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Frank Schleck’s road to recovery runs through Utah

Schleck is using the weeklong Utah stage race to gear up for a run at the Vuelta a España, says he missed being in the Tour this summer.

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MIDWAY, Utah (VN) — Frank Schleck paused for a few seconds, and a crooked smile then spread across his long, narrow face. The veteran Luxemburger has endured many injuries, and he returned to competition this week at the Tour of Utah after another setback.

But the biggest challenge he’s faced this season? “Not riding in the Tour,” Schleck said prior to stage 4 in Soldier Hollow, as the second half of the race unfolded Thursday and with mountain stages looming. “I have to admit, it was difficult. When things happen, it’s tough not to be there.”

“But I want to go back to the Tour. I think the last time I did it, I was 11th [actually 12th]. I lost eight minutes in a crash and I would have been in the top 10, and I think I would still be able to do that.”

Schleck’s participating in the Tour of Utah for the first time. He trained for 10 days in Utah as part of his continuing recovery from knee ligament damage suffered in a crash in April at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He returned in June at the Tour de Suisse, but withdrew on the final time trial stage with hopes of still competing at the Tour de France. It didn’t happen.

“You have to take it as it comes,” said Schleck, who, along with Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), is expected to vie for the overall title when the 11th annual event finishes with two weekend mountain stages. “You have a knee injury, and so you have to focus on another big stage race, the Vuelta. But it depends. Next year, I will be 36. I want to got back to the Tour. I am not saying I will finish in the top 10, but I want to go back.”

For the first time since he finished fourth in 2010, Schleck will compete beginning August 22 in the Vuelta a España.

Schleck, whose contract with Trek will continue in 2016, is also riding this year without his brother, Andy — another long-time first for him. The younger Schleck, 30, retired because of lingering injuries after the 2014 season.

Frank Schleck has two Tour de France stage wins and six finishes dating back to 2006. He has three top-10 finishes, including third in 2011 when his brother finished second. It was the first and only time siblings finished together on the Tour de France podium. In addition to his runner-up finish four years ago, Andy Schleck won the race in 2010 after Alberto Contador’s (Tinkoff-Saxo) victory was stripped, had three Tour de France stage wins, and five overall finishes.

“We have always been very close,” said Schleck who communicates with his brother often via text and phone calls. “We were not only teammates. We are best friends. We have the same hobbies. We like to go fishing. We hang out together a lot. We do holidays together with our families. The bond is still there. Cycling was one part of it, yes. But there is more than just riding a bike.”

Asked how brother is faring in retirement, Schleck didn’t pause but his smile returned. “He’s getting lazy and fat,” the elder Schleck said. “He’s doing fine.”