primarily because Frank Schleck hit the deck on Stage 3 holding up Contador and giving Andy the opportunity to draft behind Cancellara to take 1:13.

As far as chaingate is concerned, Schleck was down only 12 or 13 seconds at the summit of the climb – he lost another 25 or so in the descent.

paul June 28, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Does anyone remember this year’s Giro? I’m not a fan of ‘Bert, but he flat out dominated and won that race easily, and has some other quality wins throughout this year. As much as he bugs me, we’re watching an all-time great in the making.

Meanwhile, Andy was dropped in both the ToC and TdS. And I question the Schleck’s tactics and racing instincts after they completely botched a sure win in LBL this year. I just don’t believe it anymore when a Schleck says he’ll be aggressive and attack a race. Schleck’s time trial ability is still atrocious. And lastly, there seem to be more contenders this year who are focused solely on the tour or are primed for a comeback such as Sanchez, Evans, Wiggins and even Leipheimer.

It’s Pistol-boy’s race to lose. Either Schleck will be lucky to be on the podium in Paris. I’d be less surprised if Horner beat both Andy and Frank.

SlapshotJC June 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I don’t like him, I don’t like either of the Schlecks and all that bonhomie, brotherly love stuff. I think Andy needs to grow up a huge amount. All this “Care Bears”, “My Little Pony” nonsense is a reflection of the attitude he purveys.
I don’t think he’ll EVER beat Alberto in a stage race and his form stinks. I think Basso is ill which explains his lack of form, Andy just plain and simple doesn’t have any and I think he knows it. The tour will be close but I’m not sure it’ll be Berto and Andy, I’m more inclined to think Berto and Frank or maybe Cadel.

mdfrank June 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm

@grolby – I have “looked deeper” I have found a definition of “killer instinct” at dictionary.com: “an aggressive and ruthless determination to win or attain a goal”. Seems to me you just don’t agree with people who don’t think Andy has ever shown an “aggressive or ruthless determination”. A quick check of his recent palmares (2007 to present) and I found that Andy has no stage race victories to his credit. It doesn’t seem as though a there is any hard evidence that Andy has what it takes to win a stage race. So I don’t find it as hard to believe those who suggest that he has no “killer instinct”.

I would personally like to see Andy win (or even just contest!) a week long stage race, to dominate in the mountains and ride a strong TT to defend his lead before I see him win the Tour. I would guess that there are things about leading a stage race that you need to experience and master before you are acknowledged as a good stage racer. This years Tour de Suisse showed how an experienced stage racer can approach and win a race against an inexperienced/unpracticed stage racer. There is more to it than frolicking up the occasional mountainside and hiding your form.

Guadzilla June 28, 2011 at 9:32 pm

@Playvelo – you’re on. Bragging rights on this blog till the Vuelta, how’s that? :)

I’d totally like to see AC win the Tour and actually try for a Vuela triple this year.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale June 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I don’t know if Andy has “killer instinct” or not, but it might not hurt him to get a bit more abrasive. Most of the best Grand Tour riders historically have been throat-cutters on the bike, and sometimes off. Merckx was known as the Cannibal. Hinault was the definition of the “patron.” Armstrong chased down breakaways of riders whom he didn’t like. Contador is brilliant, but some of his most memorable moments are controversial ones like the Chain attack and Arcalis. Nibali was upset at Contador for attacking him on Zoncolan with a big lead just last month.

Great riders, for better or for worse, leave their opponents fuming. Schleck is not that sort. The only real great that Schleck’s kinder-gentler mentality resembles is Indurain. Indurain didn’t need to cut throats, because he would leave them behind in time trials. Andy does not have a dominant ability like that. He might be the #1 or #1a climber of cycling today, but he’s up against the other guy who is either #1 or #1a–and that guy can TT Andy into the dust.

Andy may be another in a history of brilliant cyclists cursed to compete with a transcendent one. Could this be the year? Well, if he wants to be Contador straight-up, this might be it. And with Contador recovering from a massive Giro effort, maybe this is Andy’s chance.

