In his first interview since knee surgery on Wednesday, Andy Schleck has told Cyclingnews that he will spend several weeks off the bike but that he will fight to rebuild his career.
Schleck crashed on stage three of the Tour de France and although he finished the stage, he failed to start the next morning, calling it 'the worst moment of my career'. Speaking to Cyclingnews from his hospital bed, Schleck described the moment he knew his Tour was over.
"In the morning after the crash I went on the rollers and I couldn't push more than 80 watts. The doctor came and he asked me if I could push more but I couldn't because it was so painful. I got on the bus and we made the call to not start," he said.
"It goes without saying that the morning I pulled out of the race was the worst moment I've ever had in cycling. To give up in the Tour de France like that was crushing. It was heartbreaking. I was on the bus with tears in my eyes because I knew that I couldn't ride my bike anymore," said an emotional Schleck.
"Maybe I could see it coming. The night I abandoned I was up until midnight with the physio. They were very good and tried to reassure me but I could see in their eyes that they knew I was out of the race."
After pulling out of the race, Schleck travelled to Basle, Switzerland. An MRI scan and test revealed the full extent to his damaged knee with a rupture of both the collateral and cruciate ligaments plus a tear in the meniscus and bruising.
On top of that was damage to the cartilage behind the knee cap. Schleck underwent surgery almost immediately but understands that he faces another long road back to full fitness. The 2010 Tour de France winner has struggled for form and fitness since a serious crash in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné but seemed to enter this Tour with renewed optimism and improving form.
Schleck has an added complication in that his current deal with Trek expires at the end of the season. The 29-year-old vowed to carry on, although he admits that for a moment he thought that his career could have been over.
"I was happy at the Tour and my form was on the up but I have to accept the situation and I have to look forward," he told Cyclingnews. "But I want to carry on. I feel like I still belong in cycling. I don't want to stop because of a crash.
"You know though, I thought for a moment that it might all be over but I don't want to give up like this. I crashed out of the Tour and that's not how I want people to remember me. So as soon as I can start again I will ride. I love to ride my bike so I'll start out small and then I can think about racing but it's important not to rush. The doctors say 'please Andy, be careful and don't put pressure on your knee' and they repeat it every day."
"I was unlucky at the Tour but I've been unlucky for the last three years," he continued.
"But I take responsibility for my fall though, it's no one's fault, but I'm lying in the hospital and I have to think that it could have been worse. I was riding at 60 kph when I fell. I could have hit my head really hard because that was the first thing to touch the ground. I knew straight away that something wasn't right though. My knee was the second part of me to hit the tarmac and although I could see and feel the road rash it was the knee that immediately had me worried. I couldn't bend it, I needed help to get on the bike and that I just crawled to the finish."
While his brother Fränk battles on at the Tour de France, Andy must take on his own and more personal mission as he looks to rebuild is career one more time. Patience and desire will be key and the latter it seems is something Schleck still has in abundance.
"I believe I can come back. I have to believe that."