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Almost a month has passed since the day he announced that his career was no more. Since then Andy Schleck has worked on coming to terms with a premature departure from the sport, a decision forced by a Tour de France crash that ruptured his knee and abruptly stopped the clock.
Second in the Giro d’Italia at just 21 years of age, what was expected to be a fifteen year career ended prior to his 30th birthday.
The twist in the tale meant his ambition of wearing yellow in Paris never came to pass. His Tour win, which came in 2010, was decided in the Court of Arbitration for Sport rather than on the Champs Elysees. Alberto Contador’s positive test for clenbuterol handed him the victory and while Schleck vowed at the time to win at least one Tour on the road and thus be able to fully savour the victory, it was not to be.
Speaking four weeks after hanging up his wheels, Schleck said that he is gradually coming to terms with his new life.
“At the beginning, of course, it was really hard to accept the situation, that was I was going to stop as a professional cyclist. That I have to go in another direction,” he told CyclingTips on Friday, voice wavering slightly. “But I can see things both sides.
“I am only turning 30 so I can still do a lot with my life. I always said that cycling is my passion, that it’s my hobby and my job. But it is not my life.
“Now I have got a beautiful son named Theo and I have a lovely girlfriend. One day I am going to marry her, she will be my wife. I am very happy at the moment. I just have relax a little bit and see what the future brings.”
The details of that future are yet to emerge, but Schleck confirmed Friday that he will remain part of the sport.
“I have ideas in my head that I don’t want to comment on just now because it is so early,” he stated. “But what I can tell you is I will stay involved with cycling. I love it too much to just let it go.
“I should be able to say more at the beginning of 2015.”
Schleck turned pro in 2005 at just 19 years of age and underlined his talent two years later when he was runner-up in the Giro d’Italia and scooped 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.
That 2010 result was later upgraded to first overall after Alberto Contador’s positive test.
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.
Given his youth, he seemed destined to clock up many more big performances but everything changed due to two crashes.
The first, in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné, fractured his pelvis, and put paid to his hopes to win that year’s Tour. He struggled for two seasons and started this year’s Tour accepting a position as backup to his brother Frank Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia.
His goal was to ride into form and, providing the legs were there, to try for a stage win later in the race. Instead, he came a cropper on day three and while he was able to limp into the finish in London, he was a non-starter the following morning.
Big reaction helps smooth rough moment:
Schleck’s resolve had already been eroded by that first accident in 2012. When the second tarmac trauma occurred, his morale took a serious knock.
However the physical effect was even more pronounced and medical experts concluded that there was no way back.
Saying goodbye was difficult, but he told CyclingTips that the reaction from people then and since have helped dilute the disappointment.
“It’s been very, very, very, very good, I have to say,” he stated. “I got a lot of phone calls, even from the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. He called and thanked for me for the ten years when I made Luxembourg popular in the States and over the whole world. That was something really touching for me.”
Getting strong feedback from people gave him a reminder of what he did, and conveyed a sense of appreciation.
“Of course the reaction makes it easier,” he acknowledged.
So too the assessment of what he achieved. “I did ten years professional on a very high level. I achieved a lot. Some victories I had will still be in the books in 100 years,” he said.
“The one of the Galiber, the Tourmalet, Morzine-Avoriaz. Also, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. I was not winning it just from a sprint, I won by attacking from far away. Nobody could believe that I could achieve it, but I believed it.
“It was something great. That is something that sticks in people’s hearts.”
Victories aside, he said that the manner of his performances were also something he looked back upon with satisfaction.
“For me, I am proud of the results I did, but I am more proud of the fair play. I always played in game of cycling towards my other competitors,” he explained.
“I don’t include doping in there because I was always clean during my whole career. But just when someone crashed….when he was in the GC [a general classification rival – ed.], I said to the peloton, ‘wait until he is back and see how he is.’
“I never wanted to gain time on someone by a crash or a puncture or incident. There were many times when that was the case and I was always the first one to say, ‘come on, let’s wait for Alberto.’”
He was consequently irked when Contador appeared to attack him at a crucial point during the 2010 Tour, surging clear when Schleck’s chain dropped on stage 15 to Bagnères-de-Luchon.
“He didn’t wait, but that is his personality,” he said, bringing up that stage.
“I am a better person. I did it differently and I felt good with it.”
”I can be proud of what I did”
Schleck’s enforced stop and the month since have given him a chance to assess his career and weigh up the things he achieved. It has also enabled him to reflect on the impression he made.
He said that he takes satisfaction from how he is perceived by those who were his fellow competitors.
“I think the riders who know me in the peloton have a lot of respect for me,” he said. “They respect my decision now because I can’t go on, my knee won’t let me. But I was there, I wrote history and that is what is the most important thing.
“For me now, I can stand up straight, push my chest out and be proud of what I did.”
Asked to weigh up his ten years in the peloton, he singles out two achievements as being of particular significance.
Both came from the 2011 Tour de France. The first was a solo achievement, while the second was something that he and his elder brother pulled off and which made cycling history.
“I think the victory on the Galibier is a beautiful memory,” he said, referring to his long distance attack and the resulting stage 18 win. “Then the podium with Frank and me, being second and third in Paris.
“That is something that was never done before and I believe it will take a long, long, long time until perhaps some other family will achieve the same thing.
“That was fantastic – we were both on the podium in Paris and millions of people around were cheering at us. Cadel was on the top but the people were cheering, it was fantastic.”
It appeared then that his level was still rising, but that afternoon in Paris would represent the final high point in his career.
Three years on, Evans is about to retire while Schleck, eight years his junior, has already had to do so.
He’s trying to remain active, but still has discomfort from his knee. The situation has changed since he bid farewell to competitive sport, though, and so he doesn’t feel under the same pressure as before in relation to the injury.
He’d like to be symptom free, but isn’t beating himself up about it.
“I don’t really ride my bike at the moment. I take it a little bit easy,” he explained. “I started walking a lot during the day, but very carefully. I cannot sit at home and do nothing.
“But, right now if I have pain in the evening, I don’t really care because I know I don’t need to ride the bike the next day for five hours. I don’t have any training that I have to do.
“If I walk or do some hard walking and I have a bit of pain, I don’t worry.”
Asked if he believes that his knee will improve over time, though, he can’t yet give an answer.
“Maybe,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t know yet..we will see. I will see…”
Whatever happens in that regard, though, he seems determined to maintain his link with the sport. The nature of that link should become more clear over time.