In Brendan Gallagher’s latest column he looks back on the recent early retirement of Andy Schleck, the King of the Mountains from the 2006 Tour of Britain.

I found Andy Schleck's recent retirement at the age of just 29 rather poignant, a world class athlete whose talent seemingly deserted him with a series of serious injuries compounding and accelerated that process. There was a sadness and regret about his departure, which really pulled you up short and it was a salutary reminder in the macho world of professional sport how human and fragile some of the biggest names are despite appearances to the contrary. 
 
For a considerable chunk of my professional career Schleck stood upon podiums, dominated press conferences with his multi lingual eloquence and stared out at the cycling world from magazine front covers. If not quite ‘The Man’ – Alberto Contador one way or another has always dominated the modern day narrative – Schleck was undoubtedly one of the big hitters. But then suddenly he just wasn’t there.

Success seems to be much more fleeting these days. You only have to look at recent Tour de France 'winners' – some ultimately by default – to confirm that. Oscar Pereiro and Carlos Sastre slipped off the scene almost unnoticed after their fleeting moments in the sun, cycling became a struggle for Schleck and the ageing Cadel Evans could never again attain the heights of 2011.
 
Brad Wiggins clearly lacked for motivation for much of 2013 following his supreme effort and the strain of living like a monk for 18 months in 2011 and 2012 while Chris Froome was beset this year with crashes and injuries. Serial Tour winners used to be common place, which is another interesting and possibly controversial debate for another day, but Alberto Contador apart the recent trend is towards much more sporadic success
  
I first ‘clocked’ Andy Schleck on the 2006 Tour of Britain when he took the KOM jersey although in truth there wasn't a whole load of climbing that year. Then, as in all subsequent years, I found him highly intelligent and articulate, he stopped to think about questions before answering, and had a nice relaxed approach to which was in contrast to the prevailing mood of the time. Schleck doesn’t do dramatics and retained his dignity even when things started going wrong.

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At his uninjured confident best was a wonderfully fluid natural climber. As a young boy he set off up Ventoux with his recently retired pro cyclist father Johny Schleck, who was one of Eddy Merckx’s best team helpers, and arrived at the summit cafe in splendid isolation. Indeed he had so much time to spare that he was finishing his second iced cream when Dad came panting around that final sharp corner by the weather station. Climbing was never really an issue although he possibly didn’t unleash his power often enough on key climbs.
 
It was Time-trials that tended to find him out and his bike handling could be a bit suspect on really rough days in the bunch although one should never forget that it was a nigh on heroic showing on the cobbles on the Arenberg stage in 2010 that put him in a positon to challenge for yellow at that year's Tour.

Most people’s memories of Schleck centre on his epic 2010 and 2011 Tours. In 2010, having finished runner up to Contador the previous year, it was pretty much another straight shoot out again with El Pistolero. A couple of summers previously the two of them had actually shared a lads off season holiday together, the West Indies I think it was.

Contador was one per cent off his best, Schleck was in fine form and it pretty much all hinged on ‘Chaingate’ on Stage 15 when Schleck was in yellow after a brilliant stage win the day before. Going up the final climb of the day Schleck missed a gear change – or there was a malfunction it has never really been established – and natural racer that he is Contador sensed blood and attacked and put 39 seconds into his old holiday mate. Come the finish in Paris Contador 'won' the race by 39 seconds. Life is like that.
 
Although he clearly wasn't amused after the Stage 15 my recollection is that Schleck handled the situation calmly and with dignity and again at the final rest day in Pau when we grilled him unmercifully looking to get a reaction.  He wasn’t having any of it. The following day they race up the Tourmalet in that sinister mist together before Contador held back and invited Schleck to take the stage. Afterwards there is a famous picture of them with an arm around each other's shoulders. 
 
Andy Schleck was too nice a guy to get properly angry with Contador for what he had done and even when the Spaniard was subsequently stripped of his title after testing positive for clenbuterol. There was possibly a certain karma about that yet even then Schleck never really accepted that he had won that Tour. Inwardly you could see that he acknowledged that Contador had been the better riders and that he wasn't certain of Contador's guilt in the clenbuterol affair. Schleck has never got the joy out of that 2010 Tour win that was his right nor the kudos that he deserved. 
 
When the two were horsing around riding into Paris on that final day in 2010 do you remember they, with rather good comic timing, re-inacting chaingate for the photographers with Schleck pretending to have a chain problem and Contador launching a mock attack. I can think of very few sportsmen, let alone cyclists, in the world who would have been quite so sanguine. Remember Schleck didn’t know at that stage that he would inherit the Tour title.
 
Schleck was still a force to be reckoned with the following year and will always be remembered for his stunning solo attack and stage win on the Queen Stage , the 200km mountain fest from Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier. He was accompanied most of the day by Eddy Merckx who was the Tour's guest and observed everything at first hand leaning out of the window of the Tour director's car. 
 
Towards the end Merckx could stand the excitement no longer and stood up, his head emerging from the roof top window, and roared Schleck on for the final 20-30km of his coup. Come the summit finish he was two minutes and seven seconds ahead of the second placed rider while a bit further back Cadel Evans had led a remarkable recovery which ultimately put him in a positon to win the race.
 
It was Schleck's finest hour and the following day he went into yellow but then the achilles heel again. On the final Saturday of the Tour he led the race – which given his climbing ability was always a possibility – and yet by his own admission at no stage had he ever recced the 42km Time Trial around Grenoble. Perhaps it would have made no difference – Evans took the GC by one minute and 34 seconds – but it seemed a major omission for a major GC contender.
 
Alas if you look at his palmares it basically ends with that race. He was a discontent, out of form rider in 2012 with Leopard Trek and crashed horribly at the Time Trial at the Criterium du Dauphine both aggravating an already groaning knee and damaging his sacrum. From that moment onward his career declined into a depressing stop start spiral. Comebacks, false hope, defiant words and defeat. Briefly and bravely last year he got things back together to finish 20th in the Tour de France his last ride of any real significance.
  
With his many talents Schleck will without question end up as a successful businessman or politician. He was never a complete ‘pedalhead’ and we need have no fears for a sad disillusioned future. He will very soon find another challenge and niche but in cycling terms it’s a regret that we never quite saw the full blossoming of his talent.