Has Andy Schleck become hors comprehension?
With his latest injury — a knee in the Amstel Gold race this last weekend — Andy Schleck has indeed fallen again, lower this time, and further from his distant goals.
It’s hard to read Schleck the Younger. He’s a personable guy, lovable even, and like anyone with an IQ over 100 who knows the game, he gives the correct answers to the interminable questions.
Will he ever come back to his former level, will he ever challenge for a podium in the Tour de France, will he ever ride with the confidence he once displayed when Alberto Contador was actually afraid of him? Andy always says the right things when those questions are posed.
The positive affirmations are valuable but the results are nowhere to be seen.
Patience grows thin, empathy wears out, the slack he’s been given is largely gone. At this point, with nothing positive in terms of results for this 2014 season so far and his Ardennes campaign gone with a knee injury, and the memory of his 2011 Tour de France podium fading fast, one has to ask the question: is Andy Schleck simply finished?
This was supposed to be the year he finally put his terrible crash and cracked pelvis behind him. A serious off-season re-commitment to training, the chance to ride side by side with his brother Frank, a patient and understanding Trek squad prepared to give him time — all those things should have pointed toward an inevitable outcome. This was the season that Andy Schleck started to climb up big mountains at insane speeds again.
The optimism act is getting hard to swallow for even diehard Schleck fans. He’s fast becoming a kind of joke, the young guy going through the motions with little clue that in fact his career isn’t just stalled, it’s dying. As cyclingnews points out, it’s been 1000 day since he posted a meaningful result (second, later marked up to first in the 2011 TDF).
You want classics superstar and teammate Fabian Cancellara to grab Andy by his lycra Trek collar and scream, “What the fuck are you doing?” You want passionate old man Jens Voigt to slap Andy in the face and tell him to shit or get off the pot. Really, we’re past the point of no return.
There’s an auto-pilot quality to everything Andy says these days. You just don’t quite know why he bothers with the sport. There’s been no really emotion since he said “I’ve got fire in my belly” after chain-gate in the Tour de France. The sport is simply too hard unless you have that fire to compete, to dominate, to make the others suffer.
His brother Frank has managed to pull himself back up to the front of the peloton. There’s every reason to believe that momentum will continue but Andy dangles at the back and based on recent Frank quotes, it feels like even he is finding it a challenge to put a positive spin on Andy’s efforts.
The same holds true for the management at Trek. Team manager and Schleck confidant Kim Andersen has been working the optimism angle all season. About month ago he delivered this hope-filled assessment: “For sure I hope that he’s back to a good level for the Tour. Things could be better, but he’s better than he was at this time last year. I am still optimistic.”
Yes, things could be better — and that was before the latest Ardennes-ending knee injury. Throw out Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and now what? It feels more and more likely that we might see Andy take his traditional chill-route to the Tour de France via the Tour of California. Fans love Andy in Cali no matter where he finishes on GC.
We keep coming back to the quote from tough-guy and Trek teammate Fabian Cancellara. “With his brother, they can go back to this good level,” said Cancellara. “It’s going to be hard for them. The level of the Tour has grown a lot. There are young riders coming up. There are teams that are working just for [the Tour]. They also must work.”
Difficult to work with an injured knee. Hard to regain the status of a grand tour contender when setbacks come one after the other. Perplexing to think that Andy Schleck may never again give Contador or Chris Froome a battle in the French Alps.