Tears, criteriums and rumors

Second on the stage and a white jersey to boot for Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)

Second on the stage and a white jersey to boot for Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) (Image credit: Sirotti)

Whoever said big boys don't cry has never had the summer I've had. 38 days straight on the bike; a podium place in the Tour de France; a national title and a huge criterium in my home city. Since I rolled down the start ramp at the Tour in Monaco, it's been an emotional adventure and now, as I sit by my local lake fishing with just my dogs for company I can finally appreciate it all.

And what an adventure it's been. My whole year revolved around the Tour. From building up my stamina at our training camp in December to testing out our new Specialized bikes and racing in the spring – it was all about peaking for those three weeks in July.

I won't bore you by a blow-by-blow account of the race but I'll share a behind the scenes moment that will stick in my mind for as long as I live. The team were on the bus for the final stage in Paris. There was a lot of laughing and joking, everyone happy that the Tour was finished and we'd be so successful. But for me it was a really seminal and personal moment in my life.

It sounds silly but we'd spent three weeks on the road together and shared the huge highs and of course the deep lows that come with professional bike racing. There were Frank's and Nicki's stage wins; Jens and Chris crashing out and of course my place on the podium – a whole rollercoaster of experience and emotions.

But it was that moment of finality on the bus when I realised that the Tour was coming to an end. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was welling up.

No rest for the wicked

Since the Tour I've barely had time to stop and take stock. First there was a post-Tour party with my team and then the crit circuit began.

I must admit I like criteriums. They don't really suit me as s rider – there are no climbs – but the main thing I enjoy is the crowds and the support from the fans that turn out in their thousands to cheer us on. After a three-week race it's a real honour so race for so many people on such small circuits.

My final crit was in the Luxembourg capital and the crowds were incredible. We're a small nation of only 380,000 inhabitants but there were over 50,000 on the streets cheering us on.

A lot of kids see Frank and I as role models now and that puts pressure on us, but I'm happy to shoulder it. If I can do anything to help kids get into cycling that has to be a good thing.

Sport is such an important part of life when you're growing up. It doesn't have to be cycling, it can be anything, but staying active is a really important part of your life.

I remember when I was in school and everything revolved around cycling before and after school. Of course there was homework but there was never really much time to go to parties or head into the city that much. I missed out, but I think that was a good thing as some of my friends who went down that path haven't ended up in good places.

Rumor mill churning

Talking of pressure though, it really increased during this year's Tour de France. I don't see the media as a big distraction. I've been second at the Giro and from that point on there have always been expectations on me at every race I turn up for, but that's my job and I can handle it. People question my age but I've been a pro since the age of nineteen and this is my fifth year in the ranks so I've been around the block and know what it's all about.

But whatever you do as a rider you can't stop the media speculating. At this year's Tour I spoke to Lance Armstrong and guess what, there's a headline that I'm going to ride for him next year. I spoke to Alberto Contador and guess what, we're working together against Armstrong.

All I can say on the transfer front is that I have a contract for next year with Saxo Bank and I will respect that. There was never even a chance I'd change teams. Whether or not I'll be in a team with Armstrong one day, I don't know, as I don't know what will happen in the future. But for now I'll focus on next year and perform as best as I can for the team I'm with. We have a super team around me and Frank with great support and a brilliant bunch of staff and riders so why fix what isn't broken?

Next stop: Spain

Of course my season isn't finished just yet as I have the small matter of competing in the Vuelta to contend with. It'll be my first time in the race and I'm looking forward to it. In fact it'll be the first time I've ever ridden two Grand Tours in the same season.

My training starts today but I'll gently build up for the race as I want to still be in form for the world championships which start just a few days after the Vuelta's finishes.

Wish me luck, and if you spot me chatting to any other riders don't worry, I'm not looking for a contract!

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Now just 23 years of age, Andy Schleck made a name for himself during the 2007 Giro d'Italia when he won the best young rider classification. The Luxembourger continued to impress in 2008, when he took the same jersey at the Tour de France while helping his squad to win the teams and general classification.
Schleck is the younger brother of Saxo Bank teammate Fränk. The pair's father, Johnny, also contested some of the world's largest cycling races including the Tour de France and Vuelta a España between 1965 and 1974.
The cycling world is expecting more big things from Schleck in 2009, and he'll be keeping you informed of his progress throughout the year on Cyclingnews.com.

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