In 2010 Andy Schleck was at the height of his powers. He looked like a bike racer – lean, fit and capable of tearing a mountain apart.
He’d had the better of arch rival Alberto Contador throughout the Tour de France and was looking to distance the Spaniard once again until a dropped chain brought all his good work undone on the stage 15 climb of Port de Bales.
That incident allowed ‘El Pistolero’ back in the game and nullified the much anticipated showdown on the Col du Tourmalet three days later. While both riders tried to shake the other as they ascended through the mist, eventually a truce was called with Contador content to sit on Schleck’s wheel and gift him the stage.
Imagine what might have been if Contador had been chasing a significant time gap!
It was only two and a half years ago but it seems more like a lifetime.
For Andy Schleck, the 2010 Tour should have been a springboard to further success, but instead it marks a point of demise.
History shows he went on to win the general classification, but he was not the one who arrived in Paris wearing yellow. That honour fell to Contador, who had once again exposed Schleck’s inadequate time trialling. Contador, of course, later lost the title because of a doping infringement.
Schleck’s follow up in 2011 wasn’t bad, although inexplicably brother Frank looked to be the stronger rider during the early parts of the Tour. Andy’s second place overall was achieved on the back of a cheeky solo attack over the mountains on stage 18, rather than by any consistency of performance.
Beginning on the slopes of the Col d’Izoard and ending atop the Galibier, Schleck’s memorable 60 kilometre attack gave him the overall lead going into the final individual time trial. But once again he was found wanting, this time to a rampaging Cadel Evans.
Less than a year later his confidence was shot and his career in a shambles. 2012 started poorly for Schleck and failed to improve.
The merger between his Leopard-Trek dream team and the troubled RadioShack put Schleck on a collision course with new team boss Johan Bruyneel.
Bruyneel had built his reputation around Lance Armstrong’s now unrecognised Tour victories and he placed Schleck on a Lance-like program. It didn’t sit well with the Luxembourger, who preferred racing over training.
Schleck’s performances began to suffer and motivation appeared to be at an all-time low. When he was blown from his bike and severely injured during the individual time trial at the Criterium du Dauphine, Schleck faced an uphill battle to salvage anything from his season.
A fractured sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of the spine which separates the hip bones) put paid to any chance of competing at that year’s Tour de France, and in fact, Schleck only made it back for the season ending Tour of Beijing, from which he withdrew after finishing last in a stage.
2013 hasn’t begun any better. Bruyneel might be gone, but the poor results aren’t.
He made it through until the final stage of the Tour Down Under before withdrawing, with his best performance an underwhelming 98th place on stage two. He followed that up with a first stage withdrawal from the Tour Mediterranean.
So is 2010 going to be as good as it gets for Andy Schleck? Will it be considered the peak of his cycling career?
For a rider whose primary focus is the Tour de France, perhaps it will be the pinnacle. But it must be remembered that Andy Schleck is still just 27 years old and should be entering his prime. However, while acknowledging the serious nature of last year’s injury, many questions still need to be asked of the younger Schleck.
Can he overcome his limitations against the clock? Does he lack the killer instinct needed to bury an opponent? Does he really fear the big descents? Can he ever return to the level that saw him match Contador on some of cycling’s biggest climbs?
The jury is still out. It is too soon to tell, but his early season results have not been flattering.
How much of that we can put down to lack of conditioning due to the injury or just a plain lack of confidence is uncertain. Either way he has a lot of work to do.
What is certain is that cycling is all the better when Andy Schleck is on song. Will he win another Tour de France? Maybe not, but at least, at 27, time is on his side.
Whether he can apply himself sufficiently to overcome his obvious deficiencies is another thing all together.