The 2018 Tour de France was not without controversy, with the winning team often jeered along the roadside throughout the race. Following Chris Froome’s Salbutamol saga — the four-time overall champ was only cleared of an anti-doping infraction on the Monday before the Tour began — fans weren’t all friendly to Sky riders in France this July. And that doesn’t sit right with Andy Schleck.
For his part, the 2010 Tour champion is frustrated with the perception surrounding the sport. In an interview with the VeloNews podcast, Schleck defended the state of clean sport in the peloton even going back to the last decade.
“I believe in my era already cycling was very clean,” he said. “I raced clean.”
Although injuries forced Schleck to retire from racing nearly four years ago, he was once again at this Tour de France, working as a brand ambassador for Skoda. After the Tour finale in Paris, the three-time stage winner — who was awarded the yellow jersey after it was stripped from Alberto Contador — offered his opinions on the state of cycling both then and now.
“I believe that cycling is the cleanest sport out there today. Cycling is by far the most controlled sport. Is there still someone cheating? Yeah, probably, but that’s life, society. People always want to take a shortcut,” he said.
Schleck last raced the Tour in 2014. After emerging as one of the most promising talents in the sport at a young age, he rode to four grand tour podiums and, officially, one overall victory, but saw his career derailed by crashes and persistent knee problems. He retired in October of 2014. Still just 33 years old, he is a few months younger than Sky’s Chris Froome and Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali.
Schleck said that despite the disappointing end to his career, he is enjoying life on the other side.
“I have no hard feelings,” he said. “[Cycling has] been a great part of my life. Not the best one because I have two kids and a beautiful wife too, so that’s the best one — but this is definitely something I don’t want to miss in my life, going up here and finishing, going to the podium, knowing all the people are cheering for you. But now, I’m the one standing on the side and cheering for the others. That’s great too.”
Although he no longer competes for a living, Schleck remains tuned-in to the sport and still appreciates the racing. This year, that has meant seeing plenty of angry fans along the roadside. For Schleck, the spectacle of rider suffering and sacrifice out on the road is worth cheering for. He questioned spectators that turn out to watch the racing only to express their distaste for the peloton.
“Those that come to the road to boo riders or make a sign [saying] ‘dopers’ or something, what’s the purpose? Why do they do that? If they don’t like it, they should stay at home,” he said.
That said, Schleck was enjoying the atmosphere in Paris, the same place that saw him standing on the overall podium three times. He described the mixed emotions that come with finishing a race, finally getting the chance to spend time with family but missing teammates at the same time. For Schleck, getting to Paris was a unique life experience.
“No victory at all can replace the feeling you have on the Champs-Élysées when you come and you finish the Tour,” he said.
Although the history books count him as a Tour winner, Schleck never had the chance to stand atop the podium. He was not awarded the 2010 Tour victory until February of 2012. Stil, he said managed to celebrate “very hard” at the end of his three Tours as a podium finisher. He expected this year’s finishers to be doing the same.
“You drink a few beers in the bus and then you go to the hotel, you shower,” he said. “Then you go to this dinner, you have one glass of one, maybe two, and then it’s done. So skinny, you know so it goes very quick.”
Fred Dreier contributed to this report from Paris.