In part 1 of our extensive chat Andy talks about the 2012 season, its ups and mostly downs and the future. Andy sat down and took one look at the voice recorders laid out in front of him and commented “I remember before, they used to write!” always good to start with a joke.
PEZ: Are you looking forward to riding the Tour Down Under?
Andy Schleck: Yes, I am. It’s been quite a long winter for me, because I started training really early, but that was necessary because I missed a lot of the last season. I’m really looking forward to going to Australia, we are leaving on the 7th and we have a type of training camp when we are there before the race. Normally I would start earlier [in the season-Ed] in the Ruta del Sol in mid February or something, but now it’s Down Under and then Haut Var, one week after. Basically I ride every race that there is. It’s Down Under, Tour Med, Haut Var, then in Italy for some races; GP Nobili and then Tirreno and then Critйrium and Pays Basque. Last year was a different programme that didn’t work too good, as everyone knows. Obviously, before, I did that programme and it was good, so I’ll go back to that one, but with the earlier start. I think it’s important for me to get as much racing in my legs before the Classics and then after the Classics, we are not 100% sure, but probably it’s California, the Tour du Suisse is ideal for now, but that can change.
PEZ: What did you think of the 2012 Tour de France and the win of Bradley Wiggins?
Andy: I think we saw this year that the Tour was more dominated by one team, I don’t remember seeing a Tour dominated as much as Sky and Wiggins did. The whole team were strong, but of course it was a really good Tour for him, there were a lot of time trials, maybe a little less climbs than we have seen in the years before, but, of course, they were going in with the big favourite.
PEZ: If you and Contador had been riding do you think it would have been a completely different race?
Andy: I wouldn’t say that, it’s easy to sit here now without being on the start line. Honestly I don’t think there would have been a big chance to have beaten Wiggins last year. His team was very strong and we didn’t see any big differences on the climbs, he was strong on the climbs and didn’t lose any time.
PEZ: I was thinking that there was only Nibali…and Froome to try anything on the climbs?
Andy: Of course Nibali tried along with Cadel, but he wasn’t in the best shape last year, but even with Contador and with me there, there wouldn’t have been a big difference, maybe there would have been more fight of course on the climbs, but he won with quite a big difference, especially in the second one [time trial-Ed].
PEZ: What about your preparation for next year’s Tour?
Andy: Every team is looking to start work earlier for the Tour. Two years ago at this time we would have been skiing with our team and if you look at some other teams, like Saxo Bank with Bjarne we were in South Africa and we wouldn’t be riding at this time of year. But we meet every team here doing; four, five and a half and six hours sometimes, so everything starts earlier, but everyone has a lot more ambitions for next year. It goes without saying that Sky is the team to beat next year.
PEZ: What about the course for the 2013 Tour de France?
Andy: Every year has a different par cours and last year was maybe more like in the favour for the time trials. I believe this year is again quite different because there are a lot less time trials and the last time trial is really hilly, you could say a mountain time trial, but I believe it goes more in the favour for climbers next year.
PEZ: Did you have a chance to watch any of the 2012 Tour on TV?
Andy: I didn’t watch all of it, of course I was following it, but I wasn’t sitting in front of the TV every day. I saw some mountain stages, but also I was having a pretty rough time at that part of the year and I also tried to get some distance from it. You only realise how much you miss it when you are not on the start, the years before you finish the Tour and…it’s like yea. It’s kind of like a habit, to go to the race and when you are not there you really see how much you miss it and you enjoy cycling.
PEZ: So it must have been a nice feeling that you could do some racing at the end of the season, like the Tour of Beijing, to get those sensations back?
Andy: Yea, but those sensation were not good at all in that race. In Beijing; I almost couldn’t ride before, I went there and had a little pain, but that wasn’t the reason I was behind every day, almost every day. But I was happy to finish the race, I was going to the bus smiling because it was a good feeling to be in the peloton again, the result didn’t really matter for me, I didn’t expect more than before. It wasn’t like years before; it was a really hard race.
PEZ: Was it too hard for you at that moment?
