This afternoon one of the most spectacular races in the calendar begins close to the Arctic Circle.
Here’s your guide to the Arctic Race of Norway, with thanks to Eliot Lietaer of Team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who’ll be lining up on the start line today.
What is the Arctic Race?
A fairly new addition to the race calendar, the Arctic Race was first held in 2013 as a category 2.1 UCI Europe Tour event. From 2015 the race was classified as 2.HC. Fittingly, the inaugural edition was won by the Norwegian Thor Hushovd. Hushovd continued to be involved with the event as an official race ambassador.
What’s the route like?
The route this year is made up of 4 stages, each designed to accommodate different styles of rider. This is a theme in the Arctic Race of Norway – to date we’ve seen overall victories going to a sprinter (Hushovd), climber (Kruijswijk), GC rider (Taaramaie) and Classics specialist (Moscon). Last year, Team Sky’s Moscon took home 500 kilograms of fish as well as the winners Blue & Orange Jersey!
The riders will cover a distance of 680km over the 4 stages of the race, cheered on from the roadside by enthusiastic fans, and cycling through some of the most spectacular scenery seen by the professional peloton. “Norway is a really nice country to race in” explains Eliot Lietaer of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, who is competing in his second Arctic Race. “The roads are really good, the hotels are nice – always good WiFi – and there are very friendly people cheering at the side of the road”.
The route this year is well suited to Lietaer’s style of racing, comprising one real climbers day, two for the sprinters – one a pure sprint day – and a rolling stage perfect for puncheurs, which includes some sharp climbs to test the legs.
“I’m really looking forward to the Arctic Race of Norway this year because it really suits me – three relatively flat stages and one mountain top finish where the GC will be decided and where I can show my real strength”.
Lietaer thrives in situations like this, and coming off the back of a great showing at the Vuelta a Burgos, don’t be surprised to see him mixing it at the sharp end. “I prefer stage races as I do very well at them. My recuperation is very good at the end of a stage race, and I’m still feeling strong and can go for a good result. The Tour de Wallonie and Vuelta a Burgos were my goals for the season as well as the Arctic Race – after that I’m only racing a few one day events. I hope to do well as I have ambitions to ride for a WorldTour team next year, so every race counts”.
What can we expect to see over the 4 days of racing?
Amazing scenery, Norwegian flags and some great racing!
“The style of racing is pretty similar to races in traditional cycling countries” explains Lietaer. One thing that will be different is the amazing backdrop. “I rode the Arctic Race of Norway once a few years ago, and it was a really nice experience, as we finished one stage at a place called ‘The End of the World’ – the North Cape. It’s always nice to finish at spectacular places like this.”
Day one sees the riders starting the race on the island of Andorja, and utilises a finishing circuit last seen in the 2015 edition of the race. 5km before the finish line, the riders will reach the summit of the Skistua climb, which covers 2.3km at an average of 6.6% gradient. The pure sprinters will be eyeing up day two, which starts at Sjovegan and uniquely finishes on the runway of the airport at Bardufoss.
Stage three is the day for the climbers, with the route heading into the spectacular Lyngen Alps for a summit finish in Finnvikdalen, after 4km of climbing with a 5.5% average gradient.
The forth and final stage starts and finishes in the Norwegian city of Tromso, encircling the settlement with a loop of 118km before tackling three laps of a 13km finishing circuit – including some pretty punchy climbs to ignite the GC competition.
The Arctic Race of Norway has a bit of a cult following, and its position in the race calendar makes it an attractive prospect before the Vuelta. Fresh from victory at the Tour of Poland, BMC’s Dylan Teuns is confident he’ll be able to perform well. Teams at the Arctic Race are made up of 6 riders, with some, like Dimension Data, choosing to take one or two stagiaires to increase their race experience.
WorldTour teams Dimension Data, Astana, Sunweb, Katusha-Alpecin and Teuns’ BMC will be on the start line, and there’ll be a strong local contingent with a number of Norwegian teams taking part.
“There are a lot of Norwegian teams competing with a lot of talented guys who are really motivated” explains Lietaer.
What are the prizes on offer?
The race leader will wear the Blue & Orange Jersey, with a Green Jersey on offer for the Points Classification, and the so-called ‘Salmon’ Jersey (a sort of orange colour) for the King of the Mountains. Prizes are also rewarded to the ‘Most Active Rider’ of the day, and to the best placed team on GC.
