Though expected when Andy Schleck announced his scheduled press conference last week; the wire limbed Luxuembourg star’s confirmation of his retirement from professional racing (with immediate effect ) was still a sad affair.
Seemingly jinxed in recent years by complex injuries from the most innocuous incidents left the gifted rider having to call time on his career. With boyish looks and an ability to charm the press, it is easy to still view Andy Schleck as the latest hotshot kid on the WorldTour, but in reality it was a 29 year old who sat before us when breaking the news.
An athlete’s prime might be short, but their career is usually able to stretch beyond the age of 30, even despite issues with form and staying upright. It demonstrates how serious and acutely affected Schleck’s knee has been since crashing on Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France. Despite recovering from the original ligament damage, he has succumbed to retirement’s call after trying hard to soldier on despite a serious absence of cartilage below his kneecap.
When a young Andy Schleck started to make his mark upon the WorldTour, he appeared to be a member of a rare club – The Pure Climber. His fellow countryman Charly Gaul was an immediate comparison, making the steepest slopes seem effortless with a body which looked too lean to even turn the pedals. The sport nowadays demands Grand Tour contenders to be inhumanly efficient in all aspects of the competition, often being the shove in the back which leads a rider down the troublesome road of doping. Andy was never destined to be one of these ‘all round wonders’, ailing in Time Trials (despite two national titles) and often lacking the killer instinct of a puncheur to take One Day races and tour stages. His unexpected strength became obvious as the roads stretched onwards and upwards for mile after mile however, providing the svelte rider an opportunity to display his talent for the most ruthless of terrain.
Andy Shleck’s breakthrough at the Tour de France proved to be a much needed contrast against the suspicions of Albert Contador and Lance Armstrong in hindsight. Spending his time in the pure white jersey of best young rider, Schleck looked set to be the crusading white knight to usher in a generation of clean riders with no “I once doped, but I don’t anymore” small print. His performances were not just limited to Tourmalet winning shows in Le Tour, as his abilities in the Ardenne’s classics became apparent at a younger age still. However, it was really the 2007 Giro d’Italia which saw Schleck catch the attention of those in the sport; finishing second overall aged 21 with the best young rider’s jersey on his debut. This proved to be no fluke as he continued to progress onwards to three back to back Tour de France podiums – one becoming a victory thanks to Alberto Contador’s retrospective disqualification.
Realistically, this is the end of a career; not the end of a life. Andy Schleck’s injury is not life threatening, nor will it impact upon his daily quality of life. Schleck was informed that any such attempt to race despite, the serious damage, could result in him requiring a knee replacement before the age of 40. As a multiple Grand Tour podium rider and with sustained major sponsorship, he is expected to be comfortably well off with a safety net of six zeros sitting in his back account despite retirement.
Nobody is quite sure what Andy’s next move will be; he spoke of a life spent in cycling mournfully, wanting an extended presence in the racing scene a possibility through involvement with opportunities such as Luxembourg’s national programme or Trek Factory Racing. Regardless of what his final decision might be, the sport will remain open armed to the ever-youthful Andy Schleck – though sad to have been robbed of his future.