Friday 1 July 2011

Andy Schleck cements his nice guy image

There are many reasons to like Andy Schleck - he's a truly great racing cyclist who is well on his way to becoming one of the finest mountain specialists of all time, which is worthy of admiration alone, but he also gives every impression of being a thoroughly decent sort of chap. Watch him in this year's Tour - if you don't know what he looks like, he'll be somewhere near the front wearing number 11, quite possibly on a yellow jersey once the race starts to reach altitude - and one thing that's highly noticeable about him is that whereas other riders grimace, Andy makes the effort to smile at his fans. Climbing an Alp as fast as you possibly can (which is very fast when Andy does it) hurts a lot, so this is a nice touch and shows his appreciation for those who pay his wages.
Schleck loses his chain, allowing Contador to surge ahead
We all know what happened last year, when Schleck followed rival Alberto Contador up every incline with a cheerful expression that seemed to say, "Hello! I respect your greatness, heroic Contador - oh, by the way, I'm coming to get you!" and before too long at all had the leader looking somewhat worried - in Stage 16, when Andy's chain came off, Alberto didn't stop and gained a controversial 39" lead, the same time by which he beat the Luxembourger overall, as a result. Schleck couldn't conceal his anger at the finish line, saying that in the same situation his sense of fair play would have stopped him from taking advantage.

He says now that incident is forgiven - "Last year was last year. It's completely over as far as I'm concerned, and I just hope nothing happens this year," he said, nipping the subject in the bud as soon as it was raised - and appears genuine in light of  his comments on the really quite unpleasant display of anger directed at Contador during yesterday's press conference when the crowd shouted abuse at the Spanish rider, this year's favourite for a general classification win despite the appearance before the Court for Arbitration in Sport set for August hanging over him like the Sword of Damocles. With obvious distaste but manners far too polite to directly attack the fans, he says: "It wasn't good for the team nor for Alberto, but some of the crowd are fans and some are not, that's life. It wasn't nice."

Both Andy and older brother Frank, who will also be racing for the LeopardTrek team following his seventh place success in the Tour de Suisse, have defended Contador's right to take part in the Tour; a right that looked to be in serious jeopardy due to uncertainty from the UCI after the Spanish cycling federation's decision to quash his suspension following a test sample that proved positive for a miniscule amount of the banned bronchodilator Clenbuterol which both he and many experts claim was likely to have come from contaminated beef (though banned from use in animals destined for food production int he EU, it is as popular among some farmers for its ability to promote muscle growth over fat - hence leaner, more valuable meat - as it among some cyclists).

"Alberto is here, that means he has the right to race," says Frank. "You have to respect that. Supporters should support and not boo - the legal procedure is underway and should be respected." It's a pity that more people don't share the Schleck brothers' views - if they did, we could all have been spared the ugly and shameful scenes that took place yesterday.

Being the nice guy is working out well for Andy who turned 26 less than a month ago - he is guaranteed widespread crowd support and he appreciates it. "Some riders don't need the fans, but personally I need to have the public and the people behind me," he told the press conference, "It gives me extra motivation." He undoubtedly deserves every bit of his popularity no matter what his performance is in this year's Tour.

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