Andy Schleck may yet become the first Luxembourg rider in more than 50 years to win the worlds greatest cycling race. Just not this year.
The 26-year-old failed to defend his 57-second advantage over Australian Cadel Evans in Saturdays race against the clock, most likely losing the Tour de France in the races dramatic penultimate stage.
Schleck, who already has finished runner-up two years running, now has every chance of standing on the Champs Élysées podiums second highest step for a third time when the race finishes in Paris today.
Schlecks postrace comments focused on how happy the team was to get two riders on the podium. The riders and team officials grim faces told a different story, however.
Ill be on the podium with my brother; thats fantastic; everybody is happy, Schleck said.
Of course I cannot jump in the air, because I was supposed to win the Tour. Congrats to Cadel, he fought until the end, rode a perfect race. So did I, but only one can win, Schleck said.
Schlecks team manager, Brian Nygaard, said he absolutely believed before Saturdays stage that Andy could hold on to the yellow jersey, despite Evans superior time-trial abilities.
If Evans had done his normal time trial as Andy did his normal time trial, it was within reach, Nygaard said. (Saturday), Evans was absolutely in a class of his own.
Evans came in second, finishing the stage in 55 minutes and 40 seconds, just 7 seconds slower than the winner, Tony Martin of Germany, a former German time-trial champion.
Schleck was 2:31 slower than Evans, also a two-time Tour de France runner-up.
Frank Schleck, Andys teammate and older brother, was slower yet, but he managed to maintain third place in the overall standings.
Of course we would have loved to win the Tour de France, but Im very happy, he said. For me, one of the first dreams came true (Saturday) two brothers on the podium, from the Luxembourg team, a new team, who just came out of nowhere, and we made it happen.
Nygaard said he is confident Andy will come back and win the Tour another year.
If you compare Andy to Cadel, Andy has so many years in front of him still, and Evans is at the peak of his career, Nygaard said. Andy is still a young guy, there are a lot of victories in him still.
Andy was even in a joking mood after the race, posting a message to his followers on Twitter that said hed lost a bet with Dutch teammate Joost Posthuma.
He won a bet against me now I need to eat 20 cheeseburger in 2 h can I do that of course in wintertime, Schleck wrote.
Schleck insisted that even though he wont be in yellow today, this has been a good Tour.
I had again the experience of yellow; I won a stage; its been a good tour, Schleck said. I go home with my head high; I dont go home as a loser.
And he made a promise, similar to the pledge he made after losing the 2010 Tour by just 39 seconds to Alberto Contador.
Ill come back next year and win, Schleck said.