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Andy Schleck may not be a contender, but team says he’s on the comeback trail

The one-time star climber can't hang with the best at Tirreno-Adriatico, but team management insists he'll be ready for the Tour

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CHIETI, Italy (VN) — Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) missed the thrilling finale to the Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday. While Chris Froome (Sky) won, Schleck pushed his way up the mountain and toward what his team hopes will be a complete recovery.

Slipping off the Sky-driven peloton only 3km up the 14.5km Prati di Tivo climb was not ideal. However, the team has confidence.

General manager Luca Guercilena said Schleck is improving following a crash last June in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

“We are confident we’ll be in a good place for the Ardennes classics,” Guercilena told VeloNews. “And then he will build up for the Tour de France. We’re optimistic his condition will come back.”

Schleck slipped off his bike at the worst time for RadioShack. Former GM Johan Bruyneel had been linked to the Lance Armstrong doping investigation and riders were complaining of missing salary payments.

Guercilena was promoted from within to replace Bruyneel over the winter, and Fabian Cancellara remarked how it felt better with Guercilena at the helm. However, Schleck is still suffering.

He fractured his coccyx in the Critérium du Dauphiné, called off his Tour de France and only returned to racing in October at the Tour of Beijing.

In the Tour Down Under in January, however, he pulled out early. He caught a cold during his return to Europe. He pulled out of the Méditerranéen Tour and the Tour of Oman.

He is midway into Tirreno, but Prati di Tivo shows he is still suffering.

“He’s improving, even if you don’t see him up there. We know how far back he was after the crash,” Guercilena added.

“We consider the situation in the Tour of Med three weeks ago, when we were pretty scared. Now, he’s getting better and better. He’s okay performance-wise, but for some reason that we don’t know, maybe due to the crash, he still has some psychological problems on the descent. It’s going away step by step, and his self confidence is coming back.”

Guercilena is looking at the numbers and charting Schleck’s progress. He figured most of the top riders were producing around 6 watts per kilogram of body weight yesterday. Schleck, he said, is around 5.3 or 5.4.

A change in weather

After rain for the first four days, the sun finally dried the roads for Sunday’s stage to Chieti. Schleck preferred to stay behind closed doors ahead of the start, hoping to get through this race before commenting further on his progress.

“The pressure is normal given the athlete he is. The pressure is sometimes good. Sometimes it can be stress, but sometimes it is a reminder that everyone still loves you and wants you back,” Guercilena said.

“In any pro sport, it’s easy to forget the good things someone has done before. We are trying to support Andy first as a person and then as an athlete. We really think that what he had in 2012 was not normal. We are confident he can come back.”

Schleck was awarded the 2010 Tour title after Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) was disqualified for doping. In 2009 and 2011, he placed second overall.

RadioShack hopes that Tirreno-Adriatico will get him back on track to be a Tour contender again.