MORZINE, France (VN) —Andy Schleck abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné on Saturday, during the penultimate sixth stage from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine in the French Alps.
The younger of the Schleck brothers, who finished second behind Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) on last year’s Tour de France, pulled out 64km into the 176.5km mountain stage.
Schleck had been struggling ever since being knocked to the ground by a strong gust of wind during Thursday’s stage-4 time trial in Bourg-en-Bresse.
“He couldn’t pedal anymore,” RadioShack-Nissan sporting director Alain Gallopin told the race’s official website.
“Since he crashed during the time trial, the whole right side of his body was hurting. He was climbing all right but he was suffering to hold his bike. Yesterday, he managed to finish but today, racing had become too difficult.”
Schleck called his abandonment “a big disappointment.”
“While I was sitting in the car and I saw the other riders racing, I cracked mentally,” he said. “As a bike rider you are mentally very strong but today it all went a bridge too far. Today, from the start, already in the first 200 meters I had pain in the right leg and the lower back. It just got worse.
“I was never suffering like this in a race. I couldn’t use my right leg any more. There was no other option than to quit the race.”
Team manager Johan Bruyneel said it was clear at breakfast that Schleck “was really hurt.”
“In the race he was suffering even when the peloton was going slowly. There was definitely a problem,” said Bruyneel. “His lower back problem can be a consequence of his bad position on the bike yesterday, the day after the crash. He really didn’t have the power to use the pedals. It was impossible for him to finish the stage.”
Schleck, who was recently awarded the yellow jersey for the 2010 Tour de France after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title, was in 129th place in the general classification coming into the final two stages, almost half an hour adrift of overall leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
The team said Schleck will return to Luxembourg to see an osteopath and have an MRI scan in hopes of recovering in time for the Tour.
Bruyneel said this latest setback bodes ill for his rider’s Tour preparation, “especially if you look now at the level of his competitors.”
“For the moment there is not much we can do. It is a difficult situation,” he said.
Schleck, however, remains cautiously optimistic.
“In bad things I always try to find the good things,” he said. “The good thing is that I have done six stages. Some people will say ‘It is only three weeks till the Tour,’ but you can also say it is still three weeks to the start in Liège. You can do a lot in three weeks. That is my strength. I’ve shown it in the last years. I was not good in the Tour de Suisse but I was in the Tour de France.
“I won’t stop believing in it. I’ve worked hard for this.”