Who’s going to win?
Newly crowned European champion Alexander Kristoff will want to continue the winning streak he started at London-Surrey – especially on home turf. Dylan Teuns of BMC is the Freewheeling pick for the GC however, and don’t count out Rein Taaramäe, the overall winner here in 2015.
When can I watch it?
Eurosport 1 will show live coverage from 4-5pm BST. This footage will be repeated on E2 at 7pm.
The time between the end of the Tour de France and the start of the Vuelta a España is packed to bursting with excellent racing -which is great news if the finishing circuits of the Champs-Elysées leave you feeling flat and uninspired. We’ve already seen some one-day action with RideLondon hosting the World Tour level London-Surrey Classic and Michal Kwiatkowski’s brilliant win at the Clásica San Sebastián since the Tour finished in Paris. As for stage racing – the Tour of Poland, Tour of Utah and the Vuelta a Burgos are currently in full flow!
We’re still a few weeks away from the Vuelta, but there’s plenty of road racing to keep you busy. Here’s your post-Tour survival guide to take you from France to Spain each year.
Tour de Wallonie
22nd – 26th July 2017
The Tour de Wallonie travels through the French speaking part of Belgium, and is part of the UCI Europe Tour. From 1974 to 1995, the race was for amateurs only. This year saw BMC’s Dylan Teuns take the overall win – fittingly for a Belgian!
Clásica San Sebastián
29th July 2017
This year, Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski won the one-day classic in Spain’s Basque region, a race which is famed for its stunning coastline scenery and tricky climbs. Part of the UCI World Tour, San Sebastián usually clocks in at around 220km in length, with the race often being decided on the slopes of the Alto de Jaizkibel, a climb which the riders tackle twice and which makes its second and final appearance around 20km from the finish line.
Lance Armstrong won here in 1995 before his cancer diagnosis; other famous winners include Casagrande, Jalabert, Indurain and Valverde. British rider Adam Yates won the 2015 edition.
30th July 2017
The annual London-Surrey Classic grew out of the hype around the 2012 Olympics; the first edition of the race was run in August 2011 as a warm-up for the Games. The inaugural London-Surrey race was relatively short for a Classic, covering approximately 140km and taking in many of the same roads as the Olympic events a year later. Once out of the city, the riders enter the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and tackle a number of circuits of Westhumble through to Ranmore Common and on to Box Hill. The famed climb of Box Hill is not the only incline on the route, which also includes Leith Hill and a 50 mile circuit in and around Dorking.
This year the London-Surrey Classic joined the UCI World Tour as part of an ever expanding calendar of races. The race has become a favourite with the riders for the iconic locations taken in over the 200km course – as well as Box Hill, the route also passes through Westminster, crosses Putney Bridge, and finishes on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Amateurs get the chance to ride the same roads as the pros immediately prior to the Men’s race on the Sunday of the RideLondon festival of cycling.
The race is well suited to sprinters – Mark Cavendish won the inaugural edition, this year the honours went to Katusha Alpecin’s Alexander Kristoff.
Tour of Poland
9th July – 4th August 2017
First held in 1928, the Tour of Poland is a week long stage race. Like the Tour de Wallonie, the race began life as an amateurs only event, eventually becoming a pro race in 1993. Now classified as part of the World Tour, the Tour of Poland has earned a reputation as a top quality, well organised race.
Inspired by the Tour de France, the original race even had the backing of a newspaper like it’s French counterpart; the Warsaw Cycling Club teamed up with Przeglad Sportsowy, a sporting newspaper, to organise the first edition.
The 2016 edition was won by Belgium’s Tim Wellens, and I expect by the time you read this we’ll know who the winner of the 2017 edition is!
Tour of Utah
31st July – 6th August 2017
Nicknamed ‘America’s Toughest Stage Race’, the Tour of Utah is relatively new on the scene and notorious for its difficulty – half the competitors did not finish the 2010 edition. The race is made interesting and tough through a combination of extreme weather and high altitude, which are often the deciding factors in the General Classification competition.
Founded in 2000, the inaugural edition was only open to amateurs. In 2004 that changed, and the race became known as the Tour of Utah. The format was bought and promoted by Larry H Millar Investments in 2007 – ironically, the ’07 edition was postponed due to a lack of sponsors.
