Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) returns to Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, not as a favourite to win as he did in 2009, but in search of himself.
Somewhat philosophically, he said yesterday in a press conference, "There's a strong headwind, but I think that will change."
The 27-year-old from Luxembourg has a string of podium finishes at the Tour de France. He even has a win, from 2010, which the courts awarded after stripping the title from Alberto Contador for doping.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) might have had to deal with him last year had it not been for a crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné. In the windy time trial, Schleck lost control, landed on his hip and fractured his coccyx or tailbone.
Since that crash, he has been struggling.
He was forced to miss the Tour de France. He could only return to racing in October at the Tour of Beijing. He failed to finish it, which set a trend that would continue well into 2013.
He placed 91st in GP Camaiore, but, partly due to his recovery process and partly due to a cold, abandoned stage races. Not until the Critérium International in late March did he complete one, placing nearly 23 minutes behind winner Chris Froome (Sky).
Given his Tour of Basque Country DNF and the first two Ardennes Classics - Amstel Gold DNF, Flèche Wallonne 86th - it is hard to consider him for Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"This year," Schleck explained, "I won't be the one who shapes the race on La Redoute."
There is a bright side. Schleck said that his winter training went well and he is on track to challenge in the Tour de France, if not this year, then next year.
"I had a good winter. The training camp in Spain ran smoothly, but it's only in the peloton do you feel what you're missing. And that was quite a bit," Schleck added.
"I never wanted to stop. I enjoy training now, more than before. Before it was just a necessity to be good. Now, I'm excited to get up and do a heavy training ride.
"But of course, everyone doubts. I am shocked how mean people can be at times. Some people write things just to cause to harm. I know that I have many critics, but I feel that I've done a lot for my team, for my country and for cycling."
Schleck referred to an incident after abandoning Tirreno-Adriatico, when a French politician reported that he saw him drunk in a Munich hotel.
He shook his head when he heard questions about it. That is just the price of fame, he said without denying the incident.
He would rather talk about suffering in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which he called "the most beautiful one-day race" in 2009. It is another step in his recovery process and return as a Grand Tour champion.
Andy Schleck: Rider profile
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2013 preview
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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