TOURNAI, Belgium (VN) – Frank Schleck is hoping a strong Tour de France will help put an end to what’s been a tumultuous season so far at RadioShack-Nissan.
Third overall last year, Schleck is lining up in this year’s Tour after an uneven season that saw him crash out of the Giro d’Italia under the backdrop of tumult within the RadioShack team.
And the worst part for Schleck is that younger brother, Andy, with whom he shared an historic Tour podium last year, will not be along for the ride in this year’s edition.
“Right now I am focusing on the Tour. We will see how it goes,” Schleck told VeloNews on Monday morning. “I think I am recovered. I still have pain. I still have tape on the shoulder. I did Luxembourg and Tour de Suisse before, so I was feeling OK. I hope to get through.”
Schleck is quietly cautious he can still be a factor in the Tour, though the route, long on time trials and short on climbs, certainly does not favor him.
The 32-year-old looks to be back on form just in time for the most important race of the season, scoring third overall at the Tour of Luxembourg and second overall at the Tour de Suisse before starting the Tour.
“We have to see how the race develops,” he said. “The mountains are always hard. We must attack. There are other opportunities.”
That’s positive momentum after an early season marked by controversy and rough going. He was a last-minute call-up to start the Giro in May to replace an injuried Jakob Fuglsang, only to crash hard in the first week, heavily injuring his shoulder.
Schleck said the shoulder pain was excruciating and he couldn’t pedal while standing up, but team boss Johan Bruyneel expressed frustration that Schleck abandoned the Giro.
Bruyneel, however, has since stepped to the sidelines during the Tour de France in light of the latest doping allegations leveled against him and Lance Armstrong, something that has caused even more behind-the-scenes turmoil within the squad.
And the departure of Andy Schleck, who crashed out of the Critérium du Dauphiné in June with a fractured pelvis, means that the elder Schleck is facing the challenge of the Tour without his brother for the first time since 2007.
“I would like to have Andy here. Accidents happen. That’s just how it is,” Schleck said. “We have a good team, the spirit is high, and it’s going to be OK.”
Fabian Cancellara’s run in the yellow jersey has helped ease the pressure on the team, something that Schleck says will help going into the meat of the Tour.
Schleck survived the opening two road stages without major mishap to go into Tuesday’s hilly third stage 38 seconds back overall. He dodged a bullet Sunday he was caught out late before teammate Chris Horner helped position him for the final run up the Côte de Seraing. Schleck tipped his hat to Horner, saying the veteran American helped him finish in the front group to avoid losing valuable time.
“Horner did a good job. With all the nerves, I started in the back a little bit and Chris saw me, and he tried to get me up there,” he said. “It’s all good and (he) helped me save the day to finish the front group. Horner did a great job yesterday.”
If a little last-minute scramble and weeks of intra-team controversy weren’t enough to rattle Schleck in the Tour’s first week, there were reports in the European media that he and his brother are poised to join a new team with German backers next season.
According to a report by DPA, a German news agency, a German sponsor is ready to step up to take part of the current RadioShack-Nissan team with them.
When asked about the rumor on Monday morning, Schleck wouldn’t give too much away: “I have said this many times and I will say it again. We have a contract through 2014. That’s two more years. We always respect our contracts.”
After such a tumultuous season, Schleck might well be studying the fine print of his contract to look for an escape clause.