One of the only UCI sanctioned stage races in the US, the Tour of Utah attracts a mainly American field, and the results table is reflective of this – Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson have won two editions each. Last year the race was won by Australia’s Lachlan Morton in a break from the usual US dominance.
European Road Race Championships
2nd August – 6thAugust 2017
The European Road Championships have been regulated by the European Cycling Union since 1995. Riders are chosen by their national governing body and wear national team kit.
The winners receive a Champions Jersey reminiscent of the EU flag – blue, emblazoned with gold stars. This year the event takes place in Herning, Denmark, with the 2018 event scheduled to be held in Glasgow.
The 2016 European Time Trial was won by Castroviejo, with Victor Campenaerts in second place. This year, Campenaerts has just won the Time Trial, with Maciej Bodnar, fresh from Tour de France TT victory, taking second place. In common with national and World championship competitions, the European Championships also hold U23 and Women’s events.
Fun fact – Marcel Kittel won the U23 Time Trial in 2009!
BinckBank Tour (formerly Eneco Tour)
7th-13th August 2017
The BinckBank Tour grew out of the Tour of the Netherlands, which was stalling and losing popularity in the early 2000s. The race as we now know it started life in 2005 when the Eneco energy company came on board as a sponsor. The original idea was to join forces with the Tours of Belgium and Luxembourg, and to roll all three races into one Benelux Tour. The idea faltered, and all three remain as separate races.
Bobby Julich won the newly named Eneco Tour in 2005. The race has always suited Edvald Boassen Hagen’s riding style, and he has won the General Classification twice. Last year Niki Terpstra took the GC honours, with Oliver Naesen in second place and Sagan completing the podium.
The Arctic Race of Norway
10th -13th August 2017
The Arctic Race is organised by ASO, who also run the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España amongst other high profile races. A relative newcomer, the inaugural edition was held in 2013. Fittingly, the first edition was won by the Norwegian Thor Hushovd, who is now the race ambassador. The 2016 race traced the edge of the Arctic circle and was won by Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon.
The Arctic Race takes place in northern Norway and features some of the most stunning and spectacular scenery in the whole of the UCI calendar. The 2017 edition covers 680km across 4 stages, aiming to provide terrain for sprinters and punchers, with a bit of climbing thrown in for good measure.
The Arctic Race celebrates Norwegian culture and heritage, and is proud of its reputation as a ‘race with a crazy touch’. Stage 2 will be one for the pure sprinters with an unconventional finish on the runway of Bardutoss Airport. The Norwegian fans are very vocal in their support of the race, which is fast becoming a highlight of the UCI calendar.
10th – 13th August 2017
A series of 4 one-day races, the Colorado Classic is a new event which is said to fuse the best elements of ‘Colorado’s lost Red Zinger Bicycle Classic, the Coors Classic and the USA Pro Challenge’. Red Zinger and the Coors Classic were popular American criteriums, whereas the Pro Challenge was the perfect made-for-tv extended advert for the Colorado tourist board, taking the viewer on a spectacular journey of the Colorado high lands.
For a state obsessed with all things bicycle, stage racing has never really found its feet in Colorado. The new initiative hopes to address this anomaly, and includes a ‘three day street party’ in Denver called Velorama. The organisers see Velorama as the perfect vehicle to relaunch road racing in the public imagination, relying heavily on advertising slogans such as ‘Pro Cycling is Back’, and ‘100+ cyclists, 3 cities, 1 giant party’. Colorado is well known as a creative outdoor hub, and it seems fitting that something as unique and intriguing as Velorama is taking place here.
Local lad Taylor Phinney and his teammate Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac will be amongst the number of pro riders making an appearance, fresh from Uran’s 2nd place at the Tour de France.
Lance Armstrong and JB Hager will be covering the Colorado Classic for the Stages podcast, a perfect match as both the Velorama event and Stages take a new and pioneering approach to road racing, which could be just what the US scene requires to inject some much-needed enthusiasm at grass roots level. The 2017 Tour de France only included 3 American riders; hopefully initiatives like Stages and Velorama will go some way to rectifying this perceived lack of depth in US pro cycling.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the Freewheeling Arctic Race special with Eliot Lietaer of Sport Vlaanderen – Baloise
Following the controversial crash at the end of Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France, which ended the involvement of both Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish in this year’s race, Freewheeling looks back at some of Cav’s other race-changing incidents….