Chris June 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm

@mdfrank

+1

Couldn’t have said it better…

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale June 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm

By the way, I don’t read anything at all into the lead-up races, unless there is something massively wrong. So what if Andy didn’t win in Switzerland? He wants to win in France. The year that Armstrong cared about the Dauphine (’03) was the year he nearly lost the Tour. The next season, his Dauphine performance was weak, and his Tour performance among the most dominant ever.

grolby June 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm

mdfrank , who cares what the dictionary says? It’s inane and empty to credit Andy Schleck’s lack of stage race wins (which, by the way, is actually a valid criticism of the guy!) to a lack of killer cliché right stuff. Give me something to sink my teeth into! Give me something that doesn’t look farcical in the face of one-day race wins and podiums and out-for-blood stages in last year’s Tour. The difference between second and first in a grand tour is, what, exactly? In the last few years it has appeared to be Alberto Contador. Not winning a GT against Contador doesn’t show so much a lack of hard evidence that one is capable of winning stage races as a lack of hard evidence that one is capable of beating Contador in a grand tour. Who has done that, since 2007? That’s the lead-in to what I think is a look at Andy Schleck’s problem that doesn’t take the form of worn-out bullshit clichés about killer instinct.

Here’s the thing: for a long time, Andy has been able to point to the fact that he’s still a young rider and still developing as an excuse for not yet having won a GT. He’s taken LBL and has stood on the TdF podium two years running, so it’s clear that he’s a big talent. And let’s not forget that 2nd place in the Giro in 2007. But now time is running out. He’s 26 years old, and should be coming into his prime. Here’s my question: is Schleck hurting his palmarès by focusing on the Tour to the exclusion of other stage races? It’s very strange, for a guy who is insisting that he is still developing, to put such a laser-like focus on the Tour, when he could be building confidence and a portfolio of wins in other races. Contador makes a great comparison – he is entering Spanish stage races in March, and winning them. He is entering Paris-Nice, and racing to win it. You could argue that the Schlecks have different priorities, as major contenders in the Ardennes Classics, but it’s not like Contador has ignored those, either. Frank made several serious attempts at the Tour of Switzerland before nabbing it last year – but for Andy, he’s always just riding it to prepare for the Tour. And why has he not returned to the Giro, a race that clearly suits his climbing talent? Given the way Andy Schleck can leave everyone whose name isn’t Contador absolutely for dead on the climbs in a big stage race, why isn’t he targeting more races?

I think that this issue – mis-directed focus – is a much better explanation for what’s holding Andy back than this crap about killer instinct. Clearly, he’s bought into the hype that he’s the next big Tour de France winner. And maybe he is! But when you’re part of a generation that includes Alberto Contador, you should probably target some other races; after all, it’s better to win the Tour de Suisse or Dauphine or Giro/Vuelta and place second in the TdF than to just place second in the TdF. And if you can get some of those big wins AND win the Big Show? So much the better!

The thing is, that this explanation actually makes some sense if you look at Andy Schleck’s race program and his stated intentions for following it – to be on top form for the Tour. And, quelle surprise, his lack of stage race wins is exactly what you expect to see from someone following such a strategy. That, to me, is a better story than empty-headed nonsense about “killer instinct,” and provides some prescription for an actual thing that might have some concrete effect on race results.

Velonista June 28, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I must admit: this year’s LBL soured me on team Schleck. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it politeness, but both Schlecks seemed to lack a killer instinct. There’s no way they should have carried Gilbert to the line; they may have been out of gas but they looked out of ideas. I don’t Contador making the same kind of tactical mistake. As the original post suggested, AC is particularly good at not committing errors on the road…

Patrick June 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm

depending on what CAS say in a few months time, he might have already won one!

JT June 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I think it’s worth focussing on Saxobank a little more. Most teams send their B-team to the Giro. Even Liquigas did so this year. It’s not just that Schleck, Gesink, Evans, Wiggins etc were not at the Giro, many of the key riders who protect them were not there either. For example, not one of Rabobank’s Giro squad is at the Tour.

