March 30, 2009
From reminiscing over Abdoujaparov packing heat with his dad to anonymous teammates dancing to the Step Up 2 on the Saxo Bank bus, it's been another action-packed month for the younger Schleck as he manages to find time to reflect and build his form despite more setbacks.
No matter how much I try and look to the future as a bike rider, there's always a part of me that's looking into the past. As a child I remember Djamolidine Abdoujaparov coming to stay with my family, as he and my father were friends. I'd watched the sprinter on television so many times - the way he'd sway across the road, stomping through the opposition, before throwing his bike towards the line. I must have been around 11 or 12 years old and I was so awestruck seeing him in our house.
During his visits my father and Abdoujaparov would hunt in the corn fields near our house, before coming back to show off the day's spoils usually a wild pig that we'd skin and cook ourselves or hand out to friends. For them it was precious time away from the hustle and bustle of professional cycling and work, and now I can see why they used to enjoy it so much. It was their time of peace and reflection and it's something I've grown to appreciate over the last few months.
"...It was pretty hilarious, with gangly cyclists trying to perform dance steps on a moving bus." - Andy Schleck explains another example of Saxo Bank team spirit.
A lot has happened in the last month and I've had mixed fortunes throughout. Last time I checked in with Cyclingnews I'd just finished in the top ten at Eroica and was on my way to Tirreno-Adriatico. That race was always about building form for the rest of the season and not about the results but even at this stage in my season things aren't going in the direction I want them to.
From Achilles problems to sickness at training camp, it has been tough. At the end of the Tour of California I was in starting to feel better but then on the second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico I strained my knee and had a small inflammation. It wasn't a major problem but it was enough to put a downer on things and I was forced to pull out before stage six.
Before pulling out I had one really surreal moment with my teammates. After one stage finish we had a really long transfer that took about three hours. Luckily the team bus is pretty pimped out, with a huge TV at the back, room to sleep four and a sound system even Jay Z would be proud of. The team was bored and all we could find was a movie called Step Up.
Don't ask me how it found its way onto the bus or who took it home, but we stuck it on and by the end we were all on our feet trying to replicate the moves.
I won't say who was there [ed here's a handy start list] but it was pretty hilarious, with gangly cyclists trying to perform dance steps on a moving bus. The riders and management at the front must have thought we were off our heads. But that's our team spirit for you. We all like to have fun together and there are no big egos.
Sanremo champagne on hold
At Milano-Samremo I was in much better spirits and was glad to get Tirreno out of my mind. I was lying in fourth place on the second-to-last climb and was starting to feel like I had strong legs. I eased up a bit as we approached the top, in order to save energy, and slipped back a few places.
But on the descent I messed things up on a corner. It was the type of bend that you need to take at full speed; without even feathering the brakes, but I totally misjudged it and braked hard, losing a hundred meters. Riders were yelling at me but there was no way I could chase when there were four Liquigas riders on the front of the bunch pushing hard. Game over for me and game over for my teammate Stuart O'Grady, who crashed out.
His crash was a blow for the team but for me it was another personal set-back as he's a good friend of mine and it's never nice to see a friend fall. I spoke to him on the phone and we talked at length. I've come to realise that sometimes these things happen and there's nothing you can do about it. But since that chat, my fortunes have started to look up.
Stepping up and reaffirming my ambition
Bobby Julich has been staying at Frank's house for the past few days. Just like Abdoujaparov's visits, it has been good having a friendly face about the place. Today I did three hours in the rain with Frank, Fuglsang and Chris Anker Sorenson.
Bobby was out with us and he made us do some time trial training with him, which included a team time trial and then some tests on the bikes that will help us in the future. I'm also riding pain-free for the first time this year. Frank's neighbour is an osteopath and she's cured my Achilles problems with a series of different treatments. It's a miracle and she's my new hero.
Since I've been back home I've been walking my dogs every day. I usually take them out over the grounds my dad hunts on. There are no wild pigs around but quite often the dogs will get the scent of a rabbit and run off at speed into the trees. Once they dart off and are out of sight I'm left alone with my thoughts.
Like my dad's hunting, this is my time for reflection. Two years ago this week I was just coming back from a skiing trip. I'd spent eight days off the bike and on the slopes and went straight to the Criterium International with no form or miles in my legs. I was dragging myself around and felt awful, although I went on to finish second in the Giro a couple of months later.
I guess what I'm saying is that when I think back to that time I can see how far I've come as a rider. I know I still have a long way to go and that my development is crucial if I'm to reach my goals but I'm certainly maturing and I know that when I train and have a clear run of health that things will come for me. I'll be there when it really matters.