When Andy Schleck looks back on his runner-up finish at this year’s Tour de France, it will be the loss of his brother Fränk, not his slipped chain on stage 15, that he will look back upon as his biggest regret.
The coincidence of Alberto Contador’s GC differential over Schleck following the stage-19 time trial — 39 seconds, the same amount of time that Schleck lost to Contador over the Port de Balés due to a mechanical problem — wasn’t lost on Schleck.
But the Saxo Bank rider said it was Fränk Schleck’s abandonment to a broken collarbone on stage 3 that had likely made the difference between the two riders.
Fränk Schleck came into the Tour fresh off winning the overall at the Tour of Switzerland and the Luxembourg national road championship, and younger brother Andy has said on more than one occasion that he believed Fränk had the form to finish on the podium of this year’s Tour.
The younger Schleck restated that after the stage 19 time trial when asked about the 39 seconds he lost to Contador on stage 15.
“I’m satisfied with the whole Tour. I know it’s going to be different next year,” Schleck said. “It’s not been a super Tour. Personally I’m really happy, I’ve won two stages and taken the best young rider’s competition, but if I would have had Fränk out there in the mountains, it would have been a different story. I know that, my team knows that, and everyone around me knows if he would have been there, it would have been different. But we leave behind what’s behind.”
Though Schleck played it cool following his brother’s injury and abandonment, behind closed doors, he was distressed. Not only was his older brother a serious podium threat, but he was also his roommate and mentor. Never was his absence more conspicuous than on stage 15, when Schleck’s chain slip left him isolated and chasing Contador, Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez. Had Fränk Schleck been there, it’s likely that together the Saxo riders would have been able to chase back on in tandem.
Though he was angry following the stage 15 incident, Schleck quickly accepted Contador’s apology for attacking while Schleck was wearing the maillot jaune.
“The Tour won’t be won because of a slipped chain,” Schleck said.
Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis said Schleck’s philosophical attitude towards the 39-second differential was genuine, but wouldn’t elaborate on what might have been had Fränk Schleck remained in the race
“These are things you never know,” Riis said. “We can speculate until Christmas, and never really know what would have happened. Of course we would have loved to have Fränk here, there would have been a few days of giving us possibilities in the mountains. But in the end, we did great. Andy was strong, but Alberto was also strong. I think we succeeded in most of the things we set out to do.”
Heading into the stage 19 time trial, pundits expected Contador to better Schleck by a margin of between one and two minutes. Instead, the Astana rider was only able to finish 31 seconds ahead of Schleck.
Schleck said that while some might have been surprised by the close margin in the time trial, he wasn’t.
“For me, I never had doubts I could win the Tour, based on both the mountains and the time trial,” Schleck said. “Today was not a battle between me and Contador. A time trial is a fight with yourself, and you push yourself to the limits. I tried to do that, and when I finished, I could barely get off my bike. I think I did a good time trial. I went out and I fought. I didn’t succeed, but I think I came pretty close — it’s just seconds in the end. Alberto was just better.
“But I’ll be back. I’m already on the start line for next year. And I think Alberto needs to be more worried than I am.”