Contrast this with Saxobank’s strategy. I don’t think they expected Contador to be at the Tour. His key mountain men were all at the Giro with him: Navarro was there, Hernandez, Porte & Tosatto. They all finished the race and Richie Porte finished strongly in the TT. A course as tough as the Giro will have taken a lot out of them and with fewer than five weeks to recover between the Giro and the Tour, I expect them to become tired in the later stages. Contador will be lacking support on the key climbs, more vulnerable to attack.

I’m just not that sure Schleck is the man who will profit from this weakness. As many commenters to this blog have highlighted, he is not yet a proven race winner. LBL is his only major win and that was over two years ago.

grolby June 28, 2011 at 10:58 pm

See, this is what I mean – far too much emphasis is placed on the rider that loses, rather than the rider that wins. Somehow, the story of LBL for some becomes the story of how the Schleck brothers, who were far, far better than everyone in the race except for one guy, failed to execute – rather than the story of how Philippe Gilbert was on such scintillating form and displayed such power that he shattered the best double-team act in the current peloton. I really think it’s the wrong perspective. It’s weird, psychology is incredibly important, but it gets way, way overplayed – the killer instinct fails when the legs do. Having a poor mindset for winning is Pippo Pozzato, following wheels rather than take the risk needed to win. It’s Stijn Devolder spending all spring at the back, because if he’s not on winning form, why bother? The Schlecks don’t have these problems. How do successful riders (particularly Frank), who have readily demonstrated their willingness to attack and take chances to win, whether on the Alpe, or in Switzerland, in in the Spring Classics, suddenly find themselves accused of being too mild? Is it a failure of the imagination? Do people just not want to believe that sometimes the other guy really is untouchable? I really don’t get it.

The Inner Ring June 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm

More great comments.

Grolby: in L-B-L I agree, you could have given the Schlecks a Kalashnikov and somehow Gilbert would have still beaten them. Some say they should have sat up and tried to play poker but a) they stood to gain valuable points by riding with him and b) the Schlecks have an understanding of the sport that you try to win a race rather than making someone else lose.

Maybe b) is a weakness but it plays well for some too.

Pedalmania June 28, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Re: killer instinct. I agree that he doesn’t have it. He says he will not wait for Contador should he have any issues. Can’t see him going through with that. Just like last year when he said he would ‘take revenge in the mountains’. The guy is weak and needs to break free from his bro, man up and win something!

barbara June 29, 2011 at 12:32 am

I like the comments of Grolby. I think Andy will win the yellow this year and his brother will be very close.
To all those reactions about the poor form (not feeling well, allergies etc.) Conti was in last year, I’d only like to add that AS was riding for a lot of days with a lot of plasters all over his body. I never heard any moaning from himself about that.
To me it always stays strange that Riis was talking with Contador during the Tour. Riis was probably offended by the Schlecks going to a new team, so I respect him trying to find big game to continue the team, but the moment and the situation………..

Miso Kuropka June 29, 2011 at 12:57 am

I believe the above article and the following discussion is based on a wrong fact. Fundamental. Alberto Contador had a positive doping test during the last Tour. Given the applicable strict liability, unless Alberto Contador provides samples from the same beef contaminated by Clenbuterol (as the supposed steak), Andy Schleck should be considered rightful winner of 2010 Tour. In other words, Andy Schleck proved last year that he was able to beat Alberto Contador and the only reason why he did not do so was doping/cheating by Alberto Contador. Regardless what Contador’s legal/PR machinery and Spanish Federation say. Nice guys also cheat.

And it also up to the media (including bloggers) and fans to make a strong and clear standpoint on strict liability and its importance when concluding on doping cases. Otherwise, the fight against doping remains just an illusion and pro cycling more of a puppet show than a sport. I also believe that pro peloton and race organizers should stop the rule of silence/political correctness and should express what they really think on this matter.

Similarly, I do not understand why so many people use presumption of innocence argument in Contador’s case. The strict liability implies that you are considered guilty unless you exonerate yourself. And apart from legal argumentation, I have not seen any exonerating evidence provided by Mr Contador.

