“All the years you have people around you who do everything for you,” Andy Schleck tells Cycle Sport. “Someone at the bank, a trainer, nutritionist, a cook, a personal soigneur, a mental coach, a manager, someone to do your laundry. The only thing you have to do is wipe your arse. And of course, train well and ride hard.
“And suddenly everything is gone, and you think, ‘F***, all these people, how did they do that?’ And that’s just the beginning.”
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There was a certain tragedy to Andy Schleck’s retirement in 2014. Before he was out of his 20s, knee damage had brought an abrupt end to his racing days. He has since had to get used to ‘normal’ life. He has put on weight. He can no longer justify being lazy around the house. He’s had to learn to write letters, previously taken care of by an assistant.
“You don’t recognise your legs any more,” he adds. “There are small things like that which are hard to accept.”
Former professionals often struggle to adjust to life away from cycling, when freedom can easily turn to bewilderment and agoraphobia. The last Luxembourger before Schleck to win the Tour, Charly Gaul, retired at 33 before cutting himself off from his past and spending two decades as a hermit in the woods.
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Schleck’s next step is as fascinating as it is underwhelming; he is working for his stepfather’s company, which installs heating systems and swimming pools. The goal, he explained, is to prepare himself for his next project, running a bike shop in Itzig, Luxembourg. It is due to open in January 2016. “I’ve been in accounts, computing systems, ordering, stock,” says Schleck, “so I don’t fall in cold water when the bills come and I don’t know what to do with them.”
Schleck’s shop will include a cafe and museum where, alongside his jerseys and bikes will sit his collection of memorabilia: a boxing glove belonging to Muhammad Ali, a guitar from the Rolling Stones, and a Barry Bonds baseball bat. Maybe Schleck likes to put himself amongst the world’s sporting greats. Maybe he’s just keen to share his things with the public.
“Journalists often said I wasn’t aggressive enough towards my rivals to win stuff, saying, ‘You’re not a true campione.’ I was offended. But today I can say yes, maybe the journalists were right, but I have no regrets, I was not that kind of person.”
Schleck was an appealing rider because his human qualities were always very easily laid bare. He might have been riding high in the stratosphere of pro cycling, but his near misses, struggles and failures amongst moments of brilliance were a vivid reflection of real life.
His house contains just one reminder of what he used to do: a photo, taken at the finish of stage 18 of the 2011 Tour, where Schleck has his arms aloft towards the misty peaks surrounding the Col du Galibier. It was a ride that cemented his place in cycling history. It should have won him the Tour but, ultimately, it didn’t.
“My partner insisted that we put the picture of me winning on top of the Galibier in the living room,” he says. “To begin with I was against it. But it’s funny, my little boy, he’s 18 months old, and now he points at the picture and says, ‘Daddy.’
“Next year, people can come and see me in my shop,” he adds. “And if you want, I’ll tell you the story about the Galibier as well!”