By Alasdair Fotheringham
HERNING, Denmark (Reuters) – Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck cancelled his holiday plans to take part in the Giro d’Italia but the Radioshack rider said he had no regrets at becoming a last-minute addition to the team because the course suits him.
Schleck, who finished third in the 2011 Tour de France – a place behind younger brother Andy, will lead Radioshack during the three-week race which starts in Denmark on Saturday after replacing the injured Jakob Fuglsang in the team.
“I’m surprised because I was due for a break after the Ardennes Classics (in late April),” Schleck told Reuters. “But then the team called me up and asked me if I could do the Giro.”
“I’m also pleased because I’ve had three days here with the team already and everything is going well.”
“The course suits me too. There are seven to 10 flatter stages first of all, which I’ll need to get back into shape and get the legs going.”
Cycling’s second-biggest stage race begins with an 8.7-kilometre prologue in Herning, which is over 1,200 km from Italy – the race’s furthest ever starting point from its home country.
Hotels, shops and streets of the town of 45,000 in the unremittingly flat Jutland province are decked out in the Giro’s trademark pink colours to celebrate the race’s first visit to Denmark.
The prologue, with 17 corners on a short city centre circuit, is very technical but Schleck was unfazed by the course.
“In eight or nine kilometres, you’re not going to lose the Giro, with three weeks racing still ahead of you,” he said.
With no Alberto Contador, winner last year before the result was nullified when the Court of Arbitration for Sport banned the Spaniard for two years for failing a dope test during the 2010 Tour, the Giro lacks a clear favourite.
Former champion Ivan Basso of Italy, Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez and Columbian Rigoberto Uran – whose team mate world champion Mark Cavendish is also riding – are possible contenders in an event featuring a less challenging route than in 2011.
“It’s one of the kindest Giro routes I’ve seen in a while,” Australian sprinter Matt Goss told Reuters.
“Both 2009 and 2010 were pretty gnarly, and this one looks a little bit easier to take, even though there are some tough climbs in the final week.”
Stage 19’s daunting mountain finish on the 11-km Alpe di Pampeago and stage 20’s ascent of two of Italy’s toughest climbs, the Stelvio and Mortirolo, are likely to decide the winner of the 103-year-old race.
The Giro d’Italia ends on May 27 in Milan.