Andy Schleck retires from professional cycling

Andy Schleck, 29, has announced his immediate retirement from professional cycling, citing cartilage damage in his right knee as the cause. The 2010 Tour de France winner confirmed the news at a press conference held in his native Luxembourg on Thursday, ending weeks of speculation over his future.

With his existing contract at Trek Factory Racing winding down this year, Schleck found himself without a team for 2015 but any hopes of renewing with the American squad, or finding a new team for that matter, were dashed with his knee failing to recover from what turned out to be a career ending crash in this year’s Tour de France.

"Now I have to confirm the speculation. In 2015 I will not be a professional cyclist anymore, which hurts me a lot but I had no real decision. It was taken from me by my crash in the Tour in the UK," Schleck said in Mondorf-les-Bains on Thursday. "I could ride for three to four hours but when I went hard on a climb, my knee swelled up. I went back to the doctors and they said there was not much they could do.

"The ligaments were fine, they healed, but I have almost no cartilage left under my kneecap."

Thursday’s news brings the curtain down on career that spanned a decade and included not just a Tour win but victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2009), three Tour de France stage wins and three white jerseys as the race’s top young finisher. Schleck also finished second in the 2007 at the Giro d’Italia but his career highlight arguably came at the 2011 Tour when he held off the entire peloton to win atop the Col du Galibier.

His brother, Frank, remains with Trek Factory Racing, after signing a two-year contract in September.

A bright start

Andy Schleck burst onto the professional scene in the mid-2000s. Coming from a family of professional riders stretching back several generations, the signs of success were there for all to see with a strong ride in support of Lars Bak in the 2005 Tour de l'Avenir.

He was signed by Cyrille Guimard at VC Roubaix at the age of 19 with the Frenchman telling Cyclingnews’ Jean Francois Quenet that “I quickly realized that he was like Laurent Fignon.”

After his second place at the Giro d’Italia in 2007, Schleck stated that “I aim at winning a big Classic before a Grand Tour.”

He succeeded, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege after a daring attack on the Côte de la Roche aux Faucons. He would ride to second in the Tour de France later that year, finishing behind Alberto Contador.

The two riders had a mutual respect for each other that bordered on friendship but the pair clashed at the Tour de France a year later in 2010. This time Schleck was more of a challenge for the Spaniard, winning stages at Morzine-Avoriaz and on the Col du Tourmalet. However controversy reigned on stage 15 to Bagnères-de-Luchon when Schleck had a mechanical problem during an attack on Contador. The Spaniard swooped past his forlorn rival and claimed enough time to wrest the yellow jersey from his shoulders.

Contador would later be stripped of his title after testing positive for Clenbuterol in a twist that would see Schleck inherit the jersey at a ceremony in his hometown of Mondorf in March 2012.

“It’s nice to accept this jersey, but for me it doesn’t change anything – it’s not like a win. It’s not the same sensation as climbing on the podium,” Schleck said at the time.

During the intervening period - between Contador’s win and the eventual loss of his 2012 crown - Schleck mounted a third Tour attempt. However, in Cadel Evans he found a rider able to fend off aggressive attacking style in the mountains. Despite leading the race after the final stage in the mountains and with Evans at 57 seconds in arrears, the Australian was able to move into yellow in the final time trial, consigning Schleck to another runner-up spot.

Andy Schleck's Palmares

1st GC, Tour de France 2010
2nd GC, Tour de France 2009, 2011

Best Young Rider, Tour de France, 2008, 2009, 2010
1st Tour de France Stages: 8 & 17, 2010; 18, 2011
2nd Giro d’Italia 2007
1st Liège–Bastogne–Liège 2009
2nd Flèche Wallonne 2009
3rd Liège–Bastogne–Liège, 2011

The accidents start

The win on the Galibier would prove to be the last victory of Schleck’s career, with crashes and losses in form repeatedly taking their toll. A fall in the 2012 Dauphine left Schleck with a broken sacrum and a rush back to fitness at the tail end of the year compounded matters with a dramatic dip in form and confidence. A change of management at Leopard Trek and the break down in communication between the Schleck brothers and team owner Flavio Becca hardly relieved the situation.

Race after race ticked by and each one became a depressing reflection of the last as he struggled to keep up.

In July of this year Schleck opened up about the difficult period in between 2012 and 2013 in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews.

“At night you sit there in your room and you know that you have to go through it all over again the day after. Then it’s onto the next race and it’s the same scenario again and again and at night when it’s just you and your thoughts and no one to talk with you lie there and you ask yourself ‘what’s wrong with you?”

“I went from one crash to the next, one injury to the next and yes there was a lack of motivation at points. I was training and training and then I was going to races and I was being dropped. I’d ask myself what I was doing wrong but I needed to fight.”

There were further problems off the bike with stories of a lack of motivation, rumours of a drink problem and concerns over his biological passport - swiftly denied by his team - raised in the media.

His crash in this year’s Tour de France was a battle too far, a comeback he could not pull off. After an operation in July he travelled to Mallorca, Spain to begin his rehabilitation as Trek Factory Racing patiently waited for some promising news. However with the rider only able to ride for a couple of hours before knee pain and severe swelling would return, the writing was on the wall.

Team Affiliations:

 For a retrospective gallery of Andy Schleck's career, click here.

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