DB June 29, 2011 at 1:15 am

End of term report card pre “final exam”:

Alberto Contador, Legs A+, Tactical race support A+, Ruthless streak A, Poitics A (witness building alliances with “gifting” stages), Self belief – unquestionable, Team belief in him – undoubted. Query: enough recovery time from Giro.

Andy Scheck: Legs A+, Tactical Support – unproven at top level despite stunning pedigree, Ruthless streak A- , Politics – unclear as first season out from under the wings of the Bald Eagle who despite everything knows how to get a winner & team to win, Self belief – obviously considerable, you don’t has his palmares without it, but against the recent benchmarks of Contador, Armstrong & Indurain, there appears a hint of not so much self doubt but more not as much total unquestionning self belief or drive and over 3,400 kms that may well be a difference of 30 seconds to a minute

Michael June 29, 2011 at 1:42 am

I don’t see Andy Schleck winning the tour this year, except in exceptional circumstances. Riders like Evans and Sanchez are much more likely. It’s clear that for a rider to beat Contador there must be some bad luck for El Pistolero in the mountains, a crash, mechanical, not eating enough, or just having a bad day. There is no other way that riders can take time from him in the mountains. Even if Schleck did gain a little bit of time in the mountains he’s likely to lose up to 2 minutes in the final time trial and thus the lead. Riders like Evans and Sanchez could consolidate any lead they have in the time trial by not losing much time to Contador. Fo me they are the dark horses in the race. FWIW I could almost put Wiggins in the same bracket, but I think he will lose to much timein the mountains compared to Evans and Sanchez.

Dr Dave June 29, 2011 at 2:07 am

DB, I roared with laughter after quickly reading your report card.
I thought you said…”Ruthless Steak”…

mdfrank June 29, 2011 at 2:28 am

@ grolby – I used the definition of the term to counter your argument that ““killer instinct” (a nebulous , intangible thing at the best of times)” was not a clearly understood term In this world where we can communicate with others on the other side of the planet with people who may or may not speak English as their first language it makes sense to make sure we are using the same meanings to the words we use.
I think that your point about focus is a good one, and I believe he would have fewer people suggesting that he didn’t have killer instinct if he focused himself on achievable goals more often.

@Miso Kuropka – The only thing worse than a broken rule is a rule that is broken.

GluteCramp June 29, 2011 at 3:33 am

I echo Patrick’s thoughts and apply them prospectively. AS may have already won the 2010 Tour (although the longer the case goes the less I suspect this likely) and even if he finishes 2nd again to AC, he may still win the 2011 Tour.

I still think we’re ignoring a few other likely suspects.

If you want to talk about coulda/woulda/shoulda-types, you really can look no further than Cadel Evans. But for misfortunte, he could have won both the Tour and the Giro in 2010. He was up on Contador when he broke his elbow in the Tour and has already proven himself capable of a #1/1a/1b rating as far as climbing goes, and he’s #1/1a/1b amongst GC-contending time triallists also. He couldn’t eat properly for three days in the middle of the Giro – surprisingly, these were the stages he lost most of the time to Basso on.
Then there’s that debacle at the Vuelta that cost him most of the time he lost to Valverde and his dog – the neutral service support was appalling (check youtube – stationary for ~1:10, long enough for the team car to make it there with a new bike).
OH, and 8 seconds at the 2008 Tour to Carlos Sastre (enough said on that one though).

That’s just one other serious contender. Whether Basso will be up to the challenge is yet to be seen – or Wiggins, for that matter. And that’s before we get to the other potential GC contenders – such as Sammy Sanchez, Gesink, VDB or any of Radioshack’s ‘eyebrow-raising’ trio – of whom I suspect Horner might have peaked too soon.

With all these other guys potentially in the mix, it’s possible that AS might have more of a fight on his hands than many seem to be willing to consider. Even if AC is dominant – not guaranteed after a long and difficult Giro (although seemingly less difficult for him than for most) – CAS still might make the fight for second much more interesting – and I don’t think that fight is a straight points decision for AS at this point.