- A Stain on the Jersey
After winning an amazing 6 stages at the 2009 Tour de France, Mark Cavendish left Paris without having secured the prize he most coveted – the green jersey. Despite being on top form, Cav’s designs on the maillot vert came to an abrupt – and controversial – end, when he was disqualified from the Stage 14 results, deemed to have been riding dangerously by steering his rival Thor Hushovd into the barriers.
Cav complained loudly about his disqualification, believing that Hushovd had not played fair by making an official complaint about the Stage 14 sprint. The dispute between the two riders rumbled on throughout the rest of the Tour, with Cav telling the press “this guy thinks so highly of himself that he thinks I’m trying to cheat to beat him…I said to him ‘you’ve won the green jersey, but that’s always going to have a stain on it’…”
- Flicking the V in Romandie
After Cav’s 6 wins in the ’09 Tour, the lack of the green jersey in Paris started to simmer below the surface for Cav and his team, and they were not ashamed to be vocal about targetting the maillot vert for the 2010 Tour de France.
Following the usual pattern however, Cav’s path to glory was far from smooth, and his claim on the jersey looked to be on shaky ground from the off. Cavendish contracted a nasty dental infection in the off-season, which impacted upon his ability to train during the winter months, when most pro racers are laying the foundations for the rest of their season. Cav and cohorts were understandably frustrated going into the early season races, concerned about the impact his truncated training period would have upon his Tour de France ambitions. Some sections of the media began questioning Cav’s commitment, and suggestions were circulating that Mark’s volatile emotional responses – to racing, to questions from journalists, to the actions and statements of his rivals – were hampering his ability to reach his undoubted potential.
The press were keen to focus on what some saw as a question mark over his form, given Cav’s inability to defend his Milan-San Remo title in March 2010. His rocky relationship with team mate and fellow sprinter, Andre Greipel, was generating the column inches which, in a perfect world, would have been filled with a host of early season wins. Cav felt that the media had failed to understand the nuances of pro racing and the impact his dental problems had had upon his training and early races. All these ingredients were swirling around in the pot when Cavendish was selected by his team HTC-Columbia for the Tour de Romandie, a stage race in late April.
Storming to a typically impressive sprint victory in Stage 2 in Switzerland, as he crossed the line in Fribourg, Cav flicked the V sign, the gesture clearly aimed at his critics in the media. In case anyone was confused, Cav told the post-stage press conference that he wanted “to send a message to commentators and journalists who don’t know jack shit about cycling”.
Cav raced Stage 3 – a time trial in which he finished 139th, however HTC-Columbia pulled him from the race soon after, citing “inappropriate actions” when flicking the V in Fribourg. Cav was forced to make a public apology, “I did want to make a statement to my critics but realise that making rude gestures on the finish line is not the best way to do that”.
- Ragin’ Renshaw
Following his expulsion from the Tour de Romandie at the end of April 2010, Cavendish remained undeterred in his green jersey ambitions. The HTC-Columbia team had perfected the art of the lead-out, with the Aussie Mark Renshaw as the last link in the chain, the man to take Cav up the final few metres towards the finish line before swinging away and allowing Cav to leap from his slipstream and dart towards the line with his incredible power and natural sprinting ability. HTC-Columbia’s lead-out was the envy of every sprinter in the peloton, a well-oiled-and-well-drilled machine, with tactical prowess and the ability to accurately read race situations before allowing Cav to power to the line with a frightening acceleration. Going into the 2010 Tour de France, you’d have been mad to suggest that the maillot vert had a destination other than the Manxman from HTC-Columbia.
If you listen to Cav’s post-race interviews, you’ll notice something – a sentiment that he’ll repeat no matter the outcome of the stage. Mark Cavendish will always thank his entire team for their role in delivering him to the line, their individual roles as crucial as Cav’s sprinting skill. So it was a bit of a concern (to say the least) when Renshaw was expelled from the 2010 Tour de France after a headbutting incident during a bunch sprint to the finish of Stage 11 in Bourg-les-Valence.
