JAUSIERS // Frank Schleck believes that he can repeat his 2006 Tour de France heroics and win the arduous climb up Alpe d'Huez today. The Luxembourg rider won the coveted stage on his Tour debut two years ago after breaking clear of co-leader Damiano Cunego with two kilometres remaining. And Schleck, 28, who is leading this year's Tour, said a repeat of that famous win was very much on his mind.
He said: "That's the one I've wanted to win above all else. I think I could have a terrible race every day of the Tour and just win that and I'd still be happy. "I'm a climber and, as a climber, you want to win Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux, and for me Alpe d'Huez is the best. It's like the Holy Grail." Schleck first encountered Alpe d'Huez as a nine-year-old spectator when he was taken there by his mother to watch Gert-Jan Theunisse win the stage there during the 1989 Tour.
And Schleck recalls of the experience: "It was amazing. I tried to ride a little of it which was amazing with the idea that riders like Theunisse and Miguel Indurain would soon be going up there. "So I decided then I'd like to win Alpe d'Huez but it took me more than 15 years to do it. Honestly, it was well worth the wait." Today's stage - with three hors (without) category climbs and at 210.5 kilometres long - is the toughest day in the saddle for the riders in this year's race. And however well Schleck does, he admitted that the racing will be torture today.
He said: "I sometimes wonder why we do it as it can be so painful. Maybe it's a bit of madness, but it's the idea of overcoming something so harsh that drives me. I have had a passion for horrible climbs and I seem to do well on them so, hopefully, it will be the same." Schleck's chief rival Cadel Evans admitted, however, he was less enamoured by the challenges of Alpe d'Huez. He said: "I've never had a good day here, that's my problem. I think this will be the third time I've raced on Alpe d'Huez so maybe it'll be third time lucky. Here's hoping."
Whatever the outcome, it will have a massive bearing on who wins the 2008 Tour de France. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org