Andy Schleck has confirmed reports that he will ride for the Trek team in 2014. The American bicycle manufacturer recently purchased RadioShack-Leopard's licence from backer Flavio Becca and it appears that Schleck's brother Fränk will also be part of the team, which remains under the management of Luca Guercilena.
"Next year, it's official that I'll stay with Trek. It'll be a very good team and I hope we maintain the core of the team. It's certain that it will be a very good project," Schleck told reporters after the penultimate stage of the Tour at Semnoz.
Fränk Schleck has recently finished serving a year-long ban for his positive test for Xipamide at last year's Tour de France but shortly before the expiry of his suspension, he was informed that he would not be rehired by RadioShack before the end of the season.
He had intended to race the Vuelta a España, and Andy Schleck said that his brother's absence means that he too will miss the Spanish race. "If Fränk had done the Vuelta, I would have liked to have done it with him," Schleck said. "For the moment, I'm pencilled in for the Tour of Colorado and that's a little goal for me. Beyond that, I want to finish the season well so I can start well again in January and February.
"But right now, I certainly need a break. I didn't finish all the races I've done this season, but at Tirreno and Pays Basque I only abandoned on the last day so I have raced a lot and I need to rest now and recover. I'm starting to feel it all over – my knee, my back, my feet. I need to get some physio work and rest for a bit."
The hardest Tour
It was a final Saturday of the Tour de France like no other for Andy Schleck. On his last three appearances, the Luxembourger was a key protagonist in the final major rendezvous of the race, but at Semnoz, Schleck was simply a supporting player, as he has been throughout this Tour.
Schleck reached the summit of the climb in the company of RadioShack-Leopard teammate Maxime Monfort, some 4:50 down on stage winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar). That ride was enough to ensure that he will finish the Tour in 20th place overall in Paris, but he was able to ride through the finish area in relative anonymity, unhindered by the camera crews who were jostling for position around yellow jersey Chris Froome (Sky) in the mixed zone.
In light of his various travails over the past two seasons, however, Schleck admitted that he was not displeased with his discreet Tour showing. He missed last year's race due to a fractured pelvis, and his struggles for form and motivation were headline news in the early months of the season.
Sources close to RadioShack indicated that a top ten finish would be the absolute summit of his ambition for this Tour, and as he spoke to a smaller group of reporters outside the team camper van after the finish of stage 20, Schleck affected a quiet satisfaction at his low-key but consistent showing.
"I think that everybody knew that I maybe wasn't on the same level as years gone by and it was my toughest Tour," Schleck said. "It's not been a bad Tour for me, I'm happy with it even if I've had the habit of finishing on the podium. But that's a bit of an arrogant thing to say because you can't always finish on the podium.
"I've learned a lot this season and even just by finishing this Tour, because I woke up every morning not knowing how the day's stage would go for me. That's not easy mentally. This year I've been 19th, 20th or 21st or wherever on GC, when in years gone by I was looking to hold on to the yellow jersey, or hold on to second place, or hold onto the white jersey. That meant it's been harder mentally and I've suffered more, but I'm proud of what I've done."
While the climb of Semnoz was a new finish for the Tour, Schleck covered a lot of familiar ground during this Tour, from Mont Ventoux to Alpe d'Huez. The roadsides were still sprinkled with Luxembourg flags and Schleck banners, but his legs were not turning with the same verve as the period 2008-2011.
"I've been thinking about that sometimes when I've struggled to follow in the mountains or on the flat. I remind myself that when I was here before I was up there with the best," he said. "But now, I'm looking to the future. This year is a year of preparation for 2014. I've done my best at the Tour and now I'm coming to Paris to finish a good Tour, and even if it wasn't like years gone by, it was still rather positive."
Asked for an opinion of overall winner Chris Froome, Schleck expressed his dismay at the skepticism that has met the Sky leader's performances, saying that his showing on the Ventoux was comparable to those of the Schleck brothers, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong in 2009.
"Froome is a normal rider like all the others," Schleck said. "Everybody said he flew on the Ventoux but no, he didn't ride any quicker than I did two or three years ago [2009 – ed]," Schleck said. "Even from Bedoin to the top, we were 12 seconds quicker than him. Not just me, but Contador, Armstrong, Frank and Wiggins. So maybe it's more that the others aren't on the level to beat him."