Renshaw was leading Cav to the finishing metres of Stage 11; the HTC-Columbia train having worked to perfection. Other teams had tried to match HTC-Columbia’s organisation, and everything was set up for an exciting bunch sprint. The Garmin- Transitions team were working for their sprinter Tyler Farrar, who had his lead-out man, New Zealander Julian Dean, ride up alongside Renshaw as the riders hit the 400m to go mark. In the frantic and frenetic final moments of the finishing straight, Renshaw headbutted Julian Dean – not once, not twice, but three times, before cutting into Farrar’s race line, impeding his sprint. “He carried on after (the headbutting incident) and came across Tyler’s line and stopped Tyler from possibly winning the stage” Dean said after Renshaw’s disqualification. “It’s dangerous behaviour, and what we do is already dangerous anyway…if there had been a crash it would have caused some guys serious damage”.
Despite the antics in the bunch, Cav took the stage victory, with Renshaw’s result immediately declassified. Race officials reviewed the footage of the final 400 metres, and deemed Renshaw’s actions unacceptable. “We have decided to throw him off the race” stated race official Jean-Francois Pescheux. “This is a bike race, not a gladiator’s arena”.
Photo credits: Top – Getty/Tour of California, Stain on the Jersey – Telegraph, Flicking the V – Telegraph, Ragin’ Renshaw – Eurosport/ASO
Of the four wildcard entries into the 2017 Tour de France, only one comes from outside of France. The Wanty-Groupe Gobert team is based in Belgium, and makes its Grand Tour debut in the 104th edition of the Tour de France.
- Wanty-Groupe Gobert was founded in 2008 as the Continental level team Willems Verandas. The team took on its current name in 2014.
- The team currently rides at Pro Continental level, and were the only Pro Continental team to win a WorldTour one day race in 2016, with Enrico Gasparotto’s victory in the Amstel Gold Race.
- Wanty-Groupe Gobert have never ridden a Grand Tour, and each of the 9 selected riders is making his Tour debut.
- The Tour team features: Frederik Backaert, Thomas Degand, Guillaume Martin, Marco Minnaard, Yoann Offredo, Andrea Pasqualon, Dion Smith, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Pieter Vanspeybrouck.
Stage 2 Spoils
With todays stage finishing in Belgium, it seems fitting that a Belgian team ended the day as leaders of the team classification. Yoann Offredo was awarded the Most Combative Rider after his excellent ride in the two-man breakaway, which he rode with Cannondale-Drapac’s Taylor Phinney. “I studied the race book and immediately saw that an escape would leave early. When the break was formed, I wondered why I was in front. It was raining the whole day, but the feeling was good…some talked about a breakaway for publicity but that was not my main goal. In my mind there was something else. The stage victory.” Unfortunately for Offredo, the peloton caught the break with 1k to go.
Speaking of Offredo’s ride, directeur sportif Hilaire Van der Schueren said “I am more than satisfied. This is the scenario we dreamed of! I saw the sponsors in tears…such days are not common”.
Only two days in to the 2017 Tour and Wanty-Groupe Gobert already have much to be proud of!
Photo Credit: AFP Photo/KARIM JAAFAR
Wednesday saw the elite men take to the start ramp in Doha for the 2016 UCI World Road Race Championship Time Trial. There were a number of pre-race favourites, including 3-time winner Tony Martin, defending champion Vasil Kiryienka, Australian Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who wore the Dutch national champion’s jersey. Dennis was looking to erase memories of his Olympic time trial in Rio, where his handlebars broke, costing him a precious 30 seconds. He ended up in fifth position that day, missing out on an Olympic medal by 8 seconds. Tom Dumoulin was the Olympic silver medallist behind Fabian Cancellara, a medal which had looked to be in the bag for the Australian, who had been in second place until the incident.
For much of the World Championship TT, 22 year-old Irish rider Ryan Mullen was in the leader’s seat. Mullen was riding for the first time at elite level, and outperformed some of the World’s best time triallists with a time of 46:04 in the searing heat. “I saw all these big names coming in and they’re behind me and I’m thinking ‘ did I take a shortcut or something, have I missed part of the course?'”. Mullen eventually finished in 5th place, ahead of riders like Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin, who finished in 6th and 11th place respectively. The Irish cyclist remained in the leader’s hot seat for over an hour, having been 10th out of the blocks and riding at what was the hottest part of the day. “I was sitting in saunas on the turbo trainer for a week prior to coming here. I had the radiators on trying to emulate the humidity and heat”.