PT June 29, 2011 at 5:11 am

Sorry – missed Valverde in my Evans/Vuelta comment.

Will be interesting to see how many (if any) of AC’s gifted stages from the Giro come back to him at Le Tour. Perhaps not as stage wins but just a helping hand here & there?

Dave H June 29, 2011 at 5:57 am

Personally, Contador shouldn’t have been in the Giro nor should he be in the Tour, his lawyers planned their little delay perfectly. He tested positive and DID NOT prove positively that he ate contaminated beef. He may win the Tour, but CAS will overturn his re-instatement. CAS has to OR overturn all the other that have tested positive for Clen due to contamination. He will be stripped of the 2 Tour titles and the Giro title as well as the othe races he has won. The 2nd place riders will get notification Via the mail without the opportunity to stand on the top step of the podium. The sport will be made a mockery of (once again)

Andy Schmandy June 29, 2011 at 7:29 am

All these comments are wasted analysis; Cadel has got it in the bag! :)

Phil Malcolm June 29, 2011 at 8:13 am

I cant see Schleck ever winning a GT. I just don’t think he has the courage to risk a podium spot by attacking, and he’s not a good enough TT rider to win that way.

Look at the tourmalet stage last year. I don’t think he attempted to win anything more than the stage at any point there. He’s a calculating follower, and that only wins the Tour if your name is Indurain.

billy buster June 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

@Andy Schmandy I’m with you . . . 2011 will see the new Cadel 2.0 ‘Big Dog’ version come out to hunt. You want to talk about killer instinct? The guy tasted blood at the worlds, now dines each night on the flesh of his vanquished… he’s some scary-ass shit! The venomous look in his 2.0 eyes sends shivers up my spine.

Prediction: He will beat Alberto … with AS’s carcass!!

Go the Big Dog!

PT June 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Actually Phil M, you’ve got a pretty good point there. As great as Andy is all-round, he does pretty much suck at time trials compared to his peers. There’s more than one “race of truth” in this years TDF and you’d have to say Andy will be in damage control there – compared to other contenders who are right at the pointy end.

Markkus June 29, 2011 at 12:19 pm

JT is right about AC’s team support. But then AC doesn’t need any support – he wins Grand Tours all by himself! Consider the 2009 Tour, when half the team was riding for Armstrong.

In this year’s Giro, Contador was utterly dominant. He was toying with the competition and nobody came close. The unknown is how much it’s taken out of him, but of course he’ll be up for the Tour and has the armoury to take on all-comers.

In the 2010 Tour, AC genuinely seemed to be challenged by Andy S, but this time I really can’t see Schleck riding away from Bertie in the mountains – and if he can’t do it there, he’s not going to be a threat anywhere else.

I think Evans will do well this year, but lacks team support as usual.

Radio Shack has a stellar team – with Brajkovic, Horner, Klöden and Leipheimer. At least two of those are podium contenders and they’ve all shown good form this year. They just need to get the tactics right – and there aren’t many DSs who know as much about that as Bruyneel.

stuartrc June 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Lots of very interesting points here – and as an aside, wouldn’t it be nice to see both Wiggens and Cadel on the podium (unlikely I know)

For me AS suffers from riding with his brother – I think they would both perform better if they were on seperate teams. But the thing that separates AS from the likes of Schleck and Gilbert is “being a clutch player”

The best sport people perform best at critical moments. Jonny Wilkinson slotting a penalty, tiger wood in his glory years, Steve Waugh ad infinitum. Schleck, for my money doesn’t. AS’s problem is that this is not a learned response, it is an almost sociopathic disregard for externalities.

Not sure there is a solution, AS will only ever be very very good as opposed to great. Still far better than all of us commenting here!

the lower depths June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm

wow. great blog (finally) a lot less piss and vinegar and a lot more rational conversation …

but, just to chirp up about ‘killer instinct’ and why i don’t think Andy will take top step (again) this year if i may?

