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Almost three months to the day that he was forced out of the Tour de France due to a knee injury, Andy Schleck has confirmed that the same problem was forcing him to quit the sport at just 29 years of age.
The Trek Factory Racing rider and his team called a press conference in Luxembourg Thursday morning and, as was anticipated, Schleck said that he was ending his time as a professional rider.
“I’m obviously disappointed to end my career like this,” he said. “I would have liked to keep on fighting but my knee just doesn’t allow it.”
Schleck has been working with specialists and also trying to train on the island of Majorca, but admits to frustration with the situation.
“Since my crash in the UK there has hardly been any progress,” he explained. “While the ligaments have healed, the damaged cartilage is another story. I have been working hard on rehabbing the knee but came to the hard realization that at the risk of irreversibly injuring it, this is the best course of action.”
His elder brother and fellow Trek Factory Racing team-mate Fränk Schleck had also suggested in recent weeks that there was a risk of permanent damage to the knee.
Turning pro in 2005 at just 19 years of age, he showed prodigious ability when he finished second overall in the 2007 Giro d’Italia and took the best young rider award. He was then twelfth in the following year’s Tour de France, his debut in the event, and finished second overall in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
His 2010 result was later upgraded to first overall after Alberto Contador tested positive for clenbuterol.
He also won the 2009 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, took the mountains classification in 2006 Tour of Britain and the 2011 Tour de Suisse, won two elite national time trial championships and one road race title and took stages in the Tour de France, the Tour de Luxembourg and the Sachsen Tour. He was fourth in the 2008 Olympic road race, narrowly missing out on a medal.
However Schleck’s career took a difficult path in 2012 when he crashed heavily in the Critérium du Dauphiné and fractured his pelvis.
Suffering pain and discomfort, he struggled to get back to form but was able to finish a solid 20th in the 2013 Tour de France. He started this year’s Tour still short of form, but said he would ride support for his brother Fränk and Haimar Zubeldia, and that he hoped to be able to fight for a stage win towards the end of the race.
Things didn’t go to plan, with a crash on stage three to London causing the injury which forced him to withdraw the following morning. His ligaments and meniscus around the right knee were badly damaged and he subsequently underwent an operation.
Although his young age suggests that he could otherwise have many more years in the sport, he said he accepted the situation and was looking ahead rather than back.
“Cycling has been my life for many years and I will need time to figure out what I’d like to do. Luckily I can count on my family, friends, and Trek who have always supported me,” he said. “I am very happy to have trained and raced alongside my brother and to have made some of the best friends that I have.
“I have always said that cycling is not the beginning and the end of my life. I have a wonderful girlfriend and a wonderful son. I’m excited to find out what lies ahead.”
Trek’s Vice President Joe Vadeboncoeur described the rider as having been a natural fit for the Trek family. Schleck and the company first worked together as part of the Leopard Trek team in 2011 and have been together since then.
“It has always been more about family than anything else at Trek, and so it is with Andy,” he said. “On top of that, Andy is one of the most talented cyclists of all time. Many of my best days as a cycling fan have been while watching Andy race.
“We have celebrated the great days and endured the difficult ones alongside him. I know great things are ahead for Andy. He will always have friends and a family at Trek.”
Schleck’s retirement is the second high-profile departure from the team in recent weeks. Jens Voigt has also ended his time with the sport, although he made a return last month to break the world hour record.
Also see: Andy Schleck interview: “The criticism is sometimes a big issue” [link]