Another rider who undertook heat specific training was eventual winner Tony Martin, who claimed that his friends thought he was ‘crazy’ for “training in the bathroom with the heater on” to adjust to the high temperatures in Qatar. Martin’s ‘crazy’ training schedule clearly worked, as he stormed into first place an astonishing 45 seconds ahead of Vasil Kiryienka in second place. Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain completed the podium, 01:10 behind the winner.
Martin’s World Championship title was all the sweeter given that the past few years have seen the German’s grip on the time trial discipline slip somewhat. After losing 3:18 to Fabian Cancellara at the Rio Olympics, Martin decided to return to his previous position on the bike, which, although not as aerodynamic as his newly adopted style, was much more comfortable. Reverting to his previously successful position obviously felt more natural, as Martin took his first TT victory this season at the Tour of Britain in September, soon after making the decision to switch back. “The changes have been serious. I had my hands very high up and my elbows low down, but it wasn’t for me. Now, I feel much more comfortable again. One has to accept that the aerodynamics are not everything, but the comfort plays a very, very important role. If your body does not work well, then aerodynamics means nothing”. Although Martin’s newer style, which he adopted last year, was more aerodynamic, the German believes that he lost between 5 to 10% of his power due to not feeling comfortable on the bike. He conceeds that trying the new position was not necessarily wrong, but that he “just couldn’t get used to it”.
When asked about his time trial victory, Martin was ecstatic. “After three hard seasons, I am once again able to show my best”. On a par with Fabian Cancellara’s four World Championship titles, Martin exclaimed “I do not care about records. The most important thing for me is that I will be able to wear the rainbow jersey again”.
It appears that Bradley Wiggins has decided not to compete in the Abu Dhabi Tour, after claiming last month that it would be his last appearance in a road race. It’s not the first time that Wiggins has changed his mind in relation to his race calendar – fans of the Tour of Britain had watched this year’s edition believing it to be Sir Bradley’s final road race. The Tour de France winner then surprised the cycling world when he was announced as part of Team Wiggins for the Abu Dhabi Tour, which starts on 20th October.
The Abu Dhabi race organisers were understandably pleased that the Olympian would be attending the 4-day race, and on Wednesday (12th October) Wiggins was still listed as an attendee. Representatives of Sir Bradley had a different story by Thursday, stating that the rider “had never committed” to the race, and that the team list which had included his name was only provisional. It was stated that Bradley would not be in attendance as he didn’t want to ‘jeapordise’ his preparation for the London Six Day, a track event which begins the day after the Abu Dhabi Tour ends.
The organisers of the race in the Emirates released a statement on Thursday evening announcing that they were ‘surprised and disappointed to see different stories in the media regarding Bradley Wiggins and the Abu Dhabi Tour’. The statement goes on to say that, in common with all major races, ‘flights and accomodation have been booked in the name of Bradley Wiggins and those accompanying him’. Wiggins’ name had been included on the Official Enrolement Form, which was submitted last week.
Race organisers explained that ‘the long-standing expectation has been that Sir Bradley will be riding the Abu Dhabi Tour’, and that all preparations in the run up to the event ‘have been based on that expectation in good faith’.
Exciting stuff! Stay tuned for further details.
As the season drew to a close with the final World Tour race of Il Lombardia last weekend, Trek-Segafredo said goodbye to two riders who have become mainstays of the peloton over the past decade and a half. We take a look at the careers of Frank Schleck and Ryder Hesjedal in this two-part end of season series…
Trek-Segafredo End of Season Special, Part 1
Frank Schleck – Crashes, Climbs and Doping Control.
Turning pro in 2003 for Team CSC, Frank Schleck closed out fifteen years in the professional peloton at the Race of the Falling Leaves on 1st October 2016. Growing up, Schleck was something of a racing thoroughbred in his native Luxembourg; his father Johnny having spent nine years as a bike racer and his grandfather Gustave a competitive rider in the 1930s. Together with his younger brother Andy, the two Schlecks formed part of the generation of riders who turned pro as the Armstrong era was drawing to a close, their obvious talent and potential marking them out as Grand Tour contenders alongside the likes of Alberto Contador.
