Andy Schleck believes that after two years of finishing second at the Tour de France that he's finally ready to win. He'll lead Leopard-Trek's charge over the next three weeks, primarily against his former team and its leader, Alberto Contador.
"The years before, I went to the Tour not being the 'leader,'" explained Schleck in a pre-race press conference today. "Last year, I was still a little bit of a young guy, the white jersey was not my goal but it was a back up."
Contador won the race three times, including the last two years. Last year's win is in doubt due to a failed doping test during the race.
Schleck captured the best young rider's white jersey in the last three editions racing with team Saxo Bank. This year, he and his brother are racing for their home team, Luxembourg's Leopard-Trek.
Sky's and Saxo Bank's former press officer, Brian Nygaard helped start the team mid-way through last year with the financial backing from Luxembourg businessman, Flavio Becca. The Schleck brothers are the team's cornerstones. Likewise, Andy Schleck said that the team will make the difference for him this year.
"Being in a Luxembourg team was a fantastic adventure from the start of the season, with the team behind me, the riders around me, the staff around me. Everything is just perfect now," Schleck continued.
"I am more confident ahead of this Tour than last year because I know that I am ready. I know I will be there in the mountains, playing for victory. Last year, I won't say there were excuses, but I could not escape. Now, the team is 100 per cent, that's the biggest difference for me."
Schleck won the stage to Morzine-Avoriaz last year and held the yellow jersey for six days. He lost it on the stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon. At the top of the Port de Bales pass, prior to the finish, his chain fell off his bike and slowed him for a moment - the exact moment when Contador attacked.
Contador gained enough time that day to take the yellow jersey. He defended it in the final time trial, despite a strong challenge from Schleck, and won the Tour by 39 seconds in Paris.
Schleck said he's a better time trial rider now, but it won't be the deciding factor this year.
"I need to win the Tour with my strengths, not my weaknesses," said Schleck. "I think the Tour is hard enough, it will be decided before that [TT in Grenoble]."
The Tour's last mountain day is to the famed Alpe d'Huez. After it, but before the race ends in Paris, Schleck and Contador will face the 42.5-kilometre time trial in Grenoble. In Paris, Schleck will have proved if he's capable of finally beating Contador.
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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