Fränk Schleck attacked his breakaway companions at two kilometres from the finish to win the opening stage of the Critérium International sixteen seconds ahead of Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) and 22-seconds ahead of Rein Taaramae (Cofidis).
“We previewed the final climb yesterday with the team and we knew that the steepest section came towards the end, so I attacked there,” he says. “It worked. I’m very, very happy. It is a victory for the whole team. They did a great job the entire race. In the final climb, Andy and I took turns attacking. It put all the other riders in the red zone. When I launched my final attack, I was gone with Kiryienka and Taaramae.”
Before Schleck’s winning move, LEOPARD TREK animated stage one. “The race started off very fast,” notes Sports Director Kim Andersen. “There were lots of attacks. We had riders represented in nearly every break,” he explains with obvious pride in his voice.
“Until the last break,” says Schleck. “We had nobody in that one, so we decided it was time to take control. We began to pull things back, and that’s when Jens [Voigt] went.” Voigt caught the break. “That was perfect for us for two reasons,” notes Schleck. “First of all, he had a really good chance to win. The second big advantage was that we could sit back easily behind.”
Andersen agrees that Voigt’s move set up the team for the win. “Jens made the race hard for the other teams. Fränk and Andy were feeling very good, and they were able to sit back and wait. This is a special team,” Schleck continues. “My teammates are my friends. This team is one big, big friendship. Obviously, we want to congratulate our friends in Belgium.”
Schleck, of course, is referring to Fabian Cancellara’s victory at E3 Prijs Harelbeke. “Fabian and myself have a particularly close relationship,” Schleck notes. “It makes my day even better that he wins there while I win here. This is what we have been talking about from the beginning. This is what our team came together to do. We have followed our plan, and it is now paying off. It just shows we were right from the beginning.”
A confident Schleck will lead his team tomorrow in a double-duty day to conclude the race. Sunday begins with a short, flat 75 km course and ends with a 7 km individual time trial.