PARIS (Reuters) - While arch-rival Alberto Contador was making headlines for the right and the wrong reasons, Andy Schleck spent a low-key season gearing up for the Tour de France.
Third place in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic in May has been the Luxembourg rider’s sole major podium spot in 2011. The only other honor for the twice Tour runner-up was the best climber’s jersey in the recent Tour of Switzerland.
“My whole season was built around the Tour. So far I have not had any problem and I hope it will last,” said the 26-year-old climber, who lost to Contador by 39 seconds in France a year ago.
Schleck and Contador buried the hatchet last year after the Spaniard snatched the Tour yellow jersey when he ignored cycling etiquette after the Luxembourg rider was forced to stop because of a slipped chain on the 15th stage.
Contador passed him and gained a 39-second lead, provoking criticism from some riders who felt he should have waited for his rival.
“Alberto apologized and I forgave him,” Schleck said earlier this season at the Criterium International, before adding: “I forgave him but I did not forget.”
Their rivalry is further fueled by the fact that Contador now rides for the Saxo Bank team whose leader last year was Schleck.
Saxo Bank’s cunning and experienced team manager Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour winner, knows the Luxembourg rider well and will have a score to settle with his former protege.
Frustrated by his narrow defeats in 2009 and 2010, Schleck left to form the Leopard Trek team with brother Frank and solid team mates such as time-trial world and Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara and experienced German Jens Voigt, both former Saxo Bank riders as well.
His cautious build-up this year to the world’s most famous race, which starts on Saturday, is nothing new. Former Tour greats such as Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong tended to skip most other events to focus solely on the July race.
Contador, by contrast, has been ubiquitous this season, winning nine races including his sixth grand Tour in the Giro d’Italia.
The Spaniard’s name was also splashed all over the media because of the controversy surrounding his positive dope test for clenbuterol in last year’s Tour, for which he was cleared by the Spanish federation (RFEC).
The Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) is expected to rule on the case in August after the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed against the RFEC decision.
Schleck made it clear he was not too concerned about Contador.
“Contador is not my only rival on this Tour. There are several up-and-coming riders who can do well. I think (Dutchman Robert) Gesink will do well. I think (Australia’s Cadel) Evans can do well, I think (Italy’s Ivan) Basso will reach his peak for the Tour,” he said.
Team director Brian Nygaard, who was also a close aide of Riis until last season, echoed his leading rider.
“When we speak, it’s about equipment or the team for July, but never about Contador. If Contador was a concern, he would come up in our discussions.”
Nygaard said Schleck’s performance in Switzerland had been a morale booster ahead of the Tour.
"From the way I saw Andy ride in the mountains, I feel he is perfectly timed for peaking on the climbs at the Tour," he told www.cyclingnews.com.
Editing by Clare Fallon
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