After the new Leopard-Trek development team had been introduced to the assembled press, we heard about the teams set up from Johan Bruyneel and from Adriano Baffi (who will be the Team Director.) The team consists of a majority of Under 23 riders and from a mix of countries. As you would expect four of the riders are from Luxembourg, the others are form Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Moldavia. Team leader will be the Moldovan Alexandr Pliuschin, who has previously ridden for Ag2r and Katusha.
So to the Schleck brother’s interview, the questions were from all the journalists, not just me, but I’ll try to take some of the credit!
PEZ: This is the first training camp of the new team, can you tell us how it’s all going?
Andy Schleck: It’s going really good, we don’t do the high speed and intervals right now because it’s too early in the year. We have been doing some work at home, before we came here, so it’s good base training here. We are still getting to know everyone, so we are training in two groups: three with the Continental riders (Leopard-Trek development squad). We change the groups every day. Most of the guys I knew before, but now you really get time to know the others better. That is the goal of this camp is to get some hours on the bike and to get to know each other.
2nd and 3rd in 2011…1st and 2nd in 2012?
PEZ: Is that a different approach to last year when you went skiing?
Frank Schleck: Yea, that’s true, last year we went hiking and cross country. It’s good because you can get some work on the road and get some hours done. Back at our place it’s chilly, so far we have been lucky with the weather back home, this way we can ride in 20є. I think you guys noticed that it’s absolutely beautiful up here. If you spend 10 hours on the bike and get to know each other, which is really different from last year, it’s better because you do some work on the bike. There have to be some fittings on the bike to be done also: like the bike fitting and the shoes, clothing and everything. Last year we couldn’t test it, so we fit it and go out on the bike and try it out. It’s at the next camp that we really work harder!
PEZ: Can you tell us about the last few months with the two teams coming together and how you felt about it?
Frank: Of course we heard about it, like everyone else. I have to say I’m really looking forward to the two big teams joining forces together. I think this just what we were looking for. We are proud that RadioShack and Nissan came in. They are putting trust in us and backing us up to win the biggest races in the world and getting the best results. You can only do that with the best team. So I’m really looking forward to having a very, very strong team next year, with a lot of big names like; Cancellara, who was already in the team, guys like Horner and Klody (Andreas Kloden). Big names who can actually win a lot of races during the year, which takes a lot of pressure off Andy and myself also. We can focus more on the big goals. I think that’s also a big advantage, that whole strategy to build up by Johan (Bruyneel) so we can focus on the big goals. That’s one of the advantages, the other is that we are going to be even stronger through the whole year, and we are going to be stronger for the big goals. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a great strategy to join forces, and that was my thought from the beginning.
PEZ: You have been working with Johan now a little time, so what is new now for you guys?
Frank: Of course we had some talks about our training, that we go to the gym. Johan also understood that we need this period to rest also, to get some air. So we are not doing specific work on the road yet.
Andy: We are doing different work from years before on the road. We had talks before Spa on how we could change the winter training. Maybe do less hours when it’s cold, which is a different technique. I don’t need to tell you all the training we do, but there are quite a few idea changes. It’s pretty early, your question, if you asked me in June I could tell you more.
PEZ: How do you feel about the Contador case and how would you like to see it finish?
Andy: My opinion hasn’t changed in a year. It’s not my case, I’m not the one who has to take the decision. I’m happy I’m not the one, because I’m a bike rider, not a scientific doctor who can analyse all these things. It’s a decision that’s going to be black or white. It’s already been over a year. I have to trust that it’s right that he can ride and then if he’s not been cleared then he did something that was not in the rules.
Frank: Yea, there is nothing I would change in that.
PEZ: What is the reason that you have decided not to ride the Giro d’Italia next year?
Andy: Nothing is decided. I can tell you what my program is until Paris-Nice. After that, we still have to decide which races I’m going to do. I’m going to do the Tour, yes, but there might also be other options to prepare for the Tour with something before which is a bit different from last year, but that’s not for now.
Johan Bruyneel: Maybe I can answer a little part of that also. It’s definitely early in the season, and we have ideas and different scenarios. We have to have in mind that we will not set a plan in stone now as so many things can happen. You can get sick, you can have a crash, I hope not, you can break your collar bone at the start of the season, you’re out and you need races. We know now exactly what the plan is for December, what the plan is for January and for February. Probably in January we will decide what March and April are going to be. By then we will have a better idea of what the planning will be for both of them to get ready towards the Tour.
