I was running through an airport, trying to catch my flight, when my phone dinged at me. A Whatsap message from Andy - Give me a call if you can. I replied, that I was getting on a flight, could I call him later. He replied immediately. I was kinda hopeful about the conversation, but it was a bit foreboding. It turned out that foreboding was accurate. "I think it is time to hang it up." I was shocked as I really did not see it coming. I thought maybe I was going to hear the knee was coming around. I thought we were going to have a conversation about how he could work himself back into form in a year, etc... It took me a long time to digest the facts of the conversation; the knee was just not going to come around.
We are all going to miss Andy. Andy was the promise that was always there, just below the surface. Andy was the most gifted professional cyclist ever, but Andy just never could put it all together. He has the most amazing motor - maybe the biggest ever - with a perpetual young boy POV on the world. He was always the kid that could just do it and could always make things happen when he wanted to. He did not understand the world of preparation and the world of science. He was all "ride and then do it." Andy's will was enough, when combined with his absolute raw gift for cycling, to make him one of the best there ever was.
When Andy was the young newcomer, the press loved him. He was the future. He was young and good looking and funny and spoke many languages and he had a brother that was his partner in cycling. Life was good. Andy represented everything that was great about cycling. He represented what could have been. He represented the pure joy around cycling and winning that we all felt robbed of through the 90s and early 2000s.
And for many years the results came. He impressed at so many races, and won early in his career. It just seemed so natural that he would go all the way to the top. He was a champion already when he started.
Then later when the promise was a bit dusty and his focus appeared to be elsewhere, he somehow lost the following and admiration of the press. The press was hard on him. I suspect they were hard on him because, like all of us, they wanted him to grab the brass ring to somehow miraculously take that next small step and realize the destiny that we all thought was his.
The fans never left Andy, though. As fans we all wanted him to get it all sorted and win. We wanted the tall boyish kid to climb up on that top step. We wanted to see him smile there and we wanted him to be dismayed at what all the fuss was. We wanted him to get the glory that chaingate and clenbuterol had robbed him of. We wanted him to learn to suffer against the clock, just enough to not let Cadel Evans beat him. We knew it was just there below the surface, and we thought if we just willed it to happen he would eventually find that next gear.
I first met Andy in 2009. There was talk of a Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project and it was my job to keep tabs on that for Trek. Slowly during 2010 it looked like it would become a reality. As the Luxembourg effort came together, and we put a deal together to be the technical provider for the team, I had more opportunities to spend time with Andy and Frank.
On our first outing to put them all on bikes, we met at a small hunting lodge in Luxembourg. The Schlecks were still under contract elsewhere, so we could not ride publicly. But we did a small private ride together with a few more that would become the core of the team. Andy was a complete class act during that event. He was polite and curious about the bike as he compared it to his current bike. After the ride, he was the last to leave as he wanted to get to know the guys from Trek. We told stories about racing and stories about our lives. The stories stretched out to dinner and we became quick friends.
Over the years, that friendship has built and it has been shared through some interesting times. I am a lot older than Andy, but I could never have the experience that he has had with being so close to the top of a sport. He has seen tremendous success and shown tremendous promise, and he has suffered some of the most amazing streaks of bad luck and bad consequence that we have ever seen. I am proud to have been there with him through those times. I am proud of the friendship that we have built. We have been through some great times together and some tough times. But through all of those times, we have remained friends. For that I am grateful.
The world of cycling is going to miss Andy Schleck. The Contadors and Valverdes and Froomes of the world are just not the same and cannot inspire the same way. The world of cycling may be just now realizing that. Those of us close to Andy know that deep inside. Those of us that know Andy, and many of his fans, were already missing him from the moment he called us to say he had reached the end.
I know I will miss his humor on the bus. I will miss him giving it to me about the lack of hair on my head. I will miss looking forward to our time together at a race. I know I will not miss how bad I have felt for him when things have not gone well for him. But, I know that cycling is better because Andy was there.
We will miss you Andy.