Professional road cycling needs Andy Schleck to be the rider we all know he can be, but with the announcement of yet another race deadline left unmet, I am starting to wonder if we are seeing a sporting decline that is permanent.
There's more to it than respiratory problems. Andy’s problems are bigger. Mental (strength) is also important for a cyclist - Luca Guercilena
The Tour of Oman is almost complete with some of the world’s best showing that they are ready for the Grand Tour battles to come. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez and Bradley Wiggins will all leave the Sultanate’s capital, Muscat, having proved their 2013 goals are on track for realisation, but one rider is missing from that calculation. Andy Schleck.
The RadioShack Leopard Trek star continues to struggle with his preparations for 2013, first with a last stage abandon at the Santos Tour Down Under, then another DNF at the Tour Méditerranéen.
Overnight we had news that the continuity to Schleck’s season was again broken, with the 2010 Tour de France winner not even making it to the start line at the Tour du Haut Var-Matin.
RadioShack Leopard Trek management said Schleck is now free of the respiratory tract infection which forced him out of the Tour Méditerranéen, but decided a cautious approach was needed in bringing him back to race fitness.
“We were happy to see Andy doing well in training the last few days,” said Team Manager Luca Guercilena. “There is however a big difference between training and race situations. We want to prevent a relapse because of the race. Andy’s main goals are situated later in the season. It’s better that we are cautious now instead of taking steps backward.”
The Luxembourger has not posted a single credible performance this season. Contrast that with another rider who struggled during the 2012 Tour de France (still finishing 7th) due to an illness which forced him to abandon the the last half of that season. Cadel Evans.
The experienced Evans has crafted a steady return to competitiveness and looks to have captured a podium place in his first stage race of the season. Barring illness or accident it’s fair to say we can again be confident about his future prospects.
But Evans may have something that Schleck does not. Grit. Or as the Italians like to call it, grinta. You can’t be the best without it.
Like all great riders, Evans is patient when things go wrong and knows how to struggle through the bad times, as he did at the 2012 Tour - emerging stronger than ever for the trials ahead. It’s not so clear that Schleck has the same talent.
Schleck appears to be the kind of rider who cannot perform unless every condition is met. Perfect fitness, a tailored parcours or the right pastries in the feed station musette. It’s become clear that he is a high maintenance rider.
It’s not quite panic stations yet but RadioShack Leopard Trek must be wondering if their high priced investment is worth the effort.
Earlier this month team manager Guercilena told Sporza "There's more to it than respiratory problems. Andy’s problems are bigger. Mental (strength) is also important for a cyclist.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement in Schleck’s abilities to overcome adversity.
Schleck will now head to Mallorca to continue his preparations and is next set to line up at the Grand Premio Città di Camaiore in Italy.
There his season begins anew, but how many of these new starts will we have before he is permanently considered an also ran in our calculations for the Tour de France, or any other race?