METZ, France (VN) — Once a five-headed monster — a super team consisting of GC riders Andy Schleck, Fränk Schleck, Chris Horner and Andreas Klöden, as well as Tour-proven sport director Johan Bruyneel — RadioShack-Nissan has suffered a series of decapitations at the 2012 Tour de France.
Andy Schleck was to have led the team. But after a lackluster spring campaign and a time-trial crash, he wasn’t even on it.
Bruyneel stepped aside as director due to the investigation into allegations of systematic doping when he ran the U.S. Postal and Discovery Channel squads of Lance Armstrong.
Horner? At one point he was off the Tour team entirely, having opted not to ride either the Tour de Suisse or Critérium Dauphiné; though the explanations varied, it seemed team policy required a start at one or the other to be considered for the Tour roster. He was added to the team after Andy Schleck stepped down, but still sits far from the top of the totem pole.
And on Friday, a massive crash around 26km from the finish of stage 6 saw Fränk Schleck caught out and losing time.
“There was a big crash and I couldn’t avoid it,” Schleck said. “When you’re going 80km an hour you can’t really avoid it.”
And so the monster was effectively reduced to a single head: Klöden.
Though still in the race, Schleck is out of the GC picture; he sits 2:43 down on current leader and teammate Fabian Cancellara after losing 2:09 on the day.
“We’re really looking at Klödi,” confirmed Horner. “From the beginning of the Tour he’s always been out in front of me on GC.”
Fränk Schleck’s penchant for getting into crashes continues. His Giro d’Italia was cut short when he was involved in an incident with Alex Rasmussen on stage 11; he finally abandoned on stage 15, citing a shoulder injury. On Friday, once again he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“He was not alone; the crash didn’t happen in the back,” said Dirk Demol, the general manager of RadioShack-Nissan. “He is always one of the last riders of our team but he was not alone and not isolated because Maxime [Monfort] stayed the whole time with him.
“The riders were so nervous; when they crashed they were going 75km per hour and nobody is making space for anyone else. It’s really dangerous, so difficult to keep the whole nine [teammates] together. It’s just bad luck.”
The team didn’t help his cause after the fact, either. Confusion among the directors, riders, and mechanics cost the Luxembourger even more time as he sat bikeless on the side of the road.
“To be honest, we were on the radio and some teammates say, ‘ We have no one in the crash.’ So we didn’t know at first,” said Demol. “Also, Fränk didn’t say anything and then suddenly I saw him standing in the middle of the street.”
Because he was so far behind, it was unclear to teammates where Schleck might be on the road, compounding the confusion.
“We get back up, of course we don’t know who went down for sure — I didn’t think there were too many of us — then we get back to the group and we can’t see Fränk and then we hear on the radio that Fränk went down,” Horner said.
“Then we’re just waiting to hear from the directors — if they tell you to go back then he’s probably close; if they tell you not to go back then probably many crashed and he ain’t getting back on.”
Fränk wasn’t getting back on. And, so, the last man standing — and in good standing with the team — is Klöden.
Second at the Tour in 2004 and 2006 (after Floyd Landis was disqualified), and sixth in 2009, the German has a proven track record. At 37, he may be past his prime, but his results still impress, albeit less regularly. Yet, his 2011 campaign, with victory at the Tour of the Basque Country and second at Paris-Nice, stands out.
RadioShack had hoped for more at this year’s Tour after a season riddled with dismal results and setbacks aplenty. Cancellara’s run in yellow has been the sole bright spot in this year’s race.
“It’s a pity; it’s just on the day before the Tour starts,” Demol said. “Tomorrow we have the first climbs — it’s a hard stage, with a time trial on Monday. We stayed out of trouble the whole week and today we had one in the crash, and it’s our leader.”