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Saxo Bank’s Frank Schleck did not start Thursday’s fourth stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco, but the former Amstel Gold Race champion is expected to race the Ardennes classics later this month.
The elder of the Schleck brothers survived a potentially dangerous fall in Wednesday’s stage when he crashed off the road and fell into a steep ravine.
Initially, team officials were worried that the banged-up Schleck might not be able to race the spring classics, where he is traditionally one of the top favorites for victory in the treble of races held in Belgium and Holland.
Schleck got the green light from doctors to compete in the hilly spring classics following a Wednesday night trip to a hospital in Vitoria, Spain.
“Frank is sore, but he will race Sunday here in Basque Country and he should fine for the classics,” Saxo Bank sport director Kim Andersen told VeloNews. “He has some stitches in the back of his head, but he did not have a concussion, so he should be OK.”
Schleck opted not to start Thursday’s demanding climbing stage, but will race in Sunday’s one-day Gran Premio de Amoribieta, also in Spain’s Basque Country.
Younger brother Andy Schleck said he watched in horror as his brother toppled off the road in what was an eery repeat of Frank Schleck’s harrowing crash at the 2008 Tour de Suisse.
“I was the only one who saw the crash. I didn’t know whether to stop or keep going to the finish line,” Andy Schleck told VeloNews. “I saw him go off the edge of the road and I didn’t know if he was going to be OK. The team car was already ahead so I had to find a race official to make sure that someone knew where he crashed. Luckily, I found out pretty quick he was OK.”
Frank Schleck also backed off statements that he made to VeloNews and posted on his Twitter site alleging that a rider from Francaise des Jeux took out his wheel and caused him to crash. Andy Schleck also identified FDJeux as the cause of the crash on a Twitter posting.
On Thursday morning, Frank Schleck apologized for making those comments, writing on his Twitter: “So, FDJ, I’m sorry it had nothing to do with you guys. It was silly to think (and) blame it on another rider.”
FDJeux officials angrily denied the Schleck brothers’ allegations and wrote to VeloNews a strong denial of the accusation.
“After discussions with management of Saxo Bank and M. Frank Schleck, no rider of the Francaise des Jeux cycling team is involved in the fall of Mr. Frank Schleck at the [third] stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco, contrary to comments of the latter,” the statement read. “FDJ riders found the incident in the peloton (sic), but in no case had altercations with Mr. Schleck, who erred in designating the rider involved.”
In another twist, Saxo Bank’s Andersen said Schleck’s crash might bode well for the coming days.
“Frank crashed in the Basque Country race the year he won the Amstel Gold Race,” he said. “So maybe it will work out again like that.”