Andy Schleck. A rescue plan for a head case.

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Andy Schleck you are not alone: Felix Baumgartner has felt your pain.

The three time Tour de France runner-up (until his 2010 upgrade to winner) hasn’t been remotely the same rider since he crashed last year in the Critérium du Dauphiné and cracked his tail bone. Now, according to his team, he’s nervous riding in the pack and terrified of fast descents.

The new consensus is that they can fix Andy’s physical issues but the crucial repair work is physiological. In short, Andy’s cracked pelvis has gone to his head.

That’s where Baumgartner comes in. Three years ago, the Austrian BASE jumper was the star of Red Bull’s Stratos project. The multimillion dollar stunt was to carry Baumgartner 24 miles above earth and have him parachute down in the world’s highest free-fall.

As the January 2013 story in Outside Magazine recounted, there was just one major hitch. Baumgartner had become terrified of wearing his NASA-style space suit. Like Schleck, he was freaking out mentally and the entire operation was in jeopardy.

The savior in Baumgartner’s head case was a Los Angeles sports psychologist named Michael Gervais. A number of sessions with Gervais and soon the extreme sport star was back in action and back in his suit.

The story on Gervais is that he teaches his athletes five core skills: self-talk, arousal control, goal setting, visualization and pre-performance routines. Now, Gervais has worked worked with top stars in every sport including gold medal volleyball player Kerri Walsh. Schleck might be his next high profile client.

The question becomes, can Gervais stop Andy Sckleck from freaking out when he’s ripping down a dangerous descent in the French Alps at speeds approaching 70 miles an hour?

It’s worth reading this quote from Baumgartner on his mental state before he started working with Gervais because it sure sounds like something Andy Schleck might say: “I thought it would get better, but it became worse. Everyone put their trust in me. It was embarrassing.”

The parallels between the BASE jumper and the pro bike racer are strong. Baumgartner’s career was in free-fall and at this point what other description should we use for Schleck’s prospects? He has gone from star Tour de France contender to seriel DNF. Yesterday he abandoned Tirreno-Adriatico on stage six, another set-back in a long list of set-backs.

The anxiety attacks that hit Baumgartner whenever he put on the claustrophobic space suit are the same ones that Andy experiences when he races down a mountain.

Twisted Spoke hopes to see Schleck the Younger back in action and battling Contador and Froome and Nibali in the 2014 Tour de France. We’re hoping RadioShack Leopard DS Luca Guercilena is making a long distance call to Los Angeles right about now.

Michael Gervais, can you get the next flight to Luxembourg?

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  • imakecircles

    Interesting article. One of the most interesting part of sports to me is the psychological component. Seems to me to be where the rubber meets the road in terms of applying lessons learned in cycling to the wider sphere of life.

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Yes, you’re right. At the very top end, it’s not the physical talents that separate the champions from the riders who never make the podium. It’s the mental strength. Matt

  • Ken

    Maybe LA and JB should give back Andy’s scarf…..

    • http://www.atwistedspoke.com walshworld

      Ahh, the scarf. That will be a critical question for Andy’s sports psychologist to determine. Very deeply meaningful. Matt

  • caracas2

    Still doesn t explain why he s much slower time trailing and going up hills. Seems to me if he sorted that his confidence would come back and he d stop freaking out.