Giro? That would be nice, but yellow on the final podium in Paris will be a whole lot nicer.
PEZ: What is the programme for these two months?
Johan: We have this training camp, and then another training camp in January in Mallorca. Here we have the full team, in Mallorca it’s the full team minus the riders at the Tour Down Under. We will have some days in Mallorca. Maybe only Frank because Andy will go to Oman. That will be his first race. Frank will start in the Ruta del Sol as his first race in Europe, and then they will both do Paris-Nice. At the January camp we will sit together again, with the directors and the trainers and we will decide how do they feel, how far advanced are we now. I personally think they will be a little more advanced this year than they were last year. They missed this time of year for training. I think in professional cycling you have to be flexible. You have to have something in mind, but you have to be able to adapt constantly and ultimately choose what you think is the best way to get ready for your big objective.
PEZ: Why no Tirreno-Adriбtico?
Johan: There’s not a specific reason. Tirreno, it’s for the majority of the Classics riders. We want to keep the Classics group of riders together at the beginning of the year. The Classics I mean Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, that’s not their piece of cake (Andy & Frank). So Tirreno is going to be that team and the rest of these guys will be at Paris-Nice. It’s going to be a strong team for Paris-Nice also.
PEZ: Is this going to be the first goal of the season for Frank and Andy?
Johan: Paris-Nice is not a real goal for them. They have done well in the past, you were second, No?
Frank: Yea. (2009 Paris-Nice.)
Johan: It can happen, but it’s not something we will particularly work towards. The big goal is for the Tour de France for this year. Hey, you know I’m speaking at 6 o’clock, so if you have questions for them, I’m just sitting here!
PEZ: When do you decide what races you will be doing before the Tour de France, would you be going to win them or just for preparation for the Tour?
Frank: We know we have a crush on the Classics, the last six years in all the Classics (we have ridden) we have been in the top ten. So of course we have a crush on those Classics, but the big goal is going to be the Tour.
PEZ: If one of you were to ride the Giro would you be going there to win it or?
Frank: Let’s wait two or three months and we’ll talk about that later.
PEZ: Is Liege the second goal of the season?
Andy. It comes early yea! I would say so. We are going to be there and I believe even if we are not 100% we definitely can compete to win, but we will be getting more concentrated on the Tour.
PEZ: You prefer not to start if you are not 100%?
Both: No, I will start!
PEZ: Can you tell us more about the combining of the two teams, it’s not like coming from a new team, this time its two team coming together bringing good things and bad things from both?
Frank: The reason that two teams joined is to be stronger. For that you just take the good parts of both, I don’t see any negative parts. There are a lot of good parts; the sports directors, the staff, err! The manager (indicating Johan Bruyneel), we have some very good experience riders.
Andy: 30 riders as opposed to 25 and now we have 15 to 20 riders who could be in the Tour team, so it’s a luxury problem, but in a good way, of course.
Will 2012 be Andy’s year to take the Luxembourg National Road Championship? They’ve been alternating for a little while now…
PEZ: Do you have a system where there is a group of Classics riders and a group of potential Tour riders on certain programmes?
Johan: If you look at the Tour de France, there’s potentially 20 guys, quality wise that true, but let’s not forget that there are other stage races, so I would rather say; if you start at the beginning of the season you can make a pre-selection of probably 15 and obviously because of the qualities of those riders they are going to race a lot of races together. Now I think the Tour de France is too far away to start with one specific group of riders racing most of the time together, because obviously we have other ambitions than just the Tour de France, we want to win other races, which means we have to divide our strongest riders in different races because we want to win here, we want to win there, we want to win in a lot of different places. So basically the core of the Tour de France team gets together at the end of the month of May for some training camps and during the month of June for the important races which are; the Dauphinй and the Tour de Swiss. Before that I think everybody is a bit all over the place because we want to have results everywhere.
PEZ: Did you try to figure out why you didn’t win Liege, with it being two against one?
Frank: Yea, I did for a long time, but I couldn’t figure it out! Well in Liege…Gilbert is just a big class rider and he showed he was stronger, with big champions you have to accept that they are stronger; he was stronger in Liege and Cadel was stronger in the Tour. He had an exceptional season this year, we tried everything and he was able to stay with us and who was going to beat us in the sprint. I think we did everything we could to win Liege, so we finished second and third.
