|The Schlecks in the SaxoBank days|
RadioShack-Nissan, formed from the pre-existing RadioShack and LeopardTrek squads, was put together with one main purpose - to propel a Schleck, probably Andy but Frank would do too, to victory in the Tour de France.
With every day that comes, it looks more as if that's not going to happen. The brothers have had a dismal Spring Classics season during which both of them were embarrassed on the harsh, leg-breaking hills of Flanders and the Ardennes and now Frank has abandoned the Giro d'Italia. Did they spend the winter drinking beer and guzzling frites (or whatever it is that Luxembourgians do in the winter)? Are they both just that type of cyclist that burns brightly for a few years and then fizzles out? Or is something else preventing them, especially Andy, from fulfilling the promise of the last few years?
Something, or someone, such as Johan Bruyneel, perhaps. Frank says that the reason he abandoned the Giro is because he was in pain - "My right shoulder has been hurt and dislocated and since I was sitting wrong on the bike my entire left side is numb. I have been focused and that’s why I’ve kept riding four days after my crash, hoping it would get better every day," he explained on the team's website.
It's not been long since Bruyneel annoyed the brothers with his announcement that their preferred directeur sportif Kim Andersen was banned from accompanying them to the Tour, then refused to give his reasons: "I’m not going to go into any controversy, that’s my version and I’m not going to go into Andy said this or that. The decision has been made and the decision stays like it is," he told Cycling News. Andy, meanwhile, seemed well aware that his status as a Tour de France General Classification contender gives him a certain amount of leeway, saying that whatever happened Andersen would "be in the race." Did he mean that he plans to remain in contact with Andersen throughout the Tour, by internet or phone?
Bruyneel would be very wise to remember that Andy and Frank have probably got Bryan Nygaard's cellphone number and email address, as well as Andersen's, and that despite the Schlecks' softy, butter-wouldn't-melt choirboy images they've proved once already that they're not afraid to strike out for pastures new, asset-stripping their previous team as they do so.
Rumours currently doing the rounds suggest that the Schlecks are indeed planning to form a new team. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf claims that the Luxembourgian brothers have been convinced that doing is so is the best way forward since Bruyneel's latest legal problems, in which he is being accused of running a doping ring, and have already signed up an un-named German company to act as co-sponsor.
The Schlecks' contract with RadioShack-Nissan doesn't expire until 2014, but the newspaper also says that "some German riders" (also un-named, but not necessarily riders from teams other than RadioShack: Jens Voigt, Linus Gerdemann, Andreas Klöden and Robert Wagner are all German, Voigt having already once followed the Schlecks to pastures new when the three of them left CSC for Leopard Trek) have already been approached and believes that Andersen would be the most likely choice to become manager.
One big question that remains is what will the suits in the Trek boardroom decide to do now? If the current investigations don't spell the death of Bruyneel's RadioShack team - and there's a good chance that they will - can the manufacturer afford to continue its association with them? Will they cut their ties? Frank Schleck, of course, has got a little bit of a tarnish on his public image - that €7000 transfer from his bank account into one owned by a certain Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes a few years back. He was subsequently cleared of all suspicion that he'd been up to anything untoward and he's been every bit as whiter-than-white as Andy ever since. Will that, combined with Andy's angelic public persona, be enough to keep the boys on their Madones in 2013, or could Trek decide that they need to make a complete break from the entire situation, perhaps even taking a year or two out of team sponsorship?