The 28-year-old has endured a second successive season of difficulties but he believes that a solid 20th place in this year’s Tour de France can form the bedrock to a forthcoming season in which he will target the Spring Classics and the Tour.
“The Classics and the Tour de France, they’ll be the goals for next year. I hope to start the year well, but I don’t know where yet. I might do more training camps and start racing a bit later,” Schleck told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.
Schleck crashed out of the Dauphiné in June of 2012 and was diagnosed with a broken sacrum. He returned to racing later that season but it wasn’t until the 2013 campaign before he began to even finish races. A disappointing start to 2013 in terms of results improved with 20th at the Tour but Schleck was dogged by question marks surrounding both his form and motivation.
“From being a Tour contender I disappeared in the space of a day,” he says in reference to his Dauphiné crash.
“I wasn’t in the media from then. Then when I came back people had this picture of me in their heads and they weren’t used to seeing me riding out the back of the peloton or being dropped and being far back. That was a big part of the speculation. Of course you have more motivation if you’re heading into a race if you know you can do a top five or a top ten.
“This year, it’s been a hard season especially up until the Tour de France. It was a certainly a lot harder to come back into the races than I thought that it would be. If I look back though I was quite satisfied with the shape that I had in the Tour but mentally it was really hard because until the Tour, from January 1st I slept in my own bed for just four days. I was fucked in the head a little bit but I took some time off and went back into training but I would consider this year all about coming back into the sport.”
With his brother Frank on the sidelines for a year, and eventually dropped by Flavio Becca’s RadioShack team following an anti-doping violation, there were times in which Schleck struggled.
“Take Tirreno for an example. It’s a high profile race and I was doing ok but then on the last day I just ran out of batteries and I just couldn’t follow anymore. I was dropped by the peloton and I just couldn’t understand why because the day before I could actually go with the second or third groups. There were moments on the bike where you do question things but then when you go home, you look at your bike, you head out for training and you realise how much you love cycling.”
“I was worried last year with my injury because I didn’t think originally that it was that big. Usually cyclists are pretty tough on themselves and I should have listened more to the doctors but instead I started too early and I had inflammation of the hip and had to take time off. At one stage it had been four months and I was still only able to ride for an hour. You start questioning whether the pain will go away and if you’ll get over the injury but there were only a few points like that. That was maybe a rough time but it was also the time when I realised how much I missed racing and how much I missed being on the bike and being with the team.”
The Trek team
With Becca’s involvement drawing to a close after Trek bought the squad’s WorldTour licence, both Schleck brothers will lead the team into 2014. However any gloss and shine that will come with a new team kit or lick of paint on bikes will become irrelevant if Schleck can not prove that he can once again compete in the Tour de France.
“I believe so,” he says when asked whether he can compete with the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky).
“I still have the engine that I had from two years ago. This year I’ve been chasing my form and my shape and at the Tour I was 20th. If I’d forced it could have done 15th but I managed to get in okay shape and I made the best of the situation I found myself in based off the previous six months but I think I can get back to the level I was at before. In cycling you just need to work hard.
"I’m really motivated to get going for next year with myself and Frank in the team. I was motivated at the Tour as well even though it wasn’t easy with the situation with Frank being thrown out of the team. Now we start fresh and I still love the sport.
“I’m happy there’s going to be a new team but in a way the team is continuing too. Unfortunately a few riders didn’t get re-signed or are leaving but again that’s how things are in cycling.”