Colorado Files: What happened to the Tour podium?

Anthony Tan

Andy Schleck is chased by Pooh and Tigger as he attacks on the climb of Swan Mountain during stage five of the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Getty)

For Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers, ambition exceeded expectation at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, writes Anthony Tan.

Cadel Evans seventh overall, Fränk Schleck twelfth overall, Andy Schleck thirty-third overall.

Not exactly what we were expecting from this year’s Tour de France podium, and most likely not what the organisers of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge were expecting – or at least hoping for.

But for the riders concerned expectation met reality, because truth be told, none of them came to Colorado as serious GC threats.

Out this year’s Tour podium, Andy Schleck had the best shot of winning. He arrived in Colorado on 9 August for both business and pleasure (before the race started, he let it be known he spent an entire day fly fishing), and so by the time the race started in Colorado Springs on 22 August, Schleck the Younger was rested, fit, and acclimatised.

On the penultimate day of the race, however, a 170.2 kilometre leg from Steamboat Springs to Breckenridge, where he came up a few kilometres short of a stage win and was well pissed about it, Andy somewhat contradicted himself: “Many people misunderstood [me],” he said, asked about his motives Stateside.

“I came early here to train at altitude, not specifically to train for this race. I came here [to see] how I would react to altitude, how I would recover at altitude.”

But the very next sentence, he said: “I expected to be better in this race.”

“Honestly, I’ve been suffering every day, and today [last Saturday], I started feeling better again. But the main goal is to see how I will react in the next two weeks, when I go back to sea level, to Europe… That was the main goal why I came early here.

“We’re going to see where I stand, two weeks from now,” he declared, who stated his final season goal will be to vie for glory at the ‘Race of the Falling Leaves’, otherwise known as the Tour of Lombardy or Giro di Lombardia, slated for 15 October.

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Brother Fränk first looked like a serious threat when he finished second to eventual winner, Levi Leipheimer of RadioShack, on the first road stage that finished atop Mount Crested Butte.

Though once again, the Schleck brothers’ perennial albatross – which is of course the individual time trial – put paid any chances of victory, Schleck the Elder losing 2:05 to Leipheimer when one combines the time lost in the prologue and the Stage 3 time trial in Vail.

By race’s end, his deficit to Leipheimer was 2:17.

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As for Evans, right from the get-go he made it known he had hardly done any training since Tina Arena proudly sung the Aussie national anthem on Paris’ Champs Elysées on 24 July, and was simply looking forward to “being an athlete again”.

“My recovery has been pretty terrible,” he said after the opening road stage that saw the race’s only mountain-top finish, albeit a relatively small one compared to the near 4,000-metre-high behemoths they faced later that week.

“I came here with big ambitions, but not great expectations. There are guys who had time to prepare for it well, or recover from the Tour, or they didn’t ride the Tour. So we’ll see what we can do against them.”

It turned out Evans was consistently competitive but not superlative – at least not for someone who only a few weeks ago became the oldest winner of La Grande Boucle since 1923.

“I don’t have the basis in altitude acclimatisation to really be at the top level with some of the other guys here,” he said after the time trial in Vail, where he was ninth-best, 1:01 in arrears of stage winner Leipheimer.

Summing up a few days later, Evans said of his final placing, “it’s more than I’m worthy of, considering my lead-up. Every other thing other than the results has been a good time here”.

“To race over 3,700 metres [altitude], you need larger blocks of training time that I didn’t have. So from a sporting point of view,” he said, “I came here with ambitions, but no great expectations,” repeating what he stated earlier.

The reality was that Evans and the Schleck brothers weren’t in the best shape, and came across a quartet of Americans – namely, Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Tejay Van Garderen and Tom Danielson – who trained specifically for the race and desperately wanted to win.

If they’re to do better next time ‘round, they’ll know exactly what they need to do. But so long as they can finish on the podium in cycling’s blue riband race, the Tour will always come first.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan

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