Although Andy was eventually crowned as Tour de France winner in 2010 following Contador’s positive clenbuterol test and subsequent stripping of the title, both Schleck brothers seemed destined to suffer dramatic crashes in greater number than dramatic victories; indeed, it was a serious fall at the 2014 Tour de France which ended his brother Andy’s career in the saddle.
Early in his professional career, before crashes and scandals had taken some of the gloss off Schleck’s squeaky-clean image, the older brother took a number of notable victories which only increased the belief that Frank would one day win a Grand Tour. In 2005, two years after signing with CSC, Schleck won the National Road Race Championships in Luxenbourg. A third place at the Giro de Lombardia, 4th at the Tour de Suisse, and 7th at Paris-Nice rounded out a successful season. The following year, Schleck won the biggest race of his career thus far, the Amstel Gold Race. A top ten placing at the Tour de France followed, earning 10th place by virtue of solid climbing performances including an impressive win on Stage 15, when the race scaled Alpe d’Huez. Schleck, aged 26, was well aware of the legendary status of the Alpe, uttering “it will take me a while before I realise that I’ve won here”.
Two years later, in 2008, the Tour returned to Alpe d’Huez, with another memorable stage. Schleck, wearing the yellow jersey, was attacked by a member of his own team, Carlos Sastre. Speaking about Sastre’s attack earlier this year, Schleck downplayed the incident. “Can I be disappointed? Yes…but the team comes first”. It had been Sastre’s own decision to attack, stated Schleck, not a planned move under direction from the team car. “We knew we had to do something, but it was not planned that he would attack at the beginning…what matters is that we won the Tour…everyone congratulated him, and so did I”. Whether Schleck could have won the General Classification we’ll never know, although his team were certainly strong enough, and Schleck himself finished 5th after three weeks of hard racing. 2008 was a strong season for the elder Schleck brother, as he once again won the National Road Race Championships, and returned a 2nd place in the Amstel Gold Race, with 3rd at Liège-Bastogne- Liège.
Scandal was just around the corner however, and in October 2008, Schleck was forced to admit having made a payment of €7000 to a Swiss bank account associated with the disgraced Spanish doping doctor Eufemiamo Fuentes in 2006. Bjarne Riis, director of Schleck’s Team CSC-SaxoBank, released a press statement confirming that the Luxembourger had been temporarily suspended until the rider could ‘clarify his position’. CSC-SaxoBank explained that they had ‘received a thorough briefing’ from Schleck, and awaited the ruling of both the Luxembourg anti-doping authorities and the UCI. Schleck provided his team and the anti-doping agencies with full bank statements dating back several years in order to prove that no further payments had been made to Dr Fuentes. Detailed blood values were also supplied, as proof that no tampering had taken place.
Schleck claimed, in a statement released through CSC-SaxoBank, that he had ‘never used or attempted use of a prohibited substance…or method’. The transaction had been made in exchange for training advice from ‘experts who presumably worked with some of the biggest names in sport…there was no suspicion…of any unlawful action’. It was claimed that Schleck ‘interrupted’ the contact after speaking with his father and friends, and realised that he had made a ‘serious blunder’. The Luxembourg anti-doping authorities examined the evidence and cleared Schleck of any doping offences, with CSC reinstating him when the investigation was resolved.
After returning to a full race schedule in 2009, Schleck won his home tour, the Tour de Luxembourg, also crossing the line first place on Stage 3. A stage win on Stage 8 of the Tour of California was matched by claiming the Most Aggressive Rider in the same stage, whilst Schleck secured 2nd place at Paris-Nice, and retained his 5th place in the Tour de France with a stage win on Stage 17. Whilst attempting the Amstel Gold Race, Schleck suffered one of the many crashes that haunted both his and his brother’s careers, and was taken to hospital with concussion.
His 2010 Tour de France attempt was also affected by a crash. After winning the Tour de Suisse, Schleck started the Tour de France in good form. Whilst attempting to ride on the cobbles on Stage 3, a surface he’d never enjoyed, Schleck crashed heavily and fractured his clavicle in three places, causing him to retire from the race. Fans had grown used to watching the Schleck brothers launching twin attacks and working together to ignite the race; this time younger brother Andy was forced to compete without fraternal support. At the end of July, both brothers announced their intention to leave SaxoBank, heading instead to a brand new Luxembourg based team, eventually confirmed as being called Leopard Trek.
