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AFP / Yuzuru Sunada
Former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck is desperate to get a positive result at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday to boost his confidence ahead of July’s Grand Boucle. Schleck, who was awarded the 2010 Tour when Alberto Contador was stripped of his victory for doping, has not had a top 10 finish in any major race since the 2011 Tour. There he finished second to Australian Cadel Evans but since then, injury and other problems have seen Schleck lose all semblance of the form he showed to finish in the Tour’s top two three years running. And now he is desperate for a morale-boosting result before July.
“Of course I go in (to this year’s Tour) with high hopes,” Schleck told AFP. “I believe I’m on track, I do all the training I have to do. “Sunday (when he crashed in the Amstel Gold Race) I was really unlucky (but) I’m confident that after Liege I’ll do (the Tour of) Romandie and then the preparation goes well for the Tour. For me, mentally, I train a lot and do a lot of hours and to do a result is also good for your head.”
Schleck, 28, crashed hard just 80km into Sunday’s Amstel race in the Netherlands before pulling out around 40km later. He also came down in a minor early incident at Wednesday’s Fleche Wallonne in Belgium before once again failing to finish. But he will be the Trek team’s leader this coming Sunday for Liege-Bastogne-Liege and is hoping to prove he is returning to his best form. However, before the Fleche race he was still bothered by the knee he injured when falling at Amstel. Schleck’s loss of form, coupled with a clear dip in confidence, is one of the most baffling recent developments in cycling.
He announced his potential to the world as a 21-year-old when he finished second in the 2007 Giro d’Italia, winning the young rider’s classification, behind Italian Danilo Di Luca, who later that year would fail the first of three doping tests that eventually resulted in a lifetime ban in 2013. Schleck went on to finish 12th at the Tour de France the next year, winning the young rider’s classification to boot. He also finished fourth in Liege-Bastogne-Liege that year and the 2008 Beijing Olympic road race.
The next year Schleck proved he was a potential star, coming second in the Tour de France behind Contador, winning in Liege and coming second in the Fleche Wallonne. The next year he landed a Tour victory, although only after Contador was stripped of his success, while in 2011 Schleck was second again, with brother Frank third – the first time two siblings had made the same podium at the Tour. But that was the last time he threatened the podium in any major race. In 2012 a crash during the Criterium du Dauphine in June left him with a broken pelvis that forced him out of the Tour.
His brother Frank was suspended during that Tour after failing a doping test – he had taken a diuretic – and eventually copped a one-year ban, robbing his younger brother of an important element of his morale support group. Without Frank at his side, Andy spent 2013 earning underwhelming results – he finished 86th at Fleche Wallonne – and failing to finish races such as the Amstel Gold Race – but he displayed some measure of a return to form by finishing 20th at the Tour. Now, a year on, many will be looking to Liege, a race where Schleck has four times finished in the top six, to gauge whether or not he is capable of recapturing his Tour-winning form.