Andy: It’s like Frank said, he was the strongest that day and even with two we couldn’t do anything against him, it isn’t so easy in Liege, it goes flat in the last 50 and that can affect it. We attacked it wasn’t the climb and he was straight there in response and he was good!
Say what you want, but there was just nothing to be done against Philippe Gilbert at Liege.
PEZ: Frank, you didn’t think to go alone with Philippe Gilbert?
Frank: I’ll explain this one last time! We attacked on that hard climb, we were pulling like crazy, Gilbert on the wheel, OK he did pull sometimes, we hit that climb and Andy said “I’m going to go! and you’re going to stay on the wheel and as soon as he catches me back, you go.” Yes that was the perfect time. But when you are up there, you are pretty tired after 240 kilometres, Andy attacks, I stay on the wheel, Gilbert pulls him back, what did Gilbert do? Before we get Andy back he attacks himself, so I was a little worried to be able to stay on his wheel that time…so I’m very sorry I was not able to attack anymore! I think that’s fair enough, he was very smart; he anticipated my attack, so I was actually happy that I could stay on his wheel when he attacked because he attacked very hard. He is not just a strong rider he is sharp also.
PEZ: Johan, do they have much to learn for the Classics?
Johan: No, for the Classics that are good for them, they have little to learn. Andy has won Liege? and you (Frank) won Amstel? They have done better than any of my riders in past teams, so in those races I can learn from them.
Frank: I think Johan’s experience is unique, he has a lot of things to teach, not just for in the race, tactics wise, but the whole preparation, I think that’s going to bring us more, also for the Classics and the Tour.
PEZ: Would you say this is the best team you have ever ridden in and do you think you can handle the pressure?
Andy: Over the last years there has always been a lot of pressure on the team I was in, last year there was a lot of pressure. For a lot of riders this is a big motivation, I don’t think it will be a big problem.
Frank: I also think over all the time we have managed to handle the pressure, so it’s not like something new for us. Yea of course there’s going to be a lot of pressure for us. I’m saying; of course we are going to be strong, but that doesn’t mean we are going to win every race, it’s not that easy. Last year remember, Fabian wins Flanders and Roubaix also, and in the same way we can win Amstel and Liege also. Sometimes it’s missing a little bit, but it’s also to do with having a good day and being lucky that day. So the pressure is going to be there and if we focus enough there is no reason why we shouldn’t be there. My dad used to always say that if you lift 100 kilo’s today you will lift it tomorrow also, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t be there.
Andy: But we want to lift more than 100 kilo’s! Well, not that we do lift 100 kilos.
PEZ: Are you doing anything different to improve your time trial?
Andy: I can’t tell you everything, but we train at home with a different technique and after training we check the position again and it goes step by step and now in Mallorca we are going to a little bit more on a track somewhere to test more the position. In December we have the time trial bikes here, so we start really early to train on them and I have one at home to start as soon as possible to go and do hours on the time trial bike and only if I’ve done all this and I’m pretty much on the limit with all this and so It’s just up to me to train more and concentrate more on it and train more specific on the time trial bike than before.
PEZ: Wind tunnel tests?
Johan: We don’t know the schedule yet, but we definitely want to do some kind of wind tunnel testing, although its theory and you have to transfer that theory to the road, but I still think there are things to test, so maybe there is going to be a little change. It’s also not the intention that both of them, we know that they won’t become time trial specialists, but there is definitely room for improvement. At the same time I don’t want to make it an obsession, you said the “Tour is not good for you” it’s not the ideal course, I’m sure it’s a lot harder than everybody thinks. We maybe have another advantage compared to the past, in that we have a really, really strong team, strong riders that are additional to both of them, that we can do different things that maybe nobody expected to gain time, so…you don’t seem convinced by my answer, OK!
PEZ: Is this the first time that you have had a time trial bike at home?
Andy: No! (Laughs all round!)
PEZ: Would you train on the time trial bike for hours, like Armstrong used to do?
Andy: Yes, when I was at home, before it might only be one day a week on the time trial bike, maybe now I go two days or more.
