Having signed a two-year contract extension at Trek Factory Racing, Frank Schleck’s future is secure, and after a difficult period the Luxembourg rider is looking forward to working with new signing Bauke Mollema at next year’s Tour de France.
Cyclingnews caught up with Schleck to talk about his comeback season and hopes for 2015. Did he have the chance to sign for MTN in 2013? Does he still consider himself a Tour contender, and will his brother Andy ever race again?
Cyclingnews: You’ve signed a new deal with Trek Factory Racing for the next two years. When we spoke to you after San Sebastian, your future was undecided, so how did the contract extension come about?
Frank Schleck: It’s fair enough to say that the team always stuck behind me but nothing was clear at that point. I did a good Tour de France and during the race all the talks and negotiations started. I always hoped to stay and it’s a great team. I’ve been here since the start and for me it’s a bunch of friends rather than a team. From my side and from Trek's, the negotiations went quickly and I’m here for two years.
CN: Does it feel like a much changed team since the start when it was Leopard? On the outside it seems very different.
FS: It’s a very different team. Leopard is no longer and this is totally different but we started with Trek and that still feels the same. It’s a family with friendship and trust so the basics are the same. At the same time, it’s an American team with nothing to do with Leopard, which makes it much better.
CN: Since coming back from your year-long ban for a sample containing Xipamede have your aspirations changed since, say 2011, when you were at the top end of a Grand Tour?
FS: Well I know it’s still going to be hard to win a race like the Tour, but I want to perform well there. I missed two years of Grand Tour riding when I came back this year. I did okay but I lost eight minutes on the cobbles, which was way too much, but in 2011 me and Andy were close to winning the Tour. I know that’s going to be hard to repeat but I want to focus on that and it has to be the goal, or the dream. I still want to be in the top 10.
CN: One rider joining the team is Bauke Mollema. What do you know about him as a rider and person?
FS: Bauke is a very good guy and he has his feet on the ground. I appreciate that a lot and he’s easy to get along with. I had a chance to spend time with him at Curacao for a couple of end of season trips and we hung out and we know each other. He’s a hard worker and he’s consistent throughout the racing year. He’s shown that he’s a GC rider. He’s been more consistent than me over the last two years so if we turn up together at a race and I can help him, then that’s good. Of course, the race decides who takes which role but from this point it’s fair to say that he could be good leader and then we’ll take it from there. I’m ready to sacrifice and help him as much as a I can and with that basis we can be a good team. We also have Arredendo, Jungles, Zoidl, myself and Zubeldia, so we have the core of a good team. Maybe Zubeldia turns out to be the rider, like he was this year at the Tour, so the roles can change but we help each other. With Andy we went to big races with two leaders and we sacrificed for each other and that’s the plan for the future of the team.
CN: During your period out of competition, Trek tried to get you a short term contract at MTN, and there was a possibility of you racing with MTN at the end of the 2013 season in order to prepare you for 2014. Was that really an option?
FS: It was one of the options but it’s always hard to start a season at that point. I understood but there’s a points system behind it and there’s more behind it, but they wanted me to race. The Trek business always stood behind me and that’s where the option came from.
CN: Were there other options when it came to 2015?
FS: Yes there were, but my first priority was this team and I’m satisfied with that.
CN: Your manager Luca Guercilena says that the team is building for the future. How has he made an imprint on this team?
FS: He grew into the position he has and he’s a good team manager. He takes his role seriously and he definitely has made a mark on the team. It’s not always easy to manage a team and we had some hard moments this season but he supports the riders. So as long as we work hard and do our jobs he stands by us and for a rider you can’t ask for more.
CN: What’s the latest on your brother Andy?
FS: He needs to take care of his knee, most importantly. He spent some time in Mallorca training and he’s waiting on his knee getting better. We’re all waiting on that. That’s the first priority and then we’ll take it from there and that’s all I can say. I would love to say more, but we just have to wait on his knee and then he’ll base a decision on that.
CN: We spoke to him just after his operation and he talked positively in terms of coming back but it was clear he was upset about his latest setback.
FS: He’s had a hard year, there’s no doubt. He fought hard to come back and I think he was getting better at the Tour de Suisse and even in the Tour he was fit and skinny. He wasn’t going to win the Tour but he was fit. Then he crashed and it’s another step back for him. It’s not easy for him and it’s sad for me because we always used to be together and now we just have to see what comes next.
CN: Do you think he’ll race again?
FS: I don’t know. We have to wait and see. It’s not going to help if we think or believe or even talk about it because we just don’t know. The priority is the knee. A cycling career lasts a certain number of years but if he ruins his knee long term then he has his whole life with that potential problem. We don’t want that and I think it’s fair to say he’s had a brilliant career and he’s done a lot but now it’s time to give him space. Once we know about the knee we’ll make plans for the future. Speculation counts for little.