Former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck will be hoping to use the Ardennes classics this month to complete his return to the top. Schleck will line up Sunday at the Amstel Gold race, the first of three Spring Classics in the hilly Ardennes region that will be followed by the Fleche Wallonne and then Liege-Bastogne Liege. And although Schleck may still be some way from the best he showed in winning the Tour in 2010 (after Alberto Contador was stripped of his original victory for doping), he is hoping the rugged, lumpy terrain of the Ardennes will help him rediscover his legs. But he admits there may yet be some way to go.
“Things are progressing slowly,” he told Luxembourger magazine Le Quotidien. “I’ve had the wind in my face, as we say in cycling, but that will change. I think I’m on the right track.”
It’s been a tough last 12 months for Schleck, who also twice finished second on the Tour and won Liege Bastogne-Liege in 2009. He broke his sacrum – a triangular bone at the base of the spine – in a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine last year, forcing him out of the Tour. Ever since he has been unable to recapture anything like his previous form.
“I don’t know when I will be well, I don’t know if it will be this year or next year,” he admitted. “I now realize that it wasn’t possible to go from almost nothing to top level in just six months because with an injury it’s not like being able to keep training.”
Schleck is not expecting to challenge for victory in the Ardennes classics but he does want to prove he is coming back into form. And it is part of the training program that will prepare him for another assault on the Tour in July. The changed course at the Amstel Gold should suit Schleck, though, as the finish has been altered. The number of short punishing climbs have been increased from 32 to 34 and the finish comes just after the iconic Cauberg climb rather than on the flat in Maastricht.
It is the same finish that was used at last year’s World Championships, where twice former winner Philippe Gilbert held off a disorganized chase to triumph. However, the unpredictability of the new course should keep everyone guessing, according to Simon Gerrans, the Milan-San Remo winner last year and one of the favorites.
“It’s hard to predict how the finish can and will change the way the race unfolds,” he said in an Orica GreenEDGE team release. Typically, this is a race of attrition. It gets harder and harder and faster and faster as the day goes on. With each new difficulty, the front group becomes more and more select. The strongest guys on the day are left to contest the win.”
Last year’s winner Enrico Gasparotto should challenge again but most eyes will be on Peter Sagan, who finished second at Milan-San Remo but won Gent-Wevelgem.