One of the fascinating stories set to unfold - or unravel - in 2012 concerns RadioShack Nissan Trek, the new-old Luxembourg-based, US-backed team.
The merger of RadioShack and Leopard Trek has thrown Johan Bruyneel, Lance Armstrong's old director, and the Schleck brothers, Andy and Fränk, together. Nobody is quite sure how it will work out - least of all some members of the new team, perhaps - but Bruyneel has offered some tantalising clues.
It seems obvious, for example, that Bruyneel is keener on Andy, the younger brother. Indeed, it was rumoured a couple of years ago that he wanted to sign Andy, but not Fränk, and that Andy refused to countenance any move on that basis.
The Schlecks are close, on and off the bike. But there are those who felt, watching last year's Tour in particular, that they were riding with one eye on the other. When Andy attacked, he sometimes looked back to check on Fränk.
It is true that Klöden has twice finished second in the Tour: but that was in 2004 and 2006. He will be 37 when this year's Tour gets underway. Fränk Schleck will be 32. And he finished on the podium last year. As votes of no-confidence go, this seems pretty damning.
Quotes of the week
They finished second and third in Paris, with Andy the runner-up for the third year in a row, but many wondered whether Andy might have fared better had he been the team's sole leader, rather than co-leader with Fränk.
Now consider Bruyneel's comments last week to Cyclingnews. After identifying Andy as the team's "logical leader" for the Tour, he said that "only Andreas [Klöden] has been close to winning the Tour... If you ask today, who are the guys who have the most chances on our team, it's Andy and Andreas."
Well, yes. It is true that Klöden has twice finished second in the Tour: but that was in 2004 and 2006. He will be 37 when this year's Tour gets underway. Fränk Schleck will be 32. And he finished on the podium last year. As votes of no-confidence go, this seems pretty damning.
It has even been suggested that Bruyneel could send the elder Schleck to the Giro instead of the Tour, though Jakob Fuglsang has been given the nod to lead the team in Italy.
Even Bruyneel's confidence in Andy seems qualified, in stark contrast to the unwavering faith he used to have in Armstrong and Alberto Contador, who won two Tours in Bruyneel-led teams.
Back then, Bruyneel's strategy was set in stone. With Armstrong in particular he had a single, undisputed leader, and a team that controlled the race and allowed the seven-time winner to do the damage at strategic points - traditionally the time trial and first mountain stage.
Thus, they reduced the Tour to a few key moments. But Bruyneel seems to have abandoned the Armstrong blueprint. With RadioShack he began last year's race with four leaders, which - partly through crashes - proved a disaster.
Now with Andy Schleck, who he has identified as his "logical leader", you might expect Bruyneel to revert to the Armstrong blueprint. But no. As he said in the same interview: "If we play safe and calculate and just race at strategic points, which are mountains and time trials, then it will be very difficult to win. We will have to be smart and gamble and risk losing everything by trying to win."
This is radically different to the Armstrong years. Is it because Bruyneel doesn't believe Andy Schleck - though his "logical leader" - is capable of doing what Armstrong did? (Is anyone?)
Not that Bruyneel can't be accused of turning the clock back. After all, he did appear to suggest that, at 37, Andreas Klöden remains a potential Tour winner.
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Simon Fielder says...
I don't agree with the comments on Frank, There is surely some polictics at play here. If he said Frank and Andy are the only ones for the Tour how does that play with old RS Horner and Kloden. Second comment, clearly he needs to understand the team to determine the clear leader. He would be crazy to say in January that it's Andy without having a chance to analyse the abilities of the team enlarged team.
Posted 20:30 26th January 2012
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