Paris: Some riders are destined for the top, others must settle for second place. Andy Schleck must be wondering to which category he belongs.
At 25, the Luxembourg rider has a promising record with three runner-up places on big Tours and he is young enough to hope to go one place better in the future.
But the younger of the two Schleck brothers, who shot to fame by finishing second in the Giro d`Italia in 2007, has so far always found a stronger rider ahead of him.
In this Tour and in the last, it was Alberto Contador, who has now won the last five big Tours he entered -- three Tours de France, one Giro and one Spanish Vuelta.
And the Spaniard, who is only two years older than Schleck, does not look ready to pass the baton even though the gap between them is narrowing.
"He has not won, but he has gained the confidence that he was close to win the Tour," said his team mate Fabian Cancellara, who watched over him during the entire race.
"He already has so much experience. He will be up there one day," added the time trial specialist, who protected the Luxembourg hopeful against the wind for three weeks on top of winning both time trials on offer in this Tour.
There are actually reasons to be hopeful for the best young rider in the last three Tours and the main one is that he almost closed the gap on Contador in the mountains.
Their duel in the climbs this year ended in an almost perfect draw and he won two of the most prestigious stages in this Tour, in Morzine-Avoriaz and Col du Tourmalet.
"I don`t compare myself to him actually but I believe we`re equal in the mountains now," Schleck said.
The Tour runner-up, who will be leaving Bjarne Riis and his Saxo Bank outfit next season for a new team led by Dane Kim Andersen, showed in the final time trial in Pauillac that he was closing the gap on Contador against the clock too.
"To lose only 30 seconds on Contador in a time trial is like a victory. It should give him extra motivation for next year," said Cancellara.
On this Tour, Andy probably suffered from the absence of brother Frank, who crashed in stage three and whose help in the mountains might have helped topple the defending champion.
The history of cycling is full of brilliant runner-ups, from France`s Raymond Poulidor, who was barred by compatriot Jacques Anquetil, Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, who took part in 16 Tours in the shadow of Eddy Merckx then Bernard Hinault, to Germany`s Jan Ullrich, constantly overshadowed by Lance Armstrong.
Schleck would certainly not like to be linked to such brilliant second fiddles but he has at least the consolation of being far more popular than Contador.
His youth, good looks and mastery of four languages have made him a crowd favourite on this Tour.
He could become much more soon, if Contador lets him. For the Spaniard warned: "Andy was not stronger this year. It`s me who was weaker."