The Tour of Beijing may be akin to the last week of school for many in the peloton, but while the majority of his colleagues are winding down their seasons in China, Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) says he is determined to remain immune to the prevailing atmosphere and begin his build-up to 2013.
Schleck’s season was ruined by a fractured pelvis he sustained in a crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, an injury which forced him to sit out the Tour de France. The Luxembourger made a belated return to action at Binche-Tournai-Binche last week and continues that tentative comeback at the Tour of Beijing.
“It’s everyone’s last race of the season and then they can go on holiday. But for me, it’s the beginning of 2013. It’s a new beginning,” Schleck told reporters in Beijing on Monday.
So often maligned for an apparent lack of motivation for races beyond the Tour de France and Ardennes Classics, Schleck said that his main rationale for racing in China was to help ensure that he hits the ground running next spring. “I’m going to spend the whole winter somewhere in Spain where there’s good weather and I’ll train there,” he said. “I’m confident that I can get results in the first races of next season.”
When his injury was initially diagnosed in June, Schleck was, in public at least, making optimistic noises about returning in time to ride the Vuelta a España. Shortly after resuming training, however, it became apparent that the road to recovery would be more complicated than he had first envisaged.
“In the beginning, the doctors said that six weeks was the normal time it would take for the fracture to heal,” Schleck explained. “After six weeks, I went to Switzerland to train in the mountains, but after a week, I had pain again. I went back to see the doctors and it turned out that I had an inflammation of the hip and that put me off the bike for a long time again.”
After abandoning Binche-Tournai-Binche, Schleck stressed that his comeback should not be judged on the basis of a brace of late-season races. Although the Luxembourger admitted that he can still feel the effects of his injury when he rides for more than three hours, the psychological importance of pinning on a dossard appears to have conquered any nagging doubts about his participation.
“From what I hear, it was not too hard here last year and it’s a great opportunity to get back into the peloton. I don’t have big expectations for this race as I haven’t got a lot of training in my legs yet,” said a relaxed Schleck, after playfully chiding a journalist for confusing his surname: “Hey, Shrek’s the green guy from the movie.”
By any measure, it has been a trying season for the 27-year-old. A campaign marked not only by injury, but also by his brother Fränk’s positive test for Xipamide, by the high-profile doping allegations levelled against Johan Bruyneel and Bjarne Riis – his managers past and present – and indeed by repeated speculation that the rapport between Bruyneel and the Schleck brothers was distinctly lacking in harmony.
Although eventually awarded the 2010 Tour de France title in May following Alberto Contador’s belated suspension for his positive test for clenbuterol, Schleck’s prospects of ever riding into Paris in the yellow jersey have scarcely seemed more remote than they have done at certain points this season. Only time will tell whether being sidelined from the 2012 Tour will prove to be a turning point in Schleck’s career.
“To be really honest, it was the hardest period of my cycling career. I was in tears when I heard I couldn’t go,” he said. “I followed the Tour but I tried not to watch it on television. You only know how much you miss it when you can’t do it anymore.”