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Third, fourth and fifth in the past, a double stage winner and a former leader of the race, any possibility of Frank Schleck adding to his palmares in the Tour de France has been dashed with the announcement that he will miss this year’s event.
He and the Trek Factory Racing team announced Tuesday that the Luxembourg rider had been forced to scratch from this year’s startlist, with an ongoing injury to his right knee being blamed for the withdrawal.
A crash in Liège-Bastogne-Liège caused the issue and led to him also missing out on the final time trial in the Tour de Suisse. The lingering nature of the problem prompted the team to have an MRI scan in Basel’s Crossklinik on Monday and, as a result of that, the full nature of the problem has been revealed.
According to the squad, he has a distinct inflammation of the medial collateral ligament plus an unhealed bone injury.
“This is a big disappointment for me, of course, but it had been in the air for a while now,” he said, reacting to the diagnosis. “The pain never really lessened and the only way to let it heal would have been to take complete rest.
“It was a catch-22: if I wanted to make the Tour team, I had to rest. I needed to take a break in the preparation to let the knee heal. But if I wanted to be fit for the Tour, I needed to train hard.”
Schleck and the team had hoped there was enough time for things to settle down but this has proven not to be the case.
“The knee wasn’t getting any better during the Tour de Suisse, despite daily treatments and all of us hoping for a miracle,” he said. “We took the decision together and I think it’s correct. I can’t push it for 21 days straight and hope to make it to Paris. What I need is rest.”
In addition to missing the Tour, he will also forgo the national championships this coming Sunday.
He said that missing out on the Tour was a big blow to him. “The Tour is the race I love the most, despite that it’s three weeks of stress. I did a lot of sacrifices, we did a recon of the key stages. It’s disappointing not to be able to race there and fight for the team’s goals.”
Schleck’s program is still undecided, but the Tour of Spain could become his target. However he’ll first take two weeks completely off and hope that this gives his knee enough time to heal.
The setback follows his younger brother Andy’s tough times in recent years, with slow recovery from a crash in 2012 plus the damage from a fall in last year’s Tour de France preventing him from contending after his 2010 Tour win.
He retired from the sport prior to the start of this season, leaving Frank to continue alone. They had competed on the same teams for all of their careers.
Tour squad finalised
The Trek Factory Racing team has finalised its nine-man lineup for the race, with Bauke Mollema representing the general classification hopes and Fabian Cancellara aiming for success against the clock and on selected other stages.
Also confirmed are Julian Arredondo, Haimar Zubeldia, Markel Irizar, Gregory Rast, Laurent Didier, Stijn Devolder and the promising young Luxembourgish rider Bob Jungels, who will make his debut.
Mollema has finished sixth and tenth in the past and was fourth in the 2011 Vuelta.
Cancellara was expected by some to ride the Swiss national time trial championships Wednesday but, after winning it ten times since 2002, will miss this year’s event. His team stated that he wants to recover after the recent Tour de Suisse, where he finished second in the prologue and third in the final time trial.
He will compete instead in Sunday’s road race championships and then travel to Utrecht prior to the Tour start on July 4.