Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Writing in advance of Thursday’s press conference called by Trek Factory Racing and Andy Schleck in Luxembourg, that country’s L’Essentiel newspaper has reported that the rider is set to announce his retirement from professional cycling.
Citing what it said was information received by it, the paper said that Trek Factory Racing has not offered Schleck a contract for 2015. The 29 year old has been struggling with a knee injury suffered on stage three of the Tour de France, and has apparently decided to end his time as a professional rider.
The Luxembourg competitor showed prodigious ability when he finished second overall in the 2007 Giro d’Italia at just 21 years of age. 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 told CyclingTips in June that he had been negatively affected by some of the criticism thrown at him by fans and the media. “The comments have been hard at times,” he said. “Most people don’t understand cycling. The criticism is sometimes a big issue. What has been written about me has been hard because I am just a human being.
“I can look today back on my career and be proud of what I achieved. I had a good career and I won’t give up. I could stop tomorrow and say, ‘listen, I had my good times,’ but that is not it. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone…but I am a fighter. I like to still fight on the bike and show something.”
Schleck said then that returning to a high level was not something he wanted to do in order to answer the critics, but rather for himself and those close to him.
“I don’t do it to show anyone outside, I do it for me, my family,” he explained. “Cycling is too hard to sacrifice day and night and being away from your family 290 days a year…it is too hard to do that to just show the people. You have to have a bigger motivation than that.”
He started this year’s Tour committing to ride for his brother Fränk and Haimar Zubeldia, but also said that he hoped to be able to chase a strong stage result in the final week.
Speaking prior to the start of that race, his mentor Kim Andersen appeared to accept that Schleck had lost focus. He said that his slow return to form was due to more than just his crash. “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. 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.”
However the possibility of that happening suffered a blow when the rider crashed hard towards the end of the third stage of the Tour de France. He damaged his knee and was forced to withdraw from the event; both his team and his brother Fränk subsequently confirmed that the injury was a lingering one, complicating his chances of getting back to form.
The news this week that he and the team would hold a press conference on Thursday led to speculation that the rider might be walking away from the sport at what is a very young age.
L’Essentiel claims that is indeed the case, although confirmation of that will almost certainly not come until the conference itself.
If so, Schleck’s fans will be disappointed that a career which burned so brightly at times is fizzling out in this way. They will be left with thoughts of what might have been had he not crashed in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné, or indeed in this year’s Tour de France.
Also see: Andy Schleck interview: “The criticism is sometimes a big issue” [link]