Andy Schleck's troubled season took another turn for the worse this week all because he shared an elevator with a French socialist politician who wasn't wearing his glasses.
Details are sketchy, but in the early hours of Wednesday morning it appears that a reportedly inebriated Schleck entered the same lift as Pierre-Yves Le Borgn' in a hotel near Munich airport – sparking the most unlikely of scandals to have hit the sport in recent years.
The politician took it upon himself to update his Facebook status accordingly, posting the following message at 1:44am: "Late check in at a hotel at Munich airport. A drunk guy stumbles into the elevator and unsuccessfully tries to push the right button. I recognised a great cycling champion, twice runner-up in the Tour in recent years. Depressing."
With this tantalising trail of crumbs left, a couple of the politician's friends – including the advisor to the socialist mayor of the quaint-sounding town of Goussainville – had a stab in the dark (quite literally, for it was now well past 2am) as to whom Le Borgn' could be referring.
"Andreas Kloden???" asked one. "Ullrich?" came another. (This was, after all, in the capital of Bavaria.)
The next morning, a couple more figures joined the debate. "Perhaps he was just celebrating a happy occasion – such a thing can happen," said one chap whose profile picture is that of a grumpy smurf. "After all the sacrifices he must have made to be a champion it's all right for him to let things go once in a while," the smurf continued, still clearly unaware of whom Le Borgn' had risen to the second-highest floor with.
"Perhaps it's simply a lookalike," added another friend.
At 8:56am Monsieur Le Borgn' – showered and refreshed after his late night – put his friends out of their misery and revealed all.
"It was Andy Schleck. He was wearing the jersey of his old team, Leopard Trek. He was hardly standing upright. I pushed the button for his floor. I found the situation very sad. He had abandoned an Italian race the day before and he has now not finished a single race since spring 2012. His brother Frank has been suspended for one year for doping. I had the impression that I was seeing a young man who had lost control, drunk and alone at night in a hotel airport."
For this concise summation, Monsieur Le Borgn' received three rather sadistic thumbs-up.
So, let's take a look at things and try and paint a picture of what really happened that fateful night two strangers shared a lift together in a Munich airport hotel.
Firstly, could the friend of Le Borgn' be right – might the politician have mistaken a random person for Andy Schleck? Well, it's possible, but unlikely. After all, Schleck had abandoned "an Italian race" (Tirreno-Adriatico) that Monday 50 kilometres into the brutal penultimate stage to Porto Sant'Elpidio, won by Peter Sagan. Schleck was also staying in that Munich airport hotel that same night on his way back to Luxembourg.
What about Andy's reported choice of attire – the old Leopard Trek kit from the season before last?
Here, Monsieur Le Borgn''s version of events gets rather curious. We've all read the reports that Schleck is suffering psychologically since his big crash last season. But even someone as allegedly fragile and reportedly troubled as Schleck wouldn't look to recreate the magic of 2011 by wearing the kit which saw him come to within a whisker (of the beard he cannot grow) of winning the Tour de France – and then go out on a daft solo mission akin to his lone ascent of the Galibier and get plastered in the hotel bar.
Talking of the booze factor – those defending Schleck might even say that anyone in their right mind would have to be blind drunk to share a lift with a French socialist politician, not least one whose day job is the manufacture of solar panels...
This is immaterial, however, because the noise emanating from the RadioShack camp is that Schleck was not in such a sorry state at all. Well, a sorry state he may have been, but certainly not one exacerbated by liquor.
A "crazy annoyed" Kim Andersen, directeur sportif at RadioShack-Leopard, told the press that the allegations were "untrue".
"It is completely unacceptable that such a story gets reported the way it has been. It's completely crazy that a random man can put such a story in circulation," said Andersen, completely.
"Andy was indeed at the hotel but that he should have behaved in this way is simply not true. Andy has told me what happened and I have no reason to doubt him. I'm tired that such a ridiculously story can run around the world."
Andersen stressed that RadioShack had given Schleck their "100 per cent" support, adding: "We believe that he is on the right track after last year."
Since the story was picked up in the media, Le Borgn' has backed away from his claims after suffering a barrage of abuse himself on social networking sites. The 48-year-old father-of-one has apologised for his remarks, offering an unreserved retraction, explaining that he could easily have mistaken fatigue for drunkenness (as people often do with Bruce Willis).
"I am sincerely sorry that my status update on Facebook has shocked those that it has and I offer my deepest apology, first and foremost to Andy Schleck for my remarks which were innocent in their intention," he added.
There was, however, no apology for his erroneous and wholly nefarious claim that Schleck had not finished a race since last year. While Andy has not completed a full stage race since the 2012 Tour of Oman, he did cross the finish line in last month's GP di Camaiore, won by that man Sagan.
The path back to the top has indeed been a long one for Schleck, who fractured a bone in his pelvis after a nasty spill during the individual time trial of last year's Criterium du Dauphine. Injuries sustained kept him out of the Tour de France and caused long-term physical pain – pain which he has had to suffer without the help of his older brother, axed from the squad while sitting out a ban for a banned diuretic. The 27-year-old is still not comfortable on a road bike and there has been talk of Schleck being "paralysed by fear".
Schleck's long absence from the top has led to concerns amongst his countrymen that he'll become Luxembourg's quickest disappearing act since Kim Kirchen.
Seeing the likes of Chris Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez and old sparring partner Alberto Contador in such strong form during the Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico must have put another dent in Schleck's already pummelled confidence.
Having endured a torrid race in Italy – further exacerbated by the cruel 30 per cent ramps of the Sant'Elpidio climb on Monday – few could not forgive Schleck's desire to have a few drinks while staying in a hotel, alone and without a dolphin in sight, one night en route home. We've all done it before – and sometimes it's just what's needed to get things out of the system.
After all, in Schleck's case, his next target is the Ardennes classics in mid-April (he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2009) so it's not as if a few sharpeners will derail his training too much.
That said, look at this alleged booze fest in the light of the sacrifices made by a rider of Bradley Wiggins's calibre: the only alcohol that would have passed Wiggo's lips in the lead up to last season's glorious Tour-Olympic double would have been the odd swig of champagne digested from the tops of the Paris-Nice, Romandie and Dauphine podiums...
Whichever way you look at it – regardless of whether or not alcohol was involved – this Munich airport hotel episode just further highlights what is a very sad and prolonged fall from the top for one of the sport's previous leading lights.
Schleck is to cycling what Fernando Torres is to football – both were once at the top of their game, both now are just shadows of their former selves.
Monsieur Le Borgn', in a comment underneath his original status update, shared his views on the state of cycling today: "I'm not trying to portray Andy Schleck in a bad way here. It's above all a reflection on professional cycling – or at least a large part of it – which has become a victim of crazy money and of a widespread doping culture."
In different circumstances, this chance encounter in an elevator could have been so different. After all, Pierre-Yves Le Borgn' works in the renewable energy sector and holds a political stance that is driven by equality and the redistribution of wealth. If only he and Schleck had shared a drink together, Le Borgn' might have taught him a thing or two.
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