Frank: We had some good ideas already, which we are doing in training, totally something different to improve the time trials, but don’t expect us to tell you all the training we do now, there are things that….but we do work on it.
Andy: So I believe it going to be like Lance’s training, but as Johan said “let’s not make it an obsession.” It’s not like we are going to improve three minutes. We work on it, but we still have to focus on the Tour to win the Tour in the climbs, we are not going to win it in the time trials, but we have to focus that we don’t lose it in the time trial anymore and still have the focus on the climbing because we can definitely improve there also.
PEZ: What do you think of the new climbs on the next Tour?
Andy: I don’t know because I’ve not seen them, the Planche del Belfe, is that the name? I don’t know it, I don’t know anybody who knows it, but were going to see it, I don’t know the Grand Colombie, some riders know it and say it’s really hard. But I’ll do the reconnaissance early enough and then I can tell you how hard it is when I see the profile.
PEZ: What about the World championships, they will be on your terrain?
Frank: It’s hard to talk about the Tour! No, I think that’s going to be a nice course for us, it’s going to be very hard and its more or less the course from Amstel, so specially with 270 kilometres, that’s really good for us. Yea it’s going to be a real Classic, both of us would like to focus on it and keep some energy maybe for the last part of the season. I did the World’s this year but I was clearly missing some energy. So it’s nice that this year we recovered very good and we’d both like to keep some energy for the World’s coz it’s going to be a hard par course and its close to Luxembourg so there will be a lot of people there and I looking forward.
Next year’s World Championships in Valkenburg will be on Frank and Andy’s favorite lumpy terrain…but can they handle Philippe Gilbert?
PEZ: Is the Olympics something you want to taste?
Frank: I’ve tasted it twice.
Andy: Its every four years and it’s nice to represent your country, proud to represent your country, yea, definitely we are going to go there, but I’d be lying if I tell you that I have big expectation to win that race, it’s not for me.
Frank: We will be going there in great shape as it just after the Tour, last time I rode the Olympics it was a course that suited me, here I haven’t seen the course, but I’ve heard that it’s not super hard with lots of climbing and we should never forget it can be cold and it can be dusty and you know its 260 K’s again and we are good in long distance, so we go there with good condition after the Tour, so you don’t know what could happen in the final lap in a race like that.
PEZ: Do you think it’s possible to win the Tour and the Olympics and prepare for the World championships?
Andy: From the Tour you don’t train much before the Olympics and then you might have a break and then build up again.
PEZ: With respect to your results, Eddy Merckx has said; “It was about time to win something.” Is he correct?
Andy: Yes, I’m waiting; I want this too, of course. There is nothing to be impatient for, every year I give my best, I give 100% and of course I don’t want to go to Paris and be second again I want to be winner, who wouldn’t be after three times second. So I guess I agree with him then, but it’s easy to say!
Andy Schleck isn’t exactly lacking in the win department…victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a full-on dropping of Philippe Gilbert is a nice feather in the cap.
PEZ: Not by him, he won it five times!
PEZ: What is your opinion of the BMC team for next year?
Andy: It will definitely be good team with Philippe for the Classics and Cadel for the Tour.
Andy: Eh! Yea and Thor as well!
PEZ: Will it be a match between RadioShack and BMC?
Andy: No, we don’t want a match against other teams, this was the question we were asked last year about “do you want to beat Saxo Bank?” No, we go there to win the race, I don’t care who is second, if it’s BMC or Franзais de Jeux.
PEZ: At the Tour do you think your team can win on all terrain?
Andy: Yea, on all terrain!
PEZ: Would you agree to appear on another Japanese TV interview show?
Frank: Yea, if it’s done by the Duchy! We didn’t really know anything, we had just done a race, a criterium before and they really stressed us to have a shower and run to the Japanese girl and we didn’t have time to think there has got to be something wrong here. It was fun, actually it was an honour, afterwards we checked this programme, we Googled Ushi, and there have been some big guys there, so it was quite an honour to be invited on there, or pimped or whatever you want to call it, by that TV show.
Here is the Ushi interview:
I found the Schleck brothers to be very friendly, humorous and nice guys, but maybe that is their problem? Maybe they should be harder; more aggression is what many people would like to see form the Luxembourgers. Nice guys maybe don’t win races, but I don’t think they will have many enemies. Thanks guys and good luck.