Just for a moment, put yourself in Andy Schleck’s cleats: if you finish second in the 2012 Tour de France, you’re a failure.
Critics and journalists and fans laugh at you, joke about your five times as runner-up, start calling you Joop the Second, after Joop Zoetemelk and his record of six second places. You begin the season with essentially one goal, one race, and anything less than a win is not just seen as disaster, but at this point, embarrassment.
How would you like to have all that pressure on you, everyday, between now and July in France? Not much pleasure in that and no time to go fishing with Frank.
We were reminded of Andy’s Miserable Plight when we read Whit Yost’s excellent Men on the Hot Seat story at Red Kite Prayer. The skinny Luxembourger was nominated as the top guy on the flaming chair.
Hey, Andy could win a few races this year — a Liege-Bastogne-Leige or a stage race somewhere and it wouldn’t mean squat. As Chris Horner of RadioShack-Nissan rightly said, even if he won the Giro, all people would say is he didn’t win the Tour.
That’s the kind of pressure most of us couldn’t handle. Win the Tour de France or spend another year answering the same questions again and again, a thousand times over. You go into the off-season with everyone dissecting your every move, debating your defects, calling out your faults. Why can’t you beat Evans or Contador or maybe even Bradley Wiggins?
The 2012 Tour de France boasts 100 kilometers of time trialing for a rider that will never be great against the clock. With the arrival of Johan Bruyneel and the reinforcement of top climbers like Horner, the pressure jacks up even higher. When Bruyneel says the goal is “yellow in Paris,” there’s no margin for error and another second place is a personal and team debacle.
Would you want to be in Andy Schleck’s cleats? We sure wouldn’t.
Schleck’s chances of victory got a significant bump with the Court for Arbitration in Sport’s ruling against Alberto Contador. The Spaniard would have been the favorite to win this year but he’ll be in Pinto drinking watery sangria and watching the race on TV. At least Andy doesn’t have to worry about dropping his chain again.
Schleck will bring a stronger team to France and while Cadel Evans will surely arrive in top shape, one has to think he won’t be as lucky as he was last year. He’s had plenty of bad luck in Le Tour but all the breaks went his way and we doubt a repeat. Bruyneel will have his dogs in attack mode from the gun.
Still, this will be a hard tour for any climber to win.
From February until July, the pressure will continue to ratchet up. Forced to deal with that, most of us would arrive in Liege already mentally exhausted, drained by the constant media attention. Schleck is arguably the best climber in the world but it’s a tall order: win a time trial heavy Tour or risk finishing second for a fifth time.
Andy Schleck is on the hot seat. Sometimes it must be nice to be Frank, the brother who won’t be labeled a failure.