A lightly advertised community bike ride was to ensue, with Schleck, of Team Leopard Trek, using Steamboat as a home base for his preparation for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
What Schleck found that morning surprised even him, a three-time runner-up in the Tour de France. More than 150 riders of all ages showed up and instantly took Schleck in as one of their own. It now seems as if he’s the most popular professional cyclist in town.
So even as Schleck has remained outside the top 10 in this week’s inaugural event, there probably weren’t any cheers louder Friday as riders rolled into Steamboat than the ones for the Luxembourg-born rider.
“It was great,” Schleck said after Friday’s Stage 4. “It was fun coming into town. I could look to my teammates and tell them what to look for. I could tell them the ski jumps were on the left.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s been a strange week. But I was really excited by the people.”
Schleck admitted he wanted to win Stage 4 coming into Steamboat. He tried to stay with the breakaway but couldn’t hang on.
Although the results may look disappointing for a race billed as “The Rematch” of this year’s Tour de France podium finishers — Schleck, his brother Frank, and winner Cadel Evans — the impact of those riders being part of the Pro Cycling Challenge can’t be overlooked.
“It’s a big deal to have the Tour de France podium of Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers here at the race, and we’re lucky to have them,” said Levi Leipheimer. “At the same time, it’s a little unfair to expect … any of us to win all the time. I mean, those guys went super deep in July.
“It’s proof to how great of riders they are,” Leipheimer continued. “They’re true champions. Like I said, we’re lucky to have them here because they’ve brought a lot of attention to this race. That’s the real point.”
So even though the week hasn’t gone as well as Andy Schleck might have hoped for, he’s found a community in Northwest Colorado that he’s embracing as much as it’s embracing him.
Schleck said it’s not a question of whether he’ll return but when.
“I’m definitely coming back to Steamboat,” he said. “Maybe I’ll mountain bike. In the winter, I want to ski. I have a great time in Steamboat.”
— To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com