And then there was one…

Andy Schleck has finally freed himself of the brotherly shackles with which he has been restrained for the past couple of years. Frank Schleck crashing out on the cobbles on Stage 3 is a blessing for his younger brother. While Frank’s presence alongside Andy in the mountains provides a psychological boost for the younger Schleck, the tactics that the brothers employ when racing together are not well suited to overall success in the Tour de France. Since Andy has been left to chase glory without Frank, he has bagged his first ever Grand Tour stage win and currently sits closer to the yellow jersey than he has ever been before.

Saxo Bank were not the only team coming in to this Tour with two legitimate G.C. candidates. Liquigas had Basso and Kreuziger, Rabobank had Menchov and Gesink and Radio Shack had Armstrong and Leipheimer. It takes teamwork and self sacrifice in order for a team with two genuine contenders to ultimately garner success. Eventually, one rider has to attack while the other leaves him to it and sits on in the chase group. If the first rider is caught, Plan B is executed and the second rider attacks. Saxo Bank themselves provided a classic example of the two headed G.C. monster in action under their former guise as Team CSC Saxo Bank in 2008.

Frank Schleck and Carlos Sastre were Bjarne Riis’ main contenders for yellow. Andy Schleck was also present but was considered too young to be a team leader. Thus, he was there to gain experience and to work as a domestique for his brother and Sastre. On the morning of the stage to Alpe d’Huez, Frank Schleck was wearing the yellow jersey. He was less than 10 seconds clear of both Bernard Kohl and Cadel Evans on G.C. and he was 49 seconds ahead of his team mate Sastre. When the race reached the bottom of the fabled mountain Sastre attacked in a move which had been planned by the whole team. Frank Schleck knew that if Sastre could make the attack stick, his team mate was riding himself into yellow and any ambitions that Schleck had for himself in the Tour would be quashed. However, if Sastre cracked or was simply pulled back, then Schleck would attack himself in an attempt to increase his overall lead which he would then defend in the final time trial. As it worked out, Sastre’s attack did stick and he put more than two minutes into everybody by the stage’s end. He was now the new leader of the Tour de France by 1.24 over Frank Schleck, who was pushed back into 2nd place.

Sastre would go on to win the Tour de France for Team CSC Saxo Bank but acknowledges that he could not have done so without the cooperation of his team mates:

Without their help I would not have done it. The Schleck brothers sacrificed themselves, and that is the philosophy of the team.

This is a perfect example of how to use two G.C. favourites in the one team. One is the real threat, the other is a decoy. If that plan fails, reverse the roles and try again. But sooner or later one rider needs to sacrifice himself for the other. This is not the way the Schlecks rode in last year’s Tour de France. Andy Schleck was simultaneously trying to win the Tour de France whilst acting as a super-domestique for his brother. Their tactics on some of the Tour’s climbs were bizarre. Andy would attack the lead group, gain a few seconds, then turn around to see where Frank was and proceed to sit up and wait for him, negating any benefit from the attack which he had just made. Andy was also doing the same in this year’s Liége-Bastogne-Liége. They seem to want to cross every finish line together. Neither of them want to win a race without the other in the background celebrating.

Frank Schleck celebrates winning a stage of last year's Tour de France with his brother celebrating behind him. But they didn't manage to shake Alberto Contador.

To be fair, they did indeed manage this feat in last year’s Tour when Frank won Stage 17 to La Grande-Bornand with Andy just behind him. While a stage win in the Tour de France is not to be sniffed at, this win left neither of them in a better position to win the Tour de France as Alberto Contador was right there with them when they crossed the finish line. To be an effective duo, there needs to be a sacrifice. Alas, we will never know whether this sacrifice would have been forthcoming in this year’s Tour de France, as Andy is left to soldier on without the fallen Frank.

Now the tactics for Andy Schleck are simplified. He no longer needs to be concerned about dragging his brother on to the podium with him, he need only concern himself with attacking on his own and distancing his rivals with no distractions. His immense riding over the cobbles, thanks largely to Fabian Cancellara, and his attack in the final kilometre on Sunday sees Schleck sitting ahead of Contador on G.C. by 41 seconds. He will know that he needs more than 41 seconds over Alberto Contador going into the final time trial if he is to win this Tour.

Contador looked slightly vulnerable when Schleck attacked to win Stage 8. The general consensus seems to be that the Spaniard is still riding himself into form and will be at the peak of his powers when the race hits the Pyrenées next week. If I was Alberto Contador, my race plan would be to target Stage 14 to Ax-3 Domaines as they day I attack and take over the yellow jersey. I would then race defensively until Stage 17 when the race finishes at the summit of the Col de Tourmalet, where I would attack once more. This would increase my overall lead which would by that stage be unsurmountable by any of my rivals heading into the Stage 19 time trial. Perhaps this is also the way Riis sees Contador’s plans, perhaps not.

But whatever way he does see it, he needs for Schleck to attack Contador on the stages where he doesn’t envisage Contador attacking himself. Why not attack on the hilly stage to Mende? Or attack tomorrow. Contador clearly isn’t at his best yet. Why not take advantage now rather than planning an assault for later when Contador hits his form peak? Andy Schleck may have lost his brother, who can be a valuable mountain domestique, but I’ve a feeling that this two headed monster has a better chance at overall victory with only one head to be worrying about.

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