After recovering from his Tour de France crash, Schleck took 5th place in the Vuelta a España as Vincenzo Nibali won the General Classification. 2011 saw the Leopard Trek team competing for the first time. Schleck had a successful season, winning the National Road Race Championships, the Critérium International, and 2nd place at Liège-Bastogne- Liège. In July, Frank stood on the Tour de France podium in 3rd place, with brother Andy in 2nd; the first time in the history of the Tour that siblings had shared the overall podium. Looking back on his 15-year career, this moment proved to be his proudest. “I could mention a lot of moments that have stood out, but finishing on the podium at the Tour de France has to be my proudest moment as a bike rider – that memory will never be far away”. At the end of the season, both brothers joined the RadioShack-Nissan team.
If 2011 had produced his proudest moment, 2012 brought Frank down to Earth hard. After crashing on Stage 6 and losing two minutes, Schleck’s Tour de France chances looked remote. Things got much worse on the second rest day, when RadioShack-Nissan removed Schleck from the race after an A sample taken by doping control during the race tested positive for the diuretic xipermide. Xipermide is banned by WADA for its use as a masking agent for performance enhancing drugs. Schleck asked for his B sample to be tested, stating that if it came back positive, “I will argue that I have been the victim of poisoning”. RadioShack-Nissan spokesman Philippe Maertens claimed “the team is not able to explain the adverse findings at this point”. When the B sample tested positive, Schleck voluntarily attended Pau police station.
He was later handed a 12-month ban, back dated to the time of the positive test. The anti-doping authorities accepted that Schleck had ‘not ingested the substance intentionally’, which meant that the standard 2-year ban was reduced to 12-months. Weeks before his ban was due to expire, RadioShack-Nissan terminated Schleck’s contract, leaving him without a team. Later that month, Trek Bicycles bought out the team’s World Tour license, announcing that Schleck had once again been awarded a contract. Returning to racing after waiting out the agonising 12-month ban, compounded by the stress and drama of being unexpectedly dropped by his team, Schleck never quite regained his form or fulfilled his early potential.
His 2014 season saw Schleck once again win first place at the National Road Racing Championships. An 8th place at Grand Prix de Wallonie, 9th in the Tour de Luxembourg and Milan-Torino, and 6th at the Critérium International were his best results, with a 12th place in the Tour de France. Schleck did not take part in the 2015 edition of the Tour, and finished in 34th place at his last ever attempt at the race earlier this season. His final win was a stage victory in the 2015 Vuelta, on the mountainous route from Luarca to Ermita del Alta. Saturday’s Il Lombardia was the last time that Frank Schleck competed as a professional rider.
“Everyone told me that I need to enjoy the last kilometres because it’s going to be something special, and I was waiting to feel this special moment, but nothing really happened…I just felt really tired like I normally do after a race!” exclaimed Schleck after he finished the Monument. “But then when I came to the bus there was a nice reception from the boys, the team, the fan club, and some family, my kids, my wife, and they reminded me that this is it!”
Schleck had announced his retirement at a press conference in Brazil during the Rio Olympics, having previously indicated during the spring that he intended to continue. “Three years ago when I couldn’t race wasn’t nice, so I enjoy it even more, racing my bike, and working even harder”. It appears that the efforts of the season took their toll on the rider however, as he confirmed his retirement prior to Saturday’s race. “There is never an easy way to stop doing something you love to do…I’ve always wanted to retire at a level where I was competitive and fit”.
After completing his final race, Schleck found it difficult to imagine that he would not be racing his bike again in 2017. “I think it will come in the next days and then I will realise it’s finished”. Looking back on his 15-years as a professional, Schleck reflected on what he called a “long journey”.
“I am happy with the decision…I’ve had many highlights and some nice results…I had some bad periods also, but that’s where you build character…you have to get over those moments, and you fight back, and you keep going, and I am proud of that. I am proud of my career and I have nothing to regret”.
Team mate Ryder Hesjedal also ended his career at Il Lombardia, although unfortunately he was not able to complete the race, abandoning on the mountainous section which took in five successive summits. Read the Freewheeling overview of his career in part two of our Trek-Segafredo end of season special.