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"I am very proud of the Tour I am riding right now. I have only been back racing 5-6 months, and there is a lot to come still. I cannot just compensate the one and a half years I missed racing, and that is not so easy to digest."

Photo: Sirotti

FRANK SCHLECK

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HAIMAR ZUBELDIA

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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19.07.2014 @ 19:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Having been out of competition for 18 months, Frank Schleck is riding himself into form in this year's Tour de France and the Luxembourger is getting better and better. Today he climbed with the podium candidates and finished 7th in Risoul which makes him proud of the improvements he has made.

 

Stage 14 was the second straight day in the Alps with another grueling summit finish. The 177-kilometer stage was shorter, but back-to-back days in the high mountains meant riders faced the unknown: how would the legs respond after yesterday’s efforts?

 

For Fränk Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia the answer: even better. The two Trek Factory Racing GC men paced to high finishes for the successive Alpine day as Schleck finished in 7th place, one minute and one second behind stage winner Rafel Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Zubeldia would cross moments later for 11th place (+1’24”).

 

Their strong finishes have sprung both riders upwards in the overall standings: Zubeldia now sits in 12th, and Schleck in 14th; the goal for a top 10 finish is gradually becoming reality.

 

“I am feeling good, and I am very satisfied with myself," Schleck said. "I did a lot of work during my time away from racing, and I have a strong base and that is why I can do this. I also have great guys with me, and supporting me to the climbs. Haimar and myself are a good team, we are always there, and attentive. I am able to go with the very first attack but in the end I still miss that little bit.

 

"I am very proud of the Tour I am riding right now. I have only been back racing 5-6 months, and there is a lot to come still. I cannot just compensate the one and a half years I missed racing, and that is not so easy to digest.  And in Switzerland with my bad crash, that also took energy and power out of me. But I kept focus and I kept fighting, and I think this shows my character.”

 

A 17-man breakaway escaped early in the stage and one gallant soul, Rafel Majka, would survive from this move to take an impressive victory, while behind the GC battle raged from the yellow jersey group.

 

Team Astana and Netapp-Endura led the chase into the penultimate climb, the legendary 19-kilometer Col d'Izoard. Over the top the peloton was whittled to around forty riders, but it was on the descent where an attack by AG2R caused a brief scare. At the bottom of the technical, twisty downhill a select group of five riders emerged, with the attentive yellow jersey in its midst.   

 

BMC led the chase through the valley and quickly closed the 30-second gap to the dangerous move and the regrouping had all the top GC contenders together again, heading into the final punishing slopes of the Montée de Risoul.

 

Vincenzo Nibali’s attack under the four-kilometer banner was the first to blow apart the leading group, now whittled down to 18 of the strongest climbers. Nibali, joined by Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R-La Mondiale), would ride on to finish second on the stage, 24 seconds behind winner Majka. 

 

Just behind a small elite chase of four formed containing third, fourth, fifth GC, and Fränk Schleck. It was a fantastic and encouraging finish for Schleck, who would cross in seventh place, showing he is reclaiming his form of old, and proving that he still has what it takes in the world’s toughest race.

 

"There is no way of really explaining the pain," he said. "It’s just suffering. At the start of the climb you are suffering so much and you have to pass this first step. It is pure will power.  It’s very hard to describe. You are scared of this moment, before the stage, and even during the stage. But once you are there, you love it. Once I get to this moment, I don’t think, and I can enjoy it actually. You cannot describe it. The satisfying part is you can be proud of yourself afterwards, when you have done all you can. You cannot ask more when you have given your best. Everyone has to be satsified.

 

"At the end it’s not so much about tactics anymore, there are still some, but it’s more that you just have to go all out. You know it’s going to hurt, and you have to really, really suffer - at one point you just throw it all in.

 

"It does help to have small challenges ahead, of this guy and that guy. But in the end it really comes down to yourself and how far you want to go: with your mind, your head and with your body.  It all has to come together.”

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