x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Schlecks are aiming for the top

Andy and Frank Schleck are aiming to do their home nation of Luxembourg proud at this year's Tour de France.

The Schleck brothers Andy, left, and Frank, are hoping to give a good account of themselves in the Tour de France.
The Schleck brothers Andy, left, and Frank, are hoping to give a good account of themselves in the Tour de France.

SUPER-BESSE // The name Schleck will barely register outside the cycling world but, come the finish of the Tour de France in Paris at the end of July, the Luxembourg name should be known better. Brothers Andy and Frank are both contenders for a podium. Frank's already finished in the top 10 - back in 2006 when he also won on Alpe d'Huez - while Andy finished in last year's Giro d'Italia. But any thoughts of sibling rivalry bubbling over during the next two-and-a-half weeks are dismissed by the brothers.

Frank explained: "I don't know how to explain it. For example, if I see my brother cut his finger, it hurts me more. So honestly the best result would be for him to win the race and me to come second. It gives me more pleasure." Andy adds: "I've never cried about my results but I've cried about Frank's. I remember when he won on Alpe d'Huez, I cried." The Schleck brothers were born to cycle. Their father Johnny rode nine Tours de France, acting as a domestique to the 1973 Tour winner Luis Ocana, and their mother played a key role too. Andy explains: "Our dad got us into the cycling but mum kept us there. She took us to training and to competitions when we were growing up, always driving us from A to B, and she still had to cook for us at the end of the day."

Andy, who recently turned 23, has been earmarked as perhaps the brighter of the two talents, but older brother Frank, at 28, is yet to reach his peak as a rider and is something of a late bloomer. He joined CSC in 2003 after Jan Ullrich reneged on his decision to join the team headed up by the 1996 Tour winner Bjarne Riis. Now, under Riis, both Schlecks have excelled. They remain very close. At home in Luxembourg, Andy lives with his parents while Frank's flat is just 200 metres away and he returns for his evening meals when at home.

Their greatest asset as riders is their climbing ability, which Frank highlighted best with his ride to victory up Alpe d'Huez, the Tour's toughest ascent, and he aims to repeat the feat this year. He readily admits such climbs are "absolute torture" even for the best of climbers but he wouldn't have it any other way. He said: "It is the stage and it was amazing to win it once. I didn't realise the enormity of it at the time but it was what I'd always wanted to do since I was a kid."

Schleck Jr is also expected to shine in the mountains and, during the Tour, he's been taking advice from five-time winner Bernard Hinault on how to win. Andy said: "It's great to talk to him but he's just told me to keep calm and relax. But I am both of those things as there's no pressure on me." Hinault also warned him to prepare for the horror of the mountains, but Andy adds. "I know there will be those days when I feel totally destroyed and I don't want to carry on. But somehow I will. I'll get on the bike, get on with it and end up loving it. It's strange as it's almost like a disease."

Andy is in marginally better shape for the race, with Frank still nursing a back injury from a horrific fall at the Tour of Switzerland, as he hurtled over a railing and fell down a steep ravine from which he escaped unscathed. "It wasn't great but thankfully I got stopped by a tree and then a blueberry bush," he said. "I didn't have time to pick the berries!" As for their Tour ambitions - they started the race as back-up to team leader Carlos Sastre although, as potentially better climbers than the Spaniard - the brothers might have a better chance of a podium finish.

"We'll see," the brothers sum up in unison. @Email:sports@thenational.ae