Hinault vows to lead Lemond to victory, sees his chance and attacks his own man for yellow.
Gilbert, in the company of the Schlecks, says thanks for the help and shows them both a clean pair of wheels.
Armstrong goes to the front, looks at the rest and storms away up the climb, leaving them all in his wake.
Alberto, being told that Lance is the man, sees his chance and flies and scores.
Andy has a chance to take a stage, decides to drop back and check on Frank to see how he’s doing …

i think that about sums it up? simple advice to Andy (from an enthusiast): only you can stand on the top step, ride like it, devil take the hindmost, even it’s your brother. maybe especially if it’s your brother?
all that aside, i do think it will be a great race with all the contenders cueing up for their chance and some their last chance …
TiVo all cued up, bike tweaked and tuned for post race riding, fridge stocked with Duvel Tripel …
allez, allez, allez!

Ian June 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Contador is still the man to beat (certainly given his form in the Giro where he put 12minutes into Menchov who was 3rd at the TDF last year) but I’m with the author here. The day Schleck’s chain came off he lost 39s to Contador he lost the tour by 39s an overly simply way of looking at it maybe but still it is still a tangible incident that wasn’t fitness or form related.

This could be one of the closest tours there has ever been.

Ian June 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Billy Buster +1 just wet myself laughing

grolby June 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Ian, you could go looking in lots of places to find the time that decided the Tour last year. If you start with the prologue, Andy Schleck lost 42 seconds to Contador there. If I were to give him advice for this year, I would not say “Don’t drop your chain,” I would say “Work on your time trial some more.”

Since I was too busy being annoyed by arguments about killer instinct to make any actual predictions (by the way, mdfrank, I see your point – fair enough, and while I still disagree, I’ve made my case by now), I’ll go out on a limb and say that this year is in fact a good chance for Andy to win it – lots of climbing, I think he is probably on form, Contador is tired, etc.

With respect to the latter, I don’t think we’ll know for sure how well he’s recovered from the Giro until a couple weeks into the Tour. I’m sure he’s going to come in guns blazing. Contador is the favorite, but we know that the Giro-Tour double is a very tough ask these days; I’m not convinced that even Contador can pull it off. So, I’ll put my money on Andy 1st, Cuddles 2nd, Contador 3rd (and then van den Brouck 3rd when Contador gets smacked down by the CAS on strict liability). Now I’ll sit back for the next week and watch myself get proven wrong!

grolby June 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Argh. THREE weeks!

Ian June 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Grolby : Taking away mechanical failure was purely a means to illustrate (I believe) they were evenly matched overall TT,Climbing and cobble riding and will be again this season.

Kendy June 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I don’t see any way that Andy Schleck can win the tour unless he vastly improves his time trial ability. In 2010 the race was close because Contador had a bad day at the time trial. Even if this year Contador is worn out from the Giro and is not that competitive, there are too many other riders like Evans, Wiggens, Leipheimer, Horner and even Basso who can gain lots of time on Andy in the time trials. Yes he can climb as good as anyone, but can he gain enough time on all of these guys to make up for what he loses in the time trial?

LeonG June 29, 2011 at 10:21 pm

The most worrying problem from Schleck’s perspective is just that – he is not able to accept the world does not owe him anything. He was very lucky the peloton was indulgent with him early on in last year’s tour. Indeed, he screws up and this time Bjarn Riis is with Contador. Alberto is the consummate professional and only shows his feelings when he has won. While his efforts in the Giro may have been very tiring it is unimaginable that Riis and he himself would undertake such an all-absorbing tour as this one without having done their strategic homework (and training) first. The Schlecks had better not take too much for granted as they often appear to. Alberto is there to win and it is up to them to take the crown from him. Contador knows just when to play his hand but we have witnessed many occasions when Andy Schleck has proven incapable.

Playvelo June 29, 2011 at 10:35 pm

@Guadzilla Alright you’re on. Braggin rights til the Vuelta.

