By Sophie Smith
Andy Schleck is accustomed to entering the Tour de France as a yellow jersey favourite but is now in uncharted waters and has been forced to adopt a new mindset ahead of the 100th edition of the race.
The 28-year-old is on the comeback from a dramatic slump in form following a crash at the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine in which he fractured his pelvis. The injury prevented Schleck from competing at the Tour last year where his brother, Frank, tested positive, compounding his woes.
The three-time Tour stage winner is yet to record a victory this season but has taken confidence from his recent performance at the Tour de Suisse that preceded a 10th place finish at the Luxembourg national road championships on Sunday. He told journalists in Porto-Vecchio yesterday that he won't truly be able to gauge his shape until the first mountain stages.
"I've never had problems in cycling. I rode my bike, I trained and I was good. That's it. If I ate a burger the day before a mountain stage I ate a burger and I was still up in front. Of course I didn't, but it never made a difference! That was the kind of rider I was," said Schleck.
"Now, I've got to pay attention to really small details to come back to that level.
"I don't consider myself as a favourite to win this year's edition of the Tour de France. Maybe you can say an outsider and then I'll see what I can do with that," he continued.
"The level of the general peloton, I believe, has risen."
The Tour begins in Corsica tomorrow and the island will host the first three stages that Schleck has extensively reconnoitered along with the stage 17 time-trial plus all key mountains.
The Luxembourger was yesterday critical of the "queen stage" and called for race organisers to review the descent that follows the first pass of the Alpe d'Huez .
The peloton will ascend Alpe d'Huez twice during the 172.5km 18th stage, which finishes on the famed hors categorie summit.
"It's one I really like, it will of course be the queen stage of this Tour de France," he said. "But what I don't like is the downhill. It's a very, very dangerous one. We went to see it one week after the Dauphine and there were other riders there and they were also critical.
"If we have for example a puncture or you miss the road you will crash and fall down, but not just a few metres. It could be 50 or perhaps even 300m. I hope the organisation finds a solution for that and if not there is still time before we reach that stage to do it."
Schleck's RadioShack-Leopard team is also aiming for stage wins via breakaways throughout the Tour. Sports director Kim Andersen, who is close to Schleck, returns to France after being sidelined last season with Johan Bruyneel instead calling shots.
The team has secured its future ahead of the 2014 season with Trek to assume ownership from next year.
Tour de France 2013: Related links
Tour de France 2013: Who will win?
Tour de France 2013: The Big Preview
Tour de France 2013: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
Tour de France 2013 team tracker
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