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ALBI (VN) – In October 2009 Andy Schleck was a guest of honor at the Tour de France’s annual presentation. The Tour’s organizer flew him to Paris, where a driver waited to whisk him away to the glitzy gala. It was there that Schleck, the popular runner-up to Alberto Contador, delivered a speech to the crowd.
Just two years later, Schleck again made his way to the Tour’s presentation as the Tour’s runner-up, this time to Cadel Evans. This time, however, the situation was much different. Schleck took the train to Paris and then bought a ticket on the subway. He walked the rest of the way to the presentation.
“I am sitting in the audience, but still the same person. So why the plane and the driver and the speech? It was never meant for me,” Schleck tells VeloNews, recalling the scene. “It was meant for the guy who won the Tour that year. It’s the label that’s on you. [Even] when you have the yellow jersey in the Tour, you get a lot of fame, but it’s not towards you. It’s towards ‘the jersey,’ and the clothes on you. Riders don’t realize that. It’s the yellow jersey, the team jersey that you sign.”
Fast forward eight years. These days Schleck is a regular attendee at the Tour de France. He’s a few pounds heavier, a few years wiser than that young man who sat in the audience at the Tour’s 2011 presentation. He’s a father now, too, with two children. And Schleck carries the title of 2010 Tour champion, a result that was awarded to him in May, 2012, after Contador was stripped of the title for doping offenses.
In interviews, Schleck has downplayed the importance of that retroactive Tour victory, telling Andrew Hood shortly after the decision that, ‘for me, it’s not a victory.’
These days, that yellow jersey continues to hold little value for Schleck. When asked where it is now, Schleck offers a blunt answer.
“It’s not even hanging somewhere [at home],” he said. “I have a yellow Jersey of Fabian [Cancellara] and I have the yellow jersey of Frank hanging in my shop. My jersey? It’s really not hanging anywhere.”
There are other moments from Schleck’s career that he holds above that Tour victory. In 2011 he and his brother, Frank, finished on the podium together with Evans in second and third, respectively, after throwing everything they had at the Australian.
Andy Schleck’s stage 18 solo attack to the Galibier brought him a stage win and the yellow jersey. While he did not win, he and Frank became the first siblings to ever stand on the Tour’s final podium.
“Standing with your brother on probably the biggest stage in the world—that’s an incredible joy,” Schleck says. “I was so, so proud. You cannot describe it, how it is to go up there. You feel like the king of the world. And if you can share that with someone you love, you just double it, you know? I get goose bumps all the time, just when I talk about it.”
Schleck says he is extremely happy with how his life has unfolded since he retired in 2014. He and his brother own three bike shops. He also does public speaking on the issue of athlete transition and life beyond life elite sport, from the opportunities that present to the pitfalls.
In his retirement, Schleck has come to believe that the sport—and especially the Tour de France—should do more to help athletes develop as people throughout their careers, so that they have greater professional opportunities when they retire.
“It’s important. If I can help one guy have a clear view for after cycling, I [will have done] my job,” he said. “But I’m not an institution. There’s no such program in cycling.”
Schleck believes Tour organizers, Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) should lead the way by initiating a foundation to provide financial assistance to riders once they retire. This foundation could steer riders’s pathway as people, and not just cyclists, during and after their professional careers.
“Let’s say, 0.5% of their income, donate that to an association dedicated [to supporting riders],” he says. “They’re all human. They all stand up, go to toilet, eat, debrief, have doubts, fears, everything.”
Schleck says his own transition into the life he now enjoys was not easy. He needed time away from the sport, he says; and he took it. In turn, he also realized that he needed to find a new identity. He did not want to be lumped into the growing pool of former or retired jocks.
For Schleck, the fallout from the doping scandals that hung over his generation became a constant noise that he needed to step away from. In a 2018 interview Schleck told VeloNews that he raced clean during his career.
“I needed the time to figure it out,” Schleck says. “A lot of things came up after my career and you just have got to accept it. Life is not fair, and that’s okay. I had to figure out what’s my next skill. That might change over time and a couple of times, but quite quickly I found a new added identification.
“Most important [after retirement] is that you redefine your identity; that you don’t lose it. You’re ‘up there’ [in sport], and suddenly you think you are ‘down there’ because you don’t have your bike anymore, or the jerseys and team you identify with. I figured that out. I’m a really happy person.”
When the Tour de France peloton races up the Tourmalet on Saturday, Schleck admitted that he will likely feel a flutter of angst. It’s that feeling of ‘if only,’ as he remembers his heroics on the climb back in 2010, when he won the stage ahead of Contador. He smiles, and calls it a smidgen of “melancholy.”
He knows that is just a fleeting emotion, that the bigger picture of his life still awaits to be painted.
Midway through our interview, Schleck reaches out to shake the hand of a passerby. It’s Contador, who is now a regular sight at the Tour de France in retirement.
“Everything changes in life. I don’t miss it at all,” Schleck says. “What I miss is sitting here. Now he’s [Contador] there, so is Stuey [O’Grady]. If I see anyone now I talk. That’s the only thing I miss. Or, maybe the pay check.”
Schleck laughs. His ‘now life’ beckons, and happily so.