Alrighty, I have to run now. I just put Alberto down for a siesta because he is tres fatigue. In the mean time I’ll go check out the Andy Schleck Yellow Jersey collection at the leOpar TrEK store. :)

grolby June 29, 2011 at 10:45 pm

While his efforts in the Giro may have been very tiring it is unimaginable that Riis and he himself would undertake such an all-absorbing tour as this one without having done their strategic homework (and training) first.

That’s an extremely weak argument. Under the best of circumstances, there is substantial economic interest in having Saxo Bank’s star rider take part in the Tour. That becomes even more critical when you consider the very strong possibility of all of Saxo Bank’s sponsors losing access to the biggest name in the sport as a platform to advertise their products and brands. Contador is simply far too valuable not to race the Tour, regardless of his level of preparedness.

Bundle June 29, 2011 at 11:43 pm

He needs to be able to drop Contador at least once in a climb; there are 4 ways he can do it (apart from AC falling, crossing his chain, and the like…):
- a short, violent, sudden change in pace, in the last climb. He’s tried it in the past, it’s almost the only thing we’ve seen him do, and, unfortunately for Andy, it’s exactly what Contador excels at. Don’t see it succeeding. Anyway, with this tactics working at best, he can an only steal a minute and half at absolute maximum, unless Contador absolutely cracks. Plateau de Beille is the stage for it, and you can bet Andy will try it there. But it alone will hardly win him the Tour even if he succeeds.
- a sustained attack à la Hinault (or, best example, Induráin in La Plagne 1996), during several kilometers, that makes everybody explode little by little. No one has seen AC having to contend this, nor has anyone seen Andy perform it. Could work, but it’s an unknown variable.
- an early getaway-attack, à la Fuente/Chiappucci (or Pantani, Van Impe, Bahamontes or Gaul), on the first climb of a tappone, looking to destroy his rivals after a long solo reaching to Luz Ardiden, Lautaret/Galibier, or Alpe d’Huez, making Contador chase him for 150 km or whatever. The dream scenario for us spectators. No one has seen him do it, so we don’t know if he is able to, or daring enough to, but it would earn him a place among the greatest pure climbers in history, something he has in his legs to achieve. I still think Contador would beat him in that kind of race (I think he regulates better). But I would like to see it, especially when Andy says that his team is better (which is true) and teamwork can be crucial in such a stage. At any rate, Fränk should try to catch a getaway in the first climb of every mountain stage, to wear Saxo Bank out, and serve as a bridge for Andy’s later attack.
- someone else’s attack wears AC out, and Andy takes advantage after Contador is exhausted. Each and every other serious contender has a stake in challenging AC in the mountains, because that’s where the race will be won and lost, even for those who could beat AC in the TT. Because we all know the 2009 and 2010 scenarios: no one really attacks Contador and he wins without having been in real difficulty. All of those who really think they can win this Tour should be aggessive in the mountains: they don’t know if it will make them win, but they know they’ll lose if they play it defensively. And Contador, as in the Giro, will have to fight it alone, because his team is no Molteni, Banesto,US Postal, or Astana. That’s why it should be an amazing TdF if people are ambitious. Watch out for politics in this regard.

In summary, I think he could, but in most of the scenarios AC wins. But Andy and the rest should try all of them.

Bundle June 29, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Sorry, I meant La Plagne 95… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhEKRjhLuds

Ross June 30, 2011 at 2:57 am

Pantani was an example of a rider who, like Schleck, was a fabulous climber but a relatively poor time triallist, but still won the Tour. Schleck, or any of the other GC riders aspiring to victory, need to launch a sustained Pantani-like attack in the high mountains, preferably early on in the climb, and take time from Contador.

I don’t know if Schleck is in the same league as Pantani but if he, or Evans, Basso etc don’t try to outride Contador in the mountains then they haven’t a chance of wearing the yellow jersey in Paris. Hopefully the race will play out this way, as it would make for incredibly exciting viewing for us couch potatoes.

LeonG June 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm

“That’s an extremely weak argument…….”

First, it is not the only argument but, second, it is one nonetheless – Contador is not going to the TdF to make a fool of himself. Riis has done his homework as usual.

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