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"We kept going up we even got 20 minutes, I thought it’s gonna be a favour because we attacked early in the stage. I really had a good chance with the altitude gain. I believe I’m still a very good climber. I believed in it...

Photo: Sirotti






07.09.2015 @ 20:48 Posted by Andy Pedersen

All the sweat, tears, crashes, injuries and countless moments of bad luck for Trek Factory Racing’s veteran rider Fränk Schleck were washed away Monday when he crossed the summit finish of stage 16 at the Vuelta a España to take a well-deserved win.


“I don’t know,” exclaimed Schleck, overwhelmed by his victory. “It’s been so long for me without a win. The whole day was long and hard, but I was on a good day. It’s all so fresh still to make big comments…I just know that I owed myself to do well, I worked so hard for this, I deserved it.


“I have been fighting hard the last month, had some injuries, couldn’t do the Tour [de France] and came here with a lot of confidence for the Vuelta, and it was tough to win this stage, but all the work, all the injuries – today was all worth it.”


“Fränk won ‘a lo grande’ [in grand fashion],” added director Josu Larrazabal. “It was an incredible day. Luca [Guercilena, general manager] arrived today and climbed in the car at the feed zone, so he was there too. After Fränk crashed and was out of the GC he recovered well in his mind and refocused. He was always optimistic.”


The 35-year-old veteran joined the early escape that surprisingly was let go without the usual big fight, and the 10 leaders were granted an insurmountable 22-minute lead by the third of seven categorized ascents. It was obvious that they would fight out the stage win.


On the penultimate climb Schleck took pole position and set a pace that whittled the leading group to two – only Team Colombia’s Rodolfo Torres could keep up with the experienced Luxembourger.


“I was not so confident about Torres, I didn’t know much about him so I was pretty nervous,” explained Schleck. “He was tough, and I knew the other guys, but not him. Fortunately today, Luca [Guercilena] returned to the Vuelta and he was in the car. Josu was there too with Dirk [Demol, director] and they analyzed the race and told me what I needed to do. A little uncertain point was Torres; we didn’t know what he can do, or how he was feeling.”


“The last three climbs were key,” explained Larrazabal. “Dirk and I told him on the second to last climb to keep a strong rhythm to make the selection. Only Torres was there by the end and we knew it would come down to the last climb.


“I had scouted all the summits finals, and Fränk saw all them in video. Today for the last climb he used a 36x28 gearing. Of course his legs were the most important, and then his head. But he was very relaxed all day, and this made a difference. I think we can say that Trek Factory Racing has been very good so far; I think we deserve it and can be quite proud."


The final climb was viciously steep. It was not long at six kilometers but carried a heartless 11 percent average gradient and a maximum pitch of 22 percent.


Torres and Schleck gave testing accelerations, but each held firm, no one giving an inch or showing a hint of weakness (although we liked Schleck’s pained ‘race face’ expressions; a nice bluff).


At mid-way, Schleck made his move and Torres cracked. The last steep pitch was oh! so painful as Schleck struggled over the final punishing 17 percent gradient less than 1000 meters from the finish and, uncertain or unwilling to believe the victory was his, he snuck a peak behind to search for Torres.  But Torres was not in sight.


Fränk Schleck crossed the finish line, pumping his fist in the air in jubilation, 1 minute and 10 seconds ahead of the Colombian.  


“I came here with intentions of a nice classification but then we had to change the team tactics after my crashes to focus on stages and not the GC anymore. We talked about this stage, a lot of reputed climbs and how it’s good for me as a lightweight, so I had the plan to go in the breakaway today, Schleck said.


“This Vuelta has been so hard. The last 10 days have been so fast, the first hour 46, 47km/h average. And today it took a big character, a strong head, to go out there, and there were a few guys who dared to go out there, and this [win] has been the reward today. It showed character to go out and suffer again, and that’s why I got the win.”


The first rider from Luxembourg to win a Vuelta stage was Johnny Schleck, in 1970. Forty-five years later his son has followed in his footsteps.


“Haimar [Zubeldia] was in the break yesterday and so that put a lot of pressure on me today,” smiled Schleck, jokingly.


“Seriously, I think we can say that Trek Factory Racing has been very good so far, we have won three stages with Danny van Poppel, Jasper Stuyven and now myself.  I think we deserve it and can be quite proud. Even though we don’t play the overall classification, everyday we have been out there fighting in breakaways, Haimar, Markel [Irizar], Ricci (Zoidl], Danny – we have had really good teamwork and team motivation. The morale has been very high.


"I was looking at the ground, I did not dare looking ahead because it was too steep. Today the breakaway quickly took shape. We could build a 20-minute lead. I think we were brave. Mental strength and character were rewarded today. These last 15 days were very very hard, the brave prevailed today. I am quite proud.


"It was a very very tough stage, with more than 5,000 metres of altitude gain. The legs did the talking, there was no tactic. In the penultimate climb I upped the pace and then I managed to attack Torres in the finale and win the stage.


"I came here looking for a good GC result but I was involved in two or three crashes, I was unlucky so we changed the team strategy, aiming at stage victories. So yesterday I took it easy in the final climb to keep my strength and be at 100% today.


"It’s always rewarding to win but I think there are just years when it does not go your way. This year I had to sit out of the Tour de France because of injuries and health problems. I crashed in the beginning of the season, I suffered a ruptured muscle, too. I worked hard (ahead of the Vuelta), spending five weeks in altitude. Today it has paid off.


"Once we had 12 minutes I thought it could be a good day for the win. We kept going up we even got 20 minutes, I thought it’s gonna be a favour because we attacked early in the stage. I really had a good chance with the altitude gain. I believe I’m still a very good climber. I believed in it.


"The season is not over yet, there is still one week of racing even if tomorrow will be a much welcome rest day and if Wednesday’s TT will be like half a rest day for those who are not concerned by the GC. Then I go back to Luxembourg to be with my family and then there are the races in Italy, especially the Tour of Lombardy. I will not ride the world championships because the national team and I decided the parcours did not suit me.”



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