RadioShack Leopard rider looks to put "dark moment" behind him
Andy Schleck started the GP Camaiore race in Tuscany on Thursday, with his Radioshack Leopard team hoping he can finish his first race for almost year.
Schleck came to Tuscany after training in Mallorca for ten days, hoping to finally put his problems behind him. He quit the Tour Méditerranéen on stage one citing illness and has now not finished a race since the 2012 Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
His negative spiral of results and problems began last June when he fractured his pelvis during the time trial stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in early June. Schleck missed the Tour de France and his comeback was delayed several times, with his bother's doping case also creating problems and difficulties within the Radioshack-Leopard team.
A recent report in L'Équipe compared Schleck to Jan Ullrich, questioning Schleck's self-discipline and lack of motivation to that of the former German rider.
Schleck's poor performances have been ridiculed by many people, especially on social media. However, it seems Schleck's problems are more complicated than just a lack of fitness and motivation.
New Radioshack-Leopard team manager Luca Guercilena has hit back at the criticism, confirming that the team is trying to help Andy get his season and career back on track.
"I think it's sad that whenever a rider goes through a difficult moment in life, a lot of people in cycling forget all the good things they have achieved," Guercilena said.
"Andy is human just like anyone else and so can have difficult moments in life. We're trying to help him and help him get back to his best. We're ready to accept any criticism of what we do but to target Andy and try to undermine him psychologically is unfair."
Schleck seemed keen to race when he stepped off the Radioshack bus before the start of the GP Camaiore. The team had informed Cyclingnews that Schleck would not talk to the media but he was willing to explain how he is feeling.
"In training some good sensations are coming back. I'm feeling good, so we'll see what happens," he said.
"The race route makes me worried, it’s tough, but the objective is to finish. I've got an important week coming and so this is an important race."
Schleck avoided making eye contact when talking. He admitted that the criticism had hurt him but showed signs of wanting to prove he is on his way back.
"I know what I have to do. People talk about you if you go good and talk if you good bad. It's not motivating but I need to be good in races for my own confidence," he said.
"I know that people care about me but they haven't been through what I've been through last year: a long time without racing. I have people on my side and they're supporting me really well. I've got a lot of support from the team and everyone. I'd like to show everybody that I'm still here."
Guercilena described Andy Schleck's problem as a 'momento buio’ – a dark moment – that has affected him more psychologically than physically.
"Physically he's pretty good. He trained intensively for ten days in Mallorca under the guidance of Kim Andersen. The goal today is to finish the race," he told Cyclingnews.
"His problems were caused by a series of factors from last year: his injury first of all and then the way his problem was managed. Then there's the family aspect: Frank's suspension, that caused psychological problems. And the psychology of a rider is always very important. Even if a rider has a decent level of fitness, psychological problems can cause bigger problems."
Guercilena confirmed that Schleck is set to ride Strade Bianche on Saturday and then stay in Italy to ride Tirreno-Adriatico, which starts next Wednesday.
"That's the plan at the moment, as long as there are no last minute problems," Guercilena said.