The Schlecks need to be rebooted

News & Results

03/12/2013| 0 comments
by Neil Browne
Andy Schleck in this year's Tirreno-Adriatico (RadioShack-Leopard) Fotoreporter Sirotti

The Schlecks need to be rebooted

2014 is the year of the Schlecks.

The Schleck brothers have had careers that most would be happy to have. That said, it’s not easy being a Schleck.

Older brother Fränk has won stages in the Tour of California, Tour de Luxembourg, Tour de France, taken the overall in the Tour de Suisse, and second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, to name a few of his successes. Heck, he finished third overall in the 2011 Tour de France!

The 2012 season was sparser for Fränk. It was the second year that he and his brother Andy were riding for RadioShack-Nissan under director Johan Bruyneel. There’s a smattering of top three placings, but no classic and no grand tour stage wins. Then the bombshell drops - during the Tour de France his A-sample returned traces of Xipamide, a diuretic which can be used as a masking agent. He was kicked out of the Tour and then suspended by his RadioShack-Nissan team. Late last year the Luxembourg Anti-Doping Agency stated that the older Schleck didn’t purposely take the drug. So instead of a two year suspension he received a one year ban and can return to competition this July.

Younger brother Andy also has had a solid career. In 2009, back in the Saxo Bank days, Andy was second in Flèche Wallonne, won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and finished second in the Tour de France.

In 2010 his season is filled with consistent placing with the cherry on top being his second place in the Tour de France, which was bumped to first after Alberto Contador was popped for clenbuterol.

The 2011 season was another decent year as the Schlecks left Team Saxo Bank and were now at Leopard-Trek with Andy taking a second place in the Tour de France. But the worm turned in 2012.

Andy’s best 2012 results were 32nd at the Tour of Oman and 50th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He didn’t even start in the Tour because of a nagging injury.

That run of bad luck continued in the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico. He almost crashed in the team time trial and in the pouring rain of stage 6, Andy pulled to the side of the road and got into the broom wagon.

Immediately the social media lit into Andy. He hadn’t finished a stage race since the 2012 Tour of Oman in February and while he finished the one-day GP di Camaiore race in February, prior to that he hadn’t finished a race since the 2012 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Sure he was coming back from a crash in the Criterium du Dauphine stage 4 time trial fracturing his sacrum, AKA the tail bone, and was suffering from a knee injury. However, the public didn’t remember or didn’t care. I hope Andy stayed away from the internet because the public beat him like a red headed step-child.

There was much talk that Andy was suffering from the psychological effects of being separated from his brother or that the public criticism of his then director Bruyneel sent him into a downward spiral. Who the heck knows?

The RadioShack-Leopard director Dirk Demol thinks he might have a clue. In the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Demol thinks that Andy still isn’t right in the head after his time trial crash at the Dauphine.

“Andy still doesn’t feel safe, even on a regular bike. In the team time trial (at Tirreno-Adriatico), he was dropped on the descent. The speed went to 75, 80 kilometers per hour and all of a sudden he was uncertain.”

While Andy’s Tirreno-Adriatico is over, RadioShack is hoping in seven weeks he’ll be able to be a factor in this year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

I’m not so sure. You have to expect that type of positive reinforcement from team management. They can’t say, “Well the Schlecks turned out to be a huge waste of money. We’re hoping Chris Horner can race until he’s 45.”

Why is it that when Andy DQs he gets ridiculed so ferociously? It’s because we expect more from someone who has had, up until 2012, an impressive resume: stage wins, classic victory and on the top step of a grand tour. If he was just a worker bee no one would notice that Andy hasn’t finished a stage race for more than a year. And the public demands that our stars perform. There is a darker suggestion to why the Schlecks haven’t been a factor in the races for so long.

If there’s anything we’ve learned these past few weeks it is that organized team-wide doping didn’t mysteriously stop in 2006. Rabobank had an aggressive doping program and Michael Rasmussen, who rode for the Dutch squad from 2003 to 2007, gave a television interview naming names of what, when, and how they doped on the squad. Prior to the US Postal Service team, we had Festina and before them the PDM team. So excuse me if I don’t think organized team-wide doping has stopped. Maybe it’s not as aggressive with a potpourri of performance enhancing drugs, but more selective products that might not put a rider in “glow time” during a race and therefore are untraceable or at least harder to detect.

In 2012 Team Sky employed Dr. Geert Leinders who, according to Levi Leipheimer and now Michael Rasmussen, supplied them with EPO during their Rabobank days. Sky didn’t renew the doctor’s contract later in the year. I just can’t naïvely say that because Sky states they have a strict anti-doping policy there was no way Dr. Leinders was encouraging doping. I’m merely stating facts - a doctor with strong ties to doping allegations was working with a team that should have Googled “Dr. Geert Leinders” as part of their vetting process.

In 2011 Bruyneel had his dirty paws all over the RadioShack squad. Could he still have had his doping habits in place? Remember, Fränk has admitted to paying the infamous Dr. Fuentes seven-thousand euros for “training advice.” That’s a whole lot of advice for interval training or fast-cadence climbing drills. You can get training advice much cheaper by signing up for the training tracker service in the right column of this page.

In 2012 Bruyneel is gone from the RadioShack team and the Schlecks’ results hit a new low. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think Bruyneel was a masterful director and without him the team was going to flounder. But I can’t help but wonder if something else was going on behind closed doors.

Whatever the case may be Andy Schleck needs to get back on track with his training or sit down with Dr. Phil to discuss any possible separation anxiety issues he may have. I liked watching the Schlecks at the Tour de France. Andy’s “My stomach is full of anger and I want revenge” quote is classic!

But if Andy does make a strong comeback to the Tour will people continue to whisper “not normal,” or more likely yell it? Looks like Andy is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If he does poorly at the Tour people will mock him, if he does well people will suspect. Those are the times cycling lives in. No one is above suspicion.

The best Andy can do is split the middle - do okay at L-B-L and then in the Tour win a stage and finish in the top 15. Fränk comes back later this year and in 2014 the Schlecks reboot on another team away from the RadioShack drama.

So I’m saying it once and owning it - 2014 is the year of the Schlecks!

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