It’s no secret that Andy is the reason I got into cycling. I’ve told the story a hundred times; after the 2010 Tour de France ended, I hadn’t gotten enough of this cute cyclist who lost the race by 39 seconds, stolen from him by the dastardly Alberto Contador. With a little research, I found the Eneco Tour, and even though Andy wasn’t racing, I stayed glued to the computer and a cycling fan was born. So, even if it’s “old” news, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer words to close the Andy chapter of my cycling fandom.
It’s perhaps a little disingenuous to say that he’ll be missed by me, now that he’s retired, since he’s hardly been present for ages. But I will miss what he represented: a young man with untapped potential. How exciting to watch him rise up the ranks and prove himself! How exciting to imagine what he might do as he grew into his talent! I loved the thought of this young man, with his infectious smile, easy laugh, and unbreakable bond with his brother winning the Tour de France outright someday. But then…. life. And a lesson on placing too much expectation on one person.
If we placed heavy expectations on Andy, imagine what he placed on himself. As much as we joked about, and were disgusted by, the “Schleck-chute”, all I could wonder is how the disappointment felt to him. To know that people expected so much of you but you were unable to deliver, for whatever reason- how demoralizing that would be. To once be able to fly like a bird up the mountain to being barely able to finish a bike race- that must have weighed on him. And he knew how good he was. He had experienced the best of the best days on the bike. I wonder when, or if, climbing on the bike became a challenge for him and how it felt when that day finally came. How terrible to perhaps fall out of love with your bike- or at least, fall out of love with racing your bike.
Andy was easy to mock, as he seemed fragile, breakable- very unlike the ‘hard men’ cycling lore loves to honor. And the high expectations placed on his abilities that he didn’t live up to did not convince Twitter to go easy him, as much as it was outside of his control.
However, I’ve wondered if his ‘protege’ status didn’t contribute to his downfall. He was able to rely solely on talent for much of his career. However, there comes a point during an athletic rise that sheer talent isn’t enough, but for some reason, Andy never seemed to develop the tactical smarts necessary to continue his climb. Although it’s possible that the development of those skills was stunted because of all the physical hurdles he had to overcome- it’s hard to focus on tactics when your tailbone makes it impossible to sit on a saddle, or when a bum knee makes it impossible to pedal, or when you’re on a disorganized new team. And yes, there was plenty of time when he wasn’t injured when he could’ve worked on this skill, but developing the nose for tactics takes lots of practice, trial and error, and in race experience, especially if it doesn’t come naturally. And I don’t think he was ever given that time to develop- I definitely think trying to set up a new team hurt him instead of helping him.
But I think he will be remembered fondly, perhaps because of his faults and vulnerabilities. I was pleasantly surprised to read the Twitter comments on the news of his retirement: most people expressed sadness, disappointment and sympathy. His tear-choked press conference could have put a lump in the throat of the hardest critic- you could tell he was devastated to leave, but knew to stay would only lead to more stress and disappointment. In the end, I admire his decision to close the door on competitive racing instead of “waiting and seeing”. It has to be hard to let go of dreams and admit you won’t live up to expectations.
The criticism often put his way seemed to have an undercurrent of sadness to it: “Oh, how I want to see you succeed and it kills me to think about what could have been!” But in the end, it is what it is. Let us not dwell on what was not, but think about what was; whether it was his “stomach of anger“, his win on the Galibier, his win at LBL, “chain-gate”, or his commitment to his brother, I imagine many people have a favorite Andy moment and I hope this is what people remember when they think back on his career as a cyclist.
And I leave you with our podcast, where we spend time reminiscing over Andy: what was and what could have been.
A good recap of Andy’s career in pictures, over at Pez.
A touching goodbye from Rouler Magazine.