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'It's easier to become king than stay king': Fränk Schleck Q&A

Peter Stuart
22 Jun 2018

Tour de France podium finisher Fränk Schleck talks about the 2018 Tour, fraternity and whether cycling influencers will ever replace pros

Who do you expect to win the Tour de France?

It’s going to be tricky this year. I always say – let’s wait until after the Dauphine and I’ll tell you more. But I’m still undecided. I was really excited and happy to see Adam Yates going so well at the Dauphine and winning the final stage, and also Geraint Thomas too, who won. I think it’s really going to be tricky and we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

This year we’re also going to see a lot of harsh stages and tricky stages in the beginning, for instance the cobbles sectors. So the winner also has to be the guy who is lucky, who isn’t going to crash so much. 

Do you think there are a lot of riders who will be rooting for Adam Yates?

Well, I think Froome has already been a winner of the Tour, and we all know that people like an element of competition. 

I believe that people like to cheer more for the second rider, and history tells us that it’s easier to become king than stay king. That’s also the part of the appeal and drama of competition.

So I believe we would like to see a young kid like Yates do well. People want to see that, he’s a new face and he has the wind in his sails, at least until someone else comes along.

Do you think the move to smaller team sizes is a good idea, or even a fair idea?

I mean you have advantages and disadvantages. The dominance will be affected, surely if they go down to seven riders, for instance. A team like Sky would not be able to be as strong. Also less riders would be on the road which I think is important in reducing crashes.

But if they go down in riders then will there still be all the same number of support staff, and coaches? I think it could have a big impact on the jobs related to pro cycling. So I think it’s necessary to go down in size for the sport itself and I think it’s a good thing, but at the same time it comes with disadvantages as well.

Do you think the current format of Grand Tours is harsh on the pure climbers, as so much time can be made up in the time trial?

I take myself as an example, I knew that I was not a specialist in the time trial. I knew that I could improve my time trialling, but I was never going to win the Tour in a time trial. I would have to win it on the climb. The Tour de France winner is the strongest rider, and so he has to be good in everything. So sometimes it’s easier for a time trialist to win, and sometimes it’s easier for a climber to win.

But I don’t think time trials are boring at all, either. I mean it’s a lot of suspense, a lot of tension and it creates an extra dynamic for the whole race.

Is suffering an important part of the skill of climbing?

Yes, of course you suffer! But the key thing with climbing is being able to save as much energy in the first few climbs. A climber is not necessarily the guy who is climbing the fastest, a climber is saving a lot of kilojoules a the beginning of the stage when you have a hard stage and you have five mountains to climb. Then if you feel good, and you have good VO2max and are in good shape, everything comes together.

Do you enjoy climbing now that you’ve retired?

Well it depends on the speed! If I’m going full gas, then no. If I’m tired i don’t enjoy going up, but I still feel well in the climbing. I’d say Andy, who’s gained 15 kgs, is different. He was also a climber but he’s not enjoying climbing so much any more [laughs].

You still seem to ride a lot, while you’re brother (Andy) seems to have mostly stopped. Why do you think that is?

I think it comes down to how he saw cycling when he finished. He stopped three years before I did, but I always wanted to stop while I was still competitive, when I was still do a top 15 at the Tour de France. Now that was my decision, and I think a lot of people stop a year or two years too late, and it might be that they pushed too hard and they just don’t want to see the bike again, at all.

What I do now for Mavic, the development and ambassadorship, as well as running my own granfondo gives me the opportunity to enjoy it at my own pace. I mean, last year I still rode 15 or 16,000 kms, so that’s still OK I think.

Did you and Andy always get on when you raced?

Oh no, we had tonnes of tension. In the end we were brothers and we had great fun together, but we fought a lot. Not in the races, because we always stuck together in the big races, but we had many small fights. We still have. You know between boys I think there’s less drama. As kids we threw a couple of punches then afterwards it was done. 

It seems that an increasing number of cyclists who get media attention are social media stars, rather than pros winning races. Could the next generation of pro riders be influencers not racers?

I think about this all the time. A lot of it is new to me. Cycling influencer – I mean that’s a proper job description now!

I do think it’s good because you actually communicate about a lot of things with the consumers. At the same time, as an athlete I have a hard time understanding this job description, but I think if it helps the communication between brands and the public, and between the riders and the public, then it’s great. I think it will become more and more important. 

I believe that when it comes to recruiting those riders who aren't team leaders, that teams are checking out the numbers on social platforms for those athletes. I get that. It totally fits into the model for teams like Cannondale.

If you have a rider who is not active on the social, and a rider who has a lot of followers and is on the same level, you take the one with the good following no?

Ultimately, though, the sport has a big heritage, and I don’t think social media can replace a big win, but perhaps the two will begin to sit alongside each other.

Cyclist spoke to Andy Schleck at 2018 Explore Corsica presented by Le Tour de France, as guests of Mavic Cycling

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