Radioshack Leopard team manager Luca Guercilena has moved to defend Andy Schleck after a report in French newspaper Equipe suggested that his comeback from injury is being hit by a lack of motivation rather than a lack of fitness.
Schleck climbed off during stage one of the Tour Méditeranéen on Wednesday after suffering with breathing problems. He has not finished a race since the Circuit Sarthe in April 2012. However a detailed report in Equipe suggests that Schleck is struggling to find the motivation and discipline to train and race.
"He's got some breathing problems but at the moment the biggest problem with Andy, is what's going on his head," Equipe quote Guercilena as saying.
Cyclingnews has also heard stories of Schleck struggling to find the self-discipline and desire to make a successful comeback after missing the second of the 2012 season after fracturing his pelvis during the time trial stage of the Criterium du Dauphine in early June.
Equipe titled their report "Andy a-t-il jeté l’éponge?" – Has Andy thrown in the towel?
The newspaper compared Schleck to Jan Ullrich, whose career was blighted by a lack of winter discipline and the need for intense training camps to ensure the German rider was competitive for the Tour de France. Ullrich failed to live up to the huge expectations he created when he won the 1997 Tour de France and was never able to beat Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France. Ullrich was eventually suspended for doping after retiring in 2006, for his involvement in Operacion Puerto and his links to Dr. Fuentes.
Equipe also quotes the newspaper's photographer motorbike pilot Marc Meilleur, who said he saw that Schleck had the form to ride at 60km/h but suggested he lacked the fight to stay in the race. Internal issues at the team also appear a factor, with questions about Kim Andersen role and his responsibility for Schleck's training in Luxembourg.
"In 2012 Andy complained that Johan Bruyneel was putting too much pressure on him and that he was stressed by it. Johan is no longer there, but the situation is the same," Equipe quote Gallopin as saying.
"Perhaps his victory at the Tour de France 2010 (after Contador was disqualified for doping) has not done him any good. He still hasn't really won the Tour."
Gallopin is also surprised that Schleck did not spend the winter training in Mallorca or Gran Canaria. "Andy did not realize he had to work," Equipe report him saying.
Guercilena tried to limit the damage caused by the Equipe article, revealing to Cyclingnews that Schleck has been forced to take antibiotics to treat his breathing problem.
"It's a pity he was force to quit the Tour of the Med but he was ill and is taking antibiotics. We think the change in weather from the heat in Australia to the cold in Europe caused it," Guercilena told Cyclingnews, acknowledging that Schleck is not at his best both mentally and physically.
"Andy's been out of action for six months and so it was always going to be difficult for him to make a comeback. We know it will take time," he said.
There's the physical aspect and also the mental side to it too. It's never easy for a great rider. They're not used to suffering. There were some good signs in Australia but now he's taken a step backwards."
"Andy's got to find the desire to suffer. We're confident he'll gradually get fitter and stronger and we'll do everything we can to help him."
Guercilena confirmed that Schleck will stay with the Radioshack team in the south of France for a training camp in St Raphael, and then race again at the Tour du Haut-Var (February 16-17).