Andy: Yes, maybe I shouldn’t have done it because it wasn’t good for my image, but it didn’t really matter, I know what I am capable of and like I say I was just happy to finish, I didn’t finish the last and I was a bit later to the bus than everyone else, but I was happy to be with the team and at the race.
PEZ: How are you feeling now?
Andy: Most riders maybe take a month off and go on holidays, I know I had the whole summer off, so it started really early for me with the training with quite a few hours in the gym also and I had to go three to four times a week to the physio to work on my back, touch wood, but its good now and I hope I won’t have problems in the future.
PEZ: What are your thoughts on the 2010 Tour de France?
Andy:Many riders said that at that Tour I was stronger than in my past Tours, but I don’t agree, in 2011, when Cadel won, I actually felt a lot better. Some years there are ten guys who are really strong, five guys who can go for the podium or win, but I believe that in 2010 that was not the case; it was Contador and me and the others were riding for 3rd place. 2011 was quite different and I believe my condition was maybe stronger in 2011 than in 2010.
PEZ: How do you feel now about receiving the yellow jersey and the win in that Tour?
Andy: For me; maybe it’s on paper now that I won that Tour, but I don’t see myself as that Tour winner because of the circumstance. You win the Tour and the best thing you have is that memory of going on to the Champs-Elesйes in the yellow jersey and that wasn’t the case, so it doesn’t feel like I won that Tour, even if it’s on paper now. They gave me the yellow jersey in a ceremony in Luxembourg, but still it’s not the same. That Tour was also very close between Contador and me, just 36 seconds, the ones I lost on that climb. It was for sure the nicest Tour I did because I spent six days in the yellow jersey; in 2011 it was only one and a half days in the yellow jersey, if you consider the time trial as a full stage. But my memories are best from that year as I won two stages, but then also in 2011 was the Galibier stage, which is something that I will never forget. Emotionally it was the best time in 2010 that I’ve had.
PEZ: Are you angry with Contador?
Andy: No I’m not angry with Contador, I was angry with Contador attacking with the chain and everything, but now he’s not like my enemy, we talked and after he apologised and of course I was angry to see him on the Champs-Elesйes in the yellow jersey, it was a kind of anger. In 2011 was different because Cadel was better, but in 2010 that was not the case.
PEZ: 2012 has been a hard year, what has been the toughest part?
Andy: Of course my injury, but the whole season. It started well, the training camp was good, my tests were good and my confidence was great to Paris-Nice and then I was out for two weeks because I was sick and then I was always behind the others, so every race I entered I was behind the others and then at the training camp in Sierra Nevada I started to get the sensations back and we did the tests on the climbs and it was falling into place in a good way. Then with the Dauphine and the crash and everything and then after that the whole Tour de France was a tough time for me. I always like to be doing something, but for two weeks I couldn’t do anything, just a couch potato.
PEZ: You are usually a happy guy, but did this hard time change you?
Andy: I put a distance between me and the races and a little bit to the press, but there was a point when I didn’t feel like a bike rider. You sit at home and you can’t train or if you can you can only do one hour, so I didn’t feel like a bike rider and I didn’t want to be around and that goes with the press, so I took my distance and also I needed that time and it was a good lesson for me as I believe in life and in cycling and one door closes another one maybe opens for you and gives you new opportunities. I believe it has made me a lot stronger mentally, as I said before, I broke my collarbone twice, but that’s different, it takes ten days and you can ride again. Since I turned professional I was always going uphill, with the results, with everything, but then last year was going down which makes you realise how much I enjoyed cycling and how much I enjoyed to be in a race.
PEZ: Do you think you have matured?
Andy: Definitely yes.
PEZ: There was a story that your father said you should quit cycling, did you ever think of that?
Andy: No, not really. Also my Dad didn’t say it like this, but with everything that happened last year, of course maybe the people who suffered the most were my parents. They go through it all with us, in the good times and also in the bad. My Dad said it in a way that maybe was to protect us, it’s not everything, it’s a big part of our lives; cycling and we love it, but also one day you have to stop, some go on till 42 or 43, but then one day it stops and I think he said it in a way that it isn’t everything. Sometimes it’s good in cycling and sometimes it’s bad and last year I think it went bad for Frдnk and me.
