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Trek Factory Racing directeur sportif Kim Andersen has hinted that the reason for Andy Schleck’s ongoing reduction in form is due to the rider’s motivation levels, but believes that if he can remain focussed, that he can return to the top.
The Dane is close to both of the Schleck brothers and has seen both lose their place near the top of the Tour de France hierarchy. Andy Schleck won the race in 2010 and finished second in 2011; Fränk Schleck was third in the latter edition.
Since then Andy crashed hard in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné and hasn’t returned to his usual level since then, while Fränk incurred a one year ban after he tested positive for the diuretic xipamide in the 2012 Tour.
He has ridden at a solid level this year and is aiming for top ten or better in the Tour; his younger brother has said he will ride this year’s race as a domestique.
CyclingTips spoke to Andersen in the build-up to the Tour and while he chose his words carefully and diplomatically, it was clear that he feels Andy Schleck has lacked his previous focus.
“He needs more work. You slowly need to realise how much you need to work when you get older. But he is on the way now; if he likes, I am sure he can come back,” he said.
Andersen was asked if Schleck’s bad crash in 2012 and the time he was forced to spend away from racing was the reason for his slow return to form.
“No, I think it was changing in lifestyle and everything. He had a lot of problems, with first injury, then later on with Frank [his brother’s suspension – ed.] and so on. It was not the same life as it was before. Then wife, kids…it changes everything. But for the moment I think he is on a good way.
“I am convinced, as he always said, if he wants to come back, if he really wants to, he can. I’m convinced of that. Sometimes when you are always on the skies, you need to go really deep [low]. Okay, he has been a long time deep, but mostly after time you want to come back. Hopefully he realises that before it is too late.”
Andersen confirmed that he does see signs in the rider’s mentality in recent months. He hopes that he remains on course and can continue to make progress.
“I think he is doing very good. He is happy…for the moment it is quite good.”
Fränk Schleck is returning to the race after one year away from the event. He told CyclingTips that he deliberately avoided watching the race on television last year, but is relieved to be back in the event now. “I feel like I was never gone,” he said. “It is nice to be back. The past is the past now. We live the present, what is today. I am looking forward for the next few weeks.”
He has ridden solidly this year during his comeback, but appeared to lack some power when attacking on climbs in races such as the Critérium International. He fired off many attacks but, unlike before, wasn’t able to break the elastic.
He confirmed that he feels that he is still building form and getting over the effects of the time off.
“Obviously last year I wasn’t riding, so that takes some time to compensate for that,” he said. “Don’t think that if you can train, or if you train hard, you compensate the whole year of not racing. It is not that easy.
“The first six months have been very, very quick. I have been back racing since February. That’s five months now. So I believe it is going up step by step, better and better with time. We saw also that with guys like Alberto [Contador]…he wasn’t racing for nine months and it took him a whole year to get back on this level.”
According to Andersen, top ten is the stated goal, but he believes Schleck might be able to finish higher than that. He pointed out that it was better to hold back on stated expectations and be surprised rather than aiming too high and ending up disappointed.
Asked where he believes his form is compared to his peak years, Schleck said it was a difficult point to assess.
“It is very hard to say,” he replied, “but we are going to show a nice Tour de France. Obviously guys like Froome, Nibali, Valverde are ahead of us, they are strong, very strong.
“But we have done our homework, we have done all we can. We are fit. So let’s get it done, let’s get racing.”
Listen to the audio clips above for these comments plus other quotes from Andersen and Schleck.