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Tour de France

Schleck era winding down as Trek hunts for new GC riders

Trek is shopping for GC riders for 2015 and beyond, confirming that the Schleck era is winding down

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BESANCON, France (VN) — The era when the Schleck brothers dominated the Tour de France is clearly over.

With the sun setting on the Schleck brothers, Trek Factory Racing is on the hunt for replacement GC contenders to carry the team into 2015 and beyond.

“It’s no secret that we are looking for GC riders,” Trek manager Luca Guercilena said before the start of Wednesday’s stage. “For sure we need to be stronger in the GC next year.”

Andy Schleck, 29, who’s struggled with form since a devastating crash in the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné, started the Tour with no GC ambitions, instead slotting into a helper’s role. He crashed out in stage 3 with a possible career-ending knee injury.

Frank Schleck, 34, who returned to competition this year following a one-year ban for a failed anti-doping test during the 2012 Tour, lost his podium chances in the first week of this Tour, starting Wednesday’s stage 11 in 25th overall, at 11:51 back.

With the Schlecks languishing, Trek is looking to sign new talent to develop for the future.

One rider linked to Trek is Dutch all-rounder Bauke Mollema, currently under contract with Belkin through the end of this season. Dutch media have reported that the Mollema deal is done, and another source confirmed to VeloNews that Mollema is set to join Trek next season.

With Belkin’s sponsorship future in doubt, other big names, such as Wilco Kelderman and Sep Vanmarcke, have been linked to moves to other teams.

Guercilena said he is obligated by UCI rules to not reveal new signings until August 1, but confirmed that the team is interested in Mollema.

“We are interested in him, just like other teams are,” he said. “He is the type of rider who would fit into our program, and I think he could improve with us, but we cannot say anything until August 1.”

Guercilena confirmed the team is looking at “many riders” and said, despite many of the top Tour contenders under contract, “there are a few interesting riders on the market.”

Those comments confirm that Trek is turning the page on the Schleck era.

Since the team’s founding in 2011 as Leopard-Trek, the Schleck brothers were the centerpiece of the team’s Tour ambitions. After becoming the first brothers in Tour history to share the podium, with Andy second to Cadel Evans and Frank third in 2011, both have gone off the rails.

Andy crashed in the 2012 Dauphiné, forcing him to miss that year’s Tour, only to return in 2013 to finish career-worst 20th at the Tour. Some have questioned Schleck’s work ethic, including former team boss Johan Bruyneel, who tried to rattle his cage during the 2012 season.

Frank, meanwhile, tested positive for the diuretic xipamide, and was kicked out of the race. After serving a reduced one-year ban, Leopard did not take him back in the 2013 season, and he returned to racing at the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under.

Both are at the end of their contracts, and reportedly took major pay cuts in the 2014 season.

“It’s a question of results,” Guercilena said about the Schlecks. “Trek has invested a lot in this program, and it’s obvious the team needs to be present in the general classification in the major races.”

Guercilena confirmed that both riders are at the end of their contracts this season, but would not reveal if they are staying with the team next year.

“For Andy, first we have to take care of his health before making a real diagnosis for the future. Until that, we cannot say anything,” Guercilena said. “Frank is performing quite OK. He’s on his level, and he’s interesting for us.”

Those comments suggest that Frank could stay with the team but that Andy’s future is far from certain. The brothers, however, have said before that they would never race on separate teams. Of course, there is no guarantee that Andy will be able to return from his injury, opening the door for Frank to continue racing without his brother at his side.

The uncertainty of their futures reveals just how far the Schlecks have fallen from their pinnacle.

As Trek looks to the future, Guercilena also confirmed that the team is sticking with its international posture when it comes to signing riders. Matthew Busche is the only American rider on the U.S.-registered team.

“We want to be an international team, not just an American team,” he said.