Stuart O’Grady was probably watching Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race from the comfort of his couch, but he wasn’t surprised to see teammate Andy Schleck on the attack late in the race.
Schleck was the only rider to dare to break the deadlock out of the lead group after coming over the Keutenberg. Knowing he would be out-gunned out a small bunch sprint, Schleck tried a solo attack that came up 500 meters short.
O’Grady said that type of raid shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The veteran Aussie says Schleck is a racer who isn’t afraid to throw down when the odds are stacked against him.
“He rides on pure instinct. Despite all the computers and data, you cannot calculate everything in cycling. He’s not a detailed-oriented type of rider. He goes on gut instinct. When he’s feeling good, he attacks,” O’Grady told VeloNews. “It’s just raw, unbridled young energy. It’s talent. It’s Eddy Merckx-style. That’s the way Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly raced. It’s not calculated. Everyone’s hurting, he’s hurting, too, then he just smashes it out.”
Schleck came up short at Amstel Gold, but it bodes well for the Ardennes, where Leopard-Trek will line up as favorites for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“We were close to victory in the early classics,” O’Grady said, referring to second places at Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix and third at Tour of Flanders with Fabian Cancellara. “I know the team is motivated for the Ardennes. The Schleck brothers want to win one of them.”
O’Grady, meanwhile, is taking a break after the northern classics. He returns to action with the Bayern Rundfahrt in late May, followed by the Tour of Luxembourg and the Tour de Suisse before the Tour de France.
“We want to be 100 percent for the Tour,” O’Grady said. “We want to have one of the Schleck brothers on the top step of the podium in Paris. That’s what everyone is working for.”
O’Grady said last year’s Tour de France was a tough one for the squad. First, they lost Frank Schleck early in the race with a crash on the cobblestones. Then, Andy Schleck dropped a chain in the Pyrénées that cost him invaluable seconds in the decision moments of the race.
O’Grady said he was impressed, however, with how Andy Schleck responded to the stress of the unknown, something that bodes well for 2011.
“It was really tricky last year at the Tour. When we lost Frank, it was real gut-wrenching for the team. To be honest, I was worried about Andy. These Schleck brothers feed off each other and have a closeness I’ve never seen in anyone else. I was worried about how Andy would react without Frank. He could have gone either day. It was 50-50. He could have stepped or, the easier option would have been to say, ‘my brother’s not here, we lost a key rider and we’re going to lose the Tour,’” O’Grady said. “Hats off to Andy. He really stepped up. He rode for his brother and all of us and showed just how gutsy a rider he is.”
O’Grady said without Frank, Saxo Bank had to tweak its strategy and ride more conservatively. Rather than one-two punch the peloton with Frank and Andy taking turns attacking, O’Grady said Andy Schleck had to be more calculating.
Looking ahead to July, O’Grady said winning the Tour is the team’s paramount goal. Whether or not Alberto Contador will be there depends on the outcome of his hearing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
O’Grady said the team is not losing much sleep over Contador’s ongoing case.
“It’s a complicated situation. I have no comment on what’s going on. We just hope that the authorities and the officials make the right decision. No one wants to see it dragged on for months and months. The decision has to be made,” O’Grady said. “We have to be prepared to Alberto on the start line. If he’s not, well, he’s not. It’s beyond our control. We have to be ready with our plan.”
O’Grady says that plan is clear and straight-forward: putting one of the Schleck brothers in the yellow jersey when the 2011 Tour de France reaches Paris.