The Fine Art of Schleckification

Ignorance is bliss. I just finished reading the article “To be Frank with Andy” in the February 2012 issue of Cycle Sport magazine. I don’t know what universe the Schleck brothers reside in but clearly it runs perpendicular to the one I see every year in the Tour de France. Bear with me fine readers as I’m going to make a quick dissection of this article because I just find it absurdly fascinating that these two brothers continue to live inside a cycling bubble.

Unlike the other armchair cycling fans, I don’t berate the Frandys for not winning the Tour yet. I actually believe that one of these years, given the right route, the right competitors, and the right team, one of the two will break through and win this thing. In fact I’m certain of it. Two riders with the combined results they’ve had (Frank with four top tens and Andy with three straight seconds) seem destined to win at some point. But their defiant, pigheaded insistence that they are constantly making the right moves along with their skewed recountings of races past is enough to drive any cycling fan crazy. I’d swear it was corporate spin except that they actually believe what they are spewing.

They state that they were the only riders who animated last year’s Tour. Really? Could have sworn that there were other riders constantly moving to the front. Maybe they didn’t notice them since the brothers were too busy looking for each other. It’s not like it’s 1930 and there’s no way to verify this. Twenty-four hour a day tv coverage ensures that we can see the race endlessly. It’s all there to see.

Apparently (according to Frank) noone else has been attacking for three years. Really? He challenges us to name one rider. Ok. Alberto Contador. But he’s in front of you Frank so you probably haven’t noticed him since you’re looking back for your brother.

It’s important we clarify what the word attacking means. In recent years the grand tour contending cyclists have been reluctant to put their heads down and drive out in front of the pack to get substantial separation. Often we see contenders (especially in the Tour) drive out about 50 or 100 meters and then turn to see who’s following. That isn’t attacking in my book. Andy DID attack on the Galibier last year and it was brilliant. He almost won the race because of it. The reason people criticize him for not attacking more is that they see him do this and realize what he’s capable of. So naturally they ask why he doesn’t try this more often.

I don’t think they need to change their tactics. I think they need to change their training. Finishing midway down in the pack in time trials is not going to win you a grand tour. You can’t lose minutes in a time trial and expect to make it up in the mountains. Yes, I know they were somewhere in the teens in last year’s final time trial. But let’s be real, many of the riders were no longer in the race and were merely resting after some hard days in the mountains. The real question is where are you finishing compared to your real competition and where are you finishing in the early time trials of the race?

Frank states that they don’t have the physique for being time trialists. That just doesn’t seem like an acceptable excuse. Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich had very different physiques and styles as time trialists yet both were very talented in that discipline. Fabien Cancellara and Alberto Contador have very different physiques yet they are top notch time trialists. It doesn’t wash. Noone is asking them to win the time trials, but simply throwing up your hands and saying that you aren’t good TT guys is not the answer. Off-season training with a determined mindset to improve is the answer.

Reality really starts to fade when they discuss their chances at the 2012 Tour. With 96k of time trials, it would seem they will be at a severe disadvantage. They don’t see it that way. They seem to think that there’s enough time in the mountains to make up for almost 60 miles of losing time in the TTs. We’ll see how that works out.

Unfortunately they had to dredge up some of their failures from year’s past to remind us of their altered states of bitterness. Andy still can’t forgive Contador for riding past him at top speed when his chain slipped. You were attacking him Andy and if AC’s chain slipped while you were attacking, would you have stopped? It is a race and mechanical issues are a factor. Do indy car drivers pull over on the track every time a fellow driver has engine trouble? But it didn’t seem to bother the Frandys when they asked the peloton to neutralize the race during a very slick turn in the northern climes. It just doesn’t seem “fair” when they are losing time to weather and mechanicals.

Even Frank is still enduring the bitterness of Carlos Sastre winning the Tour. Instead of feeling selfishlessly proud of being part of a Tour winning team in 2008, he’s still angry that a teammate attacked him on the Alpe d’Huez. It is about winning the race and if Carlos has what it takes to help the team to victory, it seems he should go for it. And it’s a good thing he did because Carlos was able to defend his jersey in the closing time trial. Based on Frank’s feelings about his own time trial skills, that wouldn’t have happened had he still been leading by a few seconds after that day.

I don’t criticize the Frandys for not having won the big races yet. I criticize them for not looking inside themselves to see that at least some of the accountability lies with them. It’s important to be confident and self-assured in what you are doing, especially when you’ve been as successful as they’ve been in their profession. But once you get as close to the top as they have and consistently missed winning, there has to be some self-evaluation. There has to be some understanding that you have flaws and that those flaws can be worked on. Unfortunately they just don’t seem to see any of the flaws.

To be Frank with Andy
The spread from the February 2012 issue of Cycle Sport magazine

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