BEIJING (VN) — Never has a stage so short meant so much to Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), who was happy to make it through the first two days at the Tour of Beijing.
Tuesday’s short, opening circuit course in central Beijing and Wednesday’s three-climb second stage marked the first races the Luxembourg star has managed to finish since abandoning the Critérium du Dauphiné after a frightening time trial crash in June.
“This is a WorldTour race and the speed is high. It was only a 116km, when I am used to racing 260km,” Schleck told VeloNews before Wednesday’s stage. “I still felt a little pain, but every time I feel better. This is the beginning of my comeback.”
It wasn’t easy for Schleck on Wednesday, who finished third-from-last on the stage, at more than 15 minutes behind stage winner Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). He only managed to beat two Chinese riders from Champion System to the line.
Schleck is hoping to put a positive note on the end of what’s been a tumultuous 2012 season that saw him miss out on a grand tour and his brother Fränk register a positive test for a banned substance during the Tour de France. The elder Schleck’s case should be decided by the Luxembourg cycling federation by October 15.
“Anybody who knows Fränk knows this is not a doping case,” Schleck said. “We have to see what happens. We can only hope for the best.”
Despite the turmoil of the 2012 season, including the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation into team manager Johan Bruyneel that could result in a lifetime ban, Schleck insists the future of the team is secure.
“I have two more years on my contract and I will respect my contract with the team,” Schleck said. “What’s happening with Johan is his business and it happened long before he joined our team. We do not know what will happen. It does not affect us now.”
Earlier this summer, there were rumors of a German sponsor stepping in with a deal to lure away the Schleck brothers, but he denied those flat out.
“Those are rumors,” he said. “There was never anything to that. I always respect my contracts and I plan on staying with this team.”
Schleck said he plans to train intensely through the winter to return to form in time for next year’s Tour de France.
“I will have to work hard, but I will be ready to race the Tour again at a high level. The route for the centenary sounds like it should be good for me. I would like to add to my palmarès a stage like Ventoux or l’Alpe d’Huez,” he said. “I have not changed. I have the same motor.”
Three more days stand between him and the finish line of the Beijing tour. Surviving would be a small but important step for Schleck’s quest to return to the top of cycling’s pyramid.