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Les Schlecks’ Liege-Bastogne-Liege love affair

April 21, 2012

Selected text translation from an article published on April 20th, 2012, in Le Quotidien, titled, “Cycling/Liège: the fabulous Schleck serial,” with some notes added.

Frank Schleck has been a starter at Liege-Bastogne-Liege since 2003. Andy Schleck first raced this classic in 2007. The two brothers will again be important players in the race this Sunday, April 22nd 2012. What will the 2012 edition of this serial be titled?

2003 Frank, teammate rewarded

Frank rode just 170 km of the race, but he did his job for his CSC teammate, Tyler Hamilton, who won that year. Frank praised Hamilton: “He’s a charming guy, when you bring him a water bottle, he never stops thanking us. That makes me happy to have contributed to his success. I rode as hard as I could.”

2004 In the service of Basso and Bartoli [on CSC]

Davide Rebellin won in 2004. Frank said, “I did my work as a teammate and I appreciated passing so close to Luxembourg before a great crowd.” Frank, still on CSC, finished the race in 77th place.

2005 The first attack

Ivan Basso, the CSC team leader, asked Frank to attack on the Vecquée climb. Frank set himself to it. CSC teammate Jens Voigt followed Frank’s move. Alexandre Vinokourov latched onto Voigt and the two fought out a sprint to the finish. Vinokourov won. Frank couldn’t hide his disappointment at the finish line, “When Jens flew off, I was dropped, even though I thought I’d be able to hold on. I keep learning. In front of me were only great riders. To finish isn’t so bad.”

2006 First top 10

Winner of Amstel a week earlier, fourth at Fleche Wallonne three days before, Frank rode a comfortable seventh for his first top 10 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. At the finish, the champion of Luxembourg said, “I did everything to win, and honestly, there was nothing else I could have done.” He tried to attack twice in the finale, but Kaschechkin and Sinkewitz each came back. The race ended in a sprint with eleven riders, won by Valverde.

Andy and Frank Schleck at 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge opening press conference

2007 First podium

Andy’s first time in the race and Frank’s first podium, the first year the international press discovered these siamese brothers, by each other’s side in the classics. Andy works. “They asked me to toughen the pace on the Saint-Nicholas climb, and that’s what I did,” said Andy, enthusiatic at the finish. But everyone had their eyes riveted on Frank. It’s the first time many Luxembourg supporters assembled around the bus…In the finale, Frank attacked. “I had promised to attack and I did it. I wanted to attack earlier, to be the strongest on the slopes of the Saint-Nicholas. But it was really hard to take off at that time, it was even impossible. So, I took advantage of a slow-down four km from the finish to attack. At that moment, I had to give everything, and I did. But Di Luca came to find me. That’s racing. And for him, it worked out well. He was right to get onto my wheel,” said Frank, clearly torn between regret at having come only so close to winning (he took 3rd) and the satisfaction of stepping onto his first Liege podium. Di Luca won in 2007. Andy came in 46th.

2008 It’s better as two

This time the Schlecks appear to be at the same level in a grand classic. For a long time, this was their dream — to find themselves together, aiming to win. Their wish was granted on April 28, 2008. You see them elbow to elbow, arms glued, seemingly united in effort. Andy attacks on the côte de la Redoute. He is reeled back a first time. He takes off again on la côte de la Roche-aux-Foucons. He is joined by Valverde, Rebellin, and Rodriguez. Andy goe out guns ablazing again ten km from the finish. He gains 15 seconds, but Valverde, Rebellin, and Frank come back again. He lets go a bit later. Frank comes in third, Andy fourth. “It’s crazy the race he rode. He didn’t even surprise me, that’s how strong I know he is. It was a dream, almost inexplainable, to find ourselves there, at the front of the race,” Frank said. Andy looked ahead to the future; he said, “I gave everything, because to win Liege, it’s my dream. It wasn’t going to happen today, but one day, it will.”

2009 Andy’s crowning glory

Four days before la Doyenne Andy took second in Fleche-Wallonne, while Frank recovered from a bad crash in Amstel Gold. The elder brother would come back for Liege-Bastogne-Liege. And he contributed to the amazing work by Team Saxo Bank. “I know where I have to attack. If I want to win the race, I must launch off the climb of la Roche-aux-Faucons,” Andy told us before Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He also told us, “If I want to win it, I must attack before the finish. I’m not as fast as Rebellin, Valverde, even Cunego. But I have confidence. I feel strong enough to ride to win. It’s my objective.” Twenty km from the finish Andy stood up on the pedals and picked up Philippe Gilbert who took off on the summit of la Redoute but appeared exhausted. The gap didn’t stop growing. It had been a long time since a winner of la Doyenne had made his mark in this way. “…When they told me that I had a 1’30” lead about 10 km from the finish, I thought I was watching the television. I watched the kilometers pass, then I told myself, ‘if you watch the television, the end of a race like this, you know that the guy who has this kind of lead is going to win it.’ I continued to ride hard, then at 500 meters from the finish line, I stopped, I relaxed, I had won,” Andy said at the press conference. “I don’t know what to say, this incredible, fabulous…” cries Frank while seeing Andy mount the highest step of the podium. Frank placed 23rd.

Andy Schleck at Avon start of 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge

2010 Return to top 10

Andy attempts the same blow as last year. He attacks on la Roche-aux-Faucons, while behind him his brother changes bikes due to a problem with the rear brakes. Gilbert followed Andy, then Contador. On the summit, Evans, Anton, Nibali, Valverde, Kolobnev, and Vinokourov joined them. 17 km from the finish line Vinokourov attached and only Kolobnev followed. Behind, Frank returned to the chase group. 500 meters from the line Vinokourov accelerates. Kolobnev, a teammate of the Schlecks, tried to follow but falls back into the saddle, exhausted. Andy and Frank finished 6th and 9th respectively. “I didn’t say in the radio that I had just changed bikes, because I didn’t want to slow down Andy in his attempt. It was anticipated that attacks would happen there and he did it,” said Frank later.

2011 Both on the podium

For a very long time the Schleck brothers held this still unattained dream: “To end on the same podium of a great race, a great Classic, or Grand Tour. If possible winner and second, but it doesn’t matter…” In this same year of 2001, the brothers without a doubt shall not have considered that they would go on to at the same time finish second and third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour [de France], their two favorite races. The biggest Grand Tour. And the greatest classic for climbers. But not in the same order. At la Doyenne, Gilbert out-rode everyone. The brothers tried to harass Gilbert starting from the Roche-aux-Faucons; nothing was possible. “It’s without doubt the most beautiful podium of the Ardennes classics,” said Andy. Frank said, “This Liege-Bastogne-Liege podium will enter the history books. It’s something special. People will remember it for a long time. We’re proud of that.” Gilbert won, Frank got second, and Andy finished third.

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