PIZ: What did you think when you heard the news about Frдnk?
Andy: They called me, we all know and all the experts know, it wasn’t a positive test. I mean, still today we are confident and believe in justice, of course in the beginning you’re thinking and you’re thinking, but it didn’t stop us from training or thinking to quit cycling, never.
PEZ: If Frдnk was banned would you stop racing?
Andy: I will never stop. Frдnk has the support of the whole team, he trains with us and we hope that it goes quick now because he is on the program and we have the races coming up and we believe in justice and we have not thought about that he would not be able to race, because he has done nothing wrong and I believe the situation will be resolved quickly.
PEZ: What about the relationship between you, Frдnk and Johan Bruyneel last year?
Andy: It didn’t go well; I would be lying if I said it was good. Johan had a different way of preparing for the Tour with different races and I was OK with it, we all were, it was a kind of a new test or just new. He did this race program before with Lance and one year with Contador, but it didn’t work for me and there was a lot of misunderstanding by the press and by outsiders. We tried to pull on one string, we had the same goal, but we had a different approach and ideas to get ready for the Tour and it didn’t work. But also last year in January I said I’d like to try something different, but it didn’t work so now I will go back to what I’m used to and what I know.
PEZ: Did you talk with Flavio Beca (Leopard team owner) about Johan Bruyneel leaving?
Andy: It came as a surprise to everybody, when the USADA thing came out his name was mentioned a lot in there, so you are thinking, but it came like a blast to everyone, we heard it in the morning that Johan is leaving and it was a kind of shock to everyone. It’s not like we knew before it came, you knew it the same time we did. We were in Beijing, we knew it was never a danger for the team, which was more important and for the riders also.
PEZ: It was said that Johan wanted Frдnk to ride the Giro and you to target the Tour, could that not have worked?
Andy: Well Frдnk had the crash in the Giro and it was three days before the finish in Milan and he was in good shape and in a good position, he was maybe not up there for victory, but I know Frдnk and for sure he would have ridden well in the last stages. At the beginning he was not really happy to do the Giro, but there was three days to go and his wife flew down there for the last week, he came home and if he hadn’t had the crash he would have finished the Giro. The ideal scenario would have been if he had done different races and prepared 100% for the Tour, so we would be two there, but not for this year, for the future.
PEZ: What kept you going?
Andy: One thing is for sure, I want to show everyone that I’m still there, that I’m still a good rider and I want to be in the race again and make a difference in this side, when to attack, how to attack and how to win the race. I have a lot of motivation, it’s not like the team tells you to do just that race, I’ve said just give me all the races, I have a really busy program up to the Tour with a lot of races. That comes from my side too, because in every race you enter you want to do your best and I know that I can do well, maybe in the first races it will be hard to get in because I missed lot of months of racing. But what keeps me going is I want to win races and I want to be in front again.
PEZ: Getting back to that level, will that be your biggest challenge yet?
Andy: Yes, getting back to that level and getting above that level. It’s a long way to go and it’s a hard way, but I believe I have started good.
PEZ: How are you feeling now at this training camp?
Andy: Actually OK, I was surprised; we do three groups every time for training. Let’s say the Down Under group who maybe do half an hour more or harder than the others and my sensations are good right now. They (the sensations) are OK, it’s not like we attack each other to see who is the first on the climb, but the other day we did eight intervals, that’s quite a lot. The most important thing when you do a three block training here is that you don’t go crazy the first day so you can start again the next day, but I would say I am where I would expect to be. I need to get my condition back and I need to lose three kilos, but I think this is the smallest issue.
At this point Andy was called away to talk to an Australian radio journalist about the Tour Down Under, it was very understandable due to it being 2am in Adelaide. That wasn’t the end of our chat with Andy though as he had a lot more to say – Part 2 coming soon!