It appears that with the brothers Schleck, the more things change, the more they stay the same, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM



I was seven days off the bike, so I don't know… I never experienced this 'preparation'. I might be good, though. So I need seven days; seven to eight days to get in the rhythm.


You can extract a lot of from this quote from the elder of 'the Schleckies', as Stuart O'Grady affectionately calls them. Saturday in Herning, Denmark, Fränk languished in 108th place (out of 198 finishers) after the opening time trial of the 2012 Giro d'Italia, 59 seconds behind Taylor Phinney of BMC in a technical, wind-exposed time test.

The result from 21-year-old Phinney was of little surprise. Specialist he may be, but the American phenom rode the 8.7-kilometre corner-laden circuit "about 10 times" with a final recon the day of his ride that, before sunset, earned him the maglia rosa. "It was important to get on the course today because of the way they set up the barriers," Phinney said afterwards, who became only the third US rider to be pimped in pink. "It was a little bit different than the way they were [positioned] the other days."

Stay with me here, but the American's post-race comments made me think about a stage of the 2008 Herald Sun Tour, four years ago.

It was the penultimate day, a 16.2km individual time trial in Victoria's beguilingly pretty Yarra Valley. The stage previous, O'Grady had lost the race lead to then CSC teammate Lars Bak on the 15km climb of Mount Buller, but only by four seconds. Still, Bak, a three-time national TT champion of Denmark, was considered the more credentialed time trialist, and thus was expected to hold on and win the race. Until that point, the only professional road time trials O'Grady had won were team time trials at the 2001 Tour de France and 2006 Vuelta a España.

However O'Grady, as we all have learned over the years, is never a man to lay down his arms, not even to a teammate. Remarkably, he would end up winning the Yarra Valley time trial, beating specialists including Ben Day, Richie Porte and Bak, the latter by 21 seconds. "It was just pure mind over matter and a lot of experience," O'Grady, after reassuming the race lead, said, which he held on to the next day in Lygon Street before being crowned champion.

"I knew the [time trial] course was super hard. I rode it a few times [before the stage] and I know a lot of other guys only did it once. I did it three times. I really tried to just hold a steady pace up the first climbs and not [go] lactic over the top. On the way back it was just absolutely full gas."

Juxtapose O'Grady's meticulous approach against Fränk Schleck's lack of preparedness before the Giro. It doesn't take Einstein to figure out what's likely to happen.

Before the race start, Schleck also told Eurosport: "I have my team to support me, not losing too much time, and I [will] see what I can get out of it. I don't want to go too far. I don't want to say I'm gonna win. I'm not going to say I'm going to be top five [on GC]."

So… Fränk has told us he received an eleventh hour call-up to the second most important Grand Tour of the year, which, based on what happened in 2010 and 2011, will likely compromise his performance at the Tour de France. He also said he has never gone into a Grand Tour so underprepared. Still, he is hoping to be good, but probably won't be for at least seven or eight days, which is dangerous because the team time trial is on Stage 4 and the first key mountain stage on Stage 8, finishing atop the nine-kilometre climb of Lake Laceno.

He is also hoping his team will mitigate against time losses (yes, he expects to lose more time) until he finds that elusive ingredient known as form. Though with respect, their team at the Giro is very much a 'B team'; the 'A-team' coterie is riding the Tour of California or preparing for the Tour. So the way things stand, Fränk says winning overall is unlikely. In fact, a top-five would be considered a minor miracle.

I accept that Jakob Fuglsang, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek's original leader for the Giro, is still out due to injury, but compromising a potential podium at the Tour for an unlikely podium at the Giro?

It just doesn't make sense. Couldn't Fränk simply have told team manager Johan Bruyneel no?

Brother Andy went into last year's Tour de France underdone and had to deploy Operation Kitchen Sink on the stages to the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez just to make the podium, as he was never going to win. Why take the family (and team) through existential purgatory again, only to watch Fränk fall by the wayside?

As 20th century French novelist Alphonse Karr poetically wrote, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" (the more things change, the more they stay the same).

Easy to like, hard to barrack for. That's how I'd sum up the Schleck brothers.