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ALBI, France (AFP) — Former Tour de France champion Andy Schleck on Friday hit out at his RadioShack-Leopard team after its decision to sack his older brother Frank, days before a ban for using a banned diuretic ends.
Frank Schleck himself also expressed his bewilderment at being told he has no future at the Luxembourg based squad.
RadioShack’s management company Leopard announced on Thursday that Frank Schleck, who was banned for a year following a positive test for a banned diuretic at last year’s race, would not ride for them again this season.
The news came as a blow to the team’s riders racing the 100th edition of the Tour, including his brother Andy.
“I can’t really understand the decision. I’m sad and disappointed but I don’t know what to say. Maybe they will use it against me and fire me as well,” said Andy Schleck, 28.
Elder brother Frank, 33, complained to local press in Luxembourg that the decision made no sense.
“I don’t understand. The team always supported me. I worked harder than ever and took part in several training camps,” he was quoted as saying by Le Quotidien.
A team statement said: “Leopard and its partners have assessed the situation in view of a possible renewal of the collaboration with Frank Schleck.
“Having finalized this assessment in a broad and objective way, Leopard has decided to not renew the collaboration between Frank Schleck and the RadioShack cycling team.”
But that did not sit comfortably with Frank Schleck, who maintained that he was exonerated of doping by authorities.
“When the verdict came, the judges acknowledged that it wasn’t a doping case and there was no desire on my part to improve my performances,” he said.
“The team kept supporting me … And now I’m being accused of doping.”
Team manager Luca Guercilena said in Montpellier prior to Friday’s seventh stage to Albi that he could understand Andy Schleck’s disappointment: “He is and always will be his brother, but we have had to apply internal rules.”
Andy Schleck said he believed the decision was not related to Frank Schleck’s suspension.
“It wasn’t even anything to do with doping, even the UCI (International Cycling Union) agreed on that,” he added.
“But there are other things behind this decision. I don’t think it is anything to do with the suspension.”
He added: “To kick him out of the team after 11 months of giving him their support, I just don’t understand it.”
Franck Schleck’s ban ends on July 14 and the Luxemburger, known as a strong rider in the hilly one-day classics and contender in the Grand Tours, had been training to compete at the Tour of Spain in September.
That is no longer possible and there is now speculation the decision could further hamper Andy Schleck’s bid for glory on this year’s race. The brothers are known for being close.
Andy Schleck, who was handed the 2010 Tour title after Spanish winner Alberto Contador was disqualified for a positive doping test, has come into this year’s race with modest ambitions following a mediocre past 12 months.
Teammate Jens Voigt said he hopes any anger Andy feels will be exorcised by a stage-winning performance in the Pyrenees this weekend.
“I hope it will not affect his performance … tomorrow is the first big mountain stage, hopefully he can transform his anger in a positive way by pushing on the pedals,” said Voigt.
The German veteran said he was also shocked by the announcement.
“I’m shocked by the decision. I thought we’d have him back racing over the next five months. I’m disappointed that he’s not there. It’s no secret we are good friends.
“I’ve been messaging him, I know he’s been training hard and we already had a race program which included the Tour of Spain.”