Andy Schleck has defended his disappointing ride in the opening time trial stage of Paris-Nice on Sunday where he lost a minute to Bradley Wiggins over the 9.4km course.

“I didn’t have such a good feeling in my legs today but don’t take this as a reference,” Schleck said via the RadioShack-Nissan website.

“This is my first big competition of the season. On the top of the climb I had same time as Maxime [Monfort - team-mate] but then I didn’t have the forces to push the big gear. This was a TT for the big engines. This is not a real test for me.

“The distance was too short and it’s too too early,” Schleck summed up.

Team Sky leader Wiggins will also be contending for the overall victory at the Tour de France this summer, but he has already shown that he is in top form – winning the time trial stage of the Tour of the Algarve in February and placing second behind stage winner Gustav Larsson on Sunday.

Schleck has allegedly been working on his time trial skills over the winter with Johan Bruyneel, team manager of RadioShack-Nissan. However, finishing in 142nd place and a minute down on rival Wiggins shows that there still a lot of work to be done before the Tour kicks off on Saturday, June 30.

Coincidentally, Alberto Contador won Paris-Nice in 2010 before winning the Tour de France title that year – a title that has now defaulted to Andy Schleck after Contador was banned for testing positive for clenbuterol at the race and stripped of the win.

Schleck was by no means the only pre-race favourite to lose time on Sunday. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Nissan), Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), and perhaps most surprisingly defending Paris-Nice champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) all finished well down the order.

Only American Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) looks to be on a par with Wiggins, placing third on the stage, four seconds behind Larsson.

Paris-Nice concludes on Sunday, March 11, with another individual stage against the clock – a 9.6km climb to Col d’Eze, which on paper should suit Andy Schleck’s climbing skills better than last Sunday’s opener. And, of course, there are six climb-packed road stages sandwiched between the two short time trials.

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Paris-Nice 2012: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index