The build-up to the new cycling season has started, and Fränk Schleck, who didn’t ride a single race in 2013, is ready to return to the peloton.
"I am hungry to race again, hungry to win again," he said. "I turned the page and I am motivated like I never was before," he told Luxembourg newspaper Le Quotidien.
Schleck has been silent for awhile. After his suspension for a banned diuretic, for which he tested positive in the 2012 Tour de France, ended in July of this year, Radioshack sacked the eldest of the two brothers. "I just let the people talk. Sometimes it’s useless to talk yourself. We have to show on the road what we can do. But now it’s time for a comeback," Schleck said.
Radioshack was the continuation of the Luxembourg cycling project Leopard which was created around the Schleck brothers. "The first year of Leopard-Trek was great. The project was a bit like our baby. We joined the team after good years with Bjarne Riis. In that first year, Andy and I finished second and third in the Tour de France. People tend to forget that. But we will never forget it."
In 2012, Schleck was caught with the diuretic Xipamide in his system. He left the Tour de France and received a one-year suspension. "Yes I am angry about everything that has happened, but I tried to transform the anger into motivation. There were highs and there were lows in training this year. But what I always kept in mind is that I was left out for a year for reasons that had nothing to do with doping."
While both WADA and the UCI agreed that the Xipamide in his system didn’t mean Schleck was doping, the Luxembourg anti-doping agency ALAD suspended him for a year because he couldn’t prove how the substance had ended up in his body. "It did feel like an injustice that the Luxembourg anti-doping agency did suspend me for a year, but I couldn’t change that and I am convinced it could have been worse. I could still look myself in the eyes in the mirror every morning because I had done nothing wrong."
During the year where his brother Andy tried to regain form, Fränk was left to train on his own a lot. He went on training camps to Portugal, Switzerland, Austria. He joined his teammates Jens Voigt and brother Andy in Nevada [while they were training for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge] and he did a recon of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana stages which, in the end, he didn’t ride.
"Andy and I have been in touched at least once every day throughout the season. He experienced difficult times, too. It was hard for him to come back after his 2012 Dauphiné crash, but I think he did a good Tour de France."
After a year of training, Schleck concluded that he trained more than ever before, and he outlined clear ambitions for 2014.
"I am not going to say I want to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège or the Tour de France. I hope I can return to my old form. That’s the minimum I want to achieve," he said.
The Luxembourg rider hopes to return to competition as soon as possible. "It’s not certain yet whether I’ll start the season [at the Tour] Down Under or in Argentina, in the Tour de San Luis. Paris-Nice will be the first big test. Of course, the management decides but I am thinking about Tour of the Basque country, the Ardennes Classics and then the Tour de Suisse to prepare for the Tour de France."
At 33 years old, Schleck is starting to think of when to call it quits. "No one has the right to say my career is over, apart from myself. It might be in 2016 with the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That’s soon already, but I am thinking about it. But only if I take a medal home."
But first, it's time to focus on 2014. In 2009, Schleck crashed hard on the cobbles in the Tour de France. He had to abandon the race. In 2014, the cobbles will return to the Tour de France. "The cobbles and me are not a closed chapter yet. I still think we [Andy and himself] can win the Tour de France. The 2014 course is ideal. I am motivated and I trained well. I can’t wait to get started again."