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The Trek Factory Racing Team has responded to rumours circulating in the French media and on Twitter about a biological passport case against its rider Andy Schleck, saying that such reports are completely unfounded.
“We don’t take it seriously. We haven’t heard anything, had no indications from the UCI, so we are not worried,” a team spokesman told CyclingTips.
“The team finds it absolutely ridiculous…that is how we feel about it. We are not worried at all. These rumours are unfair to Andy and we don’t take them seriously.”
Schleck was second in the 2009 and 2011 Tours and inherited the 2010 victory after Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol and was stripped of the title.
He crashed badly in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné, suffering a pelvic fracture, and took a long time to regain a solid racing level. He was 20th in last year’s Tour and while his results were quieter after that, he appeared to be in respectable form early on in this year’s race.
CyclingTips spoke to directeur sportif Kim Andersen in the build-up to the Tour. While he chose his words carefully and diplomatically, it was clear that he felt Schleck’s slow return to form was due to what at times had been a lack of focus and application.
“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 then.
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 Fränk [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. 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.”
Schleck had said that he intended riding the 2014 Tour as a domestique for his brother Fränk and Haimar Zubeldia, accepting that his form was not high enough to chase a high overall finish. He said that he hoped the race would give him the platform for a strong end of season, and that he could challenge for future Tour titles.
However his race came to a premature end when he crashed hard towards the end of stage three. He initially thought the damage was not too serious, but medical examinations revealed that the impact had ruptured the collateral and cruciate ligaments of the knee, caused a tear in the meniscus and also damaged the cartilage behind his patella.
He underwent surgery and was told he would have to use crutches for two weeks, then work on his rehabilitation.
Both of the Schleck brothers are in the final year of their current contract. Media reports in recent days suggested that while Fränk might be retained, Andy would likely not be offered a new contract.
CyclingTips asked the former about the situation prior to Wednesday’s stage start. “Let’s take that after the Tour,” said Fränk Schleck. “Right now I think we have two important stages to focus on and that’s all we are doing.”
The Trek Factory Racing spokesman confirmed that at this point in time, the older of the two brothers was more likely to be retained. However he said that no final decision had been made about Andy Schleck.
“The team is talking [to Fränk Schleck], but there is no deal at this point. He has been performing quite well so the team is definitely interested in talking.
“Fränk is more a priority than Andy at this point to see if we can find a deal. However that doesn’t mean that Andy is definitely out or something. We are willing to wait for that.”
Asked if that meant that the 29 year old would be given time to try to get back into shape this year, the spokesman confirmed this was the case.
“We are behind Andy. He has a serious injury. His shape going into the Tour was quite all right, so we are definitely not saying that we are getting rid of him.”