With the aid of technology, I can follow the comings and goings of cyclists Frank and Andy Schleck, learning much more than I care to about their daily lives. And by that I mean I saw a photo of the two in swim trunks in Curaçao.
Notoriously skinny because it would be too difficult to carry a muscular body up mountains during the Tour de France, the Schleck boys look as if they could use a big bowl of soup beans and a plate of corn bread, topped off with a vat of bread pudding. Even that wouldn’t help. Tour riders burn an average of 6,000 calories per day during the race, though they eat constantly.
“I don’t think we’re nice athletes to look at,” Frank once said to an interviewer. “I don’t think we pretty.” (He is from the tiny country of Luxembourg; English is not his first language.)
Through Twitter feeds, I’m kept up to date as Andy goes to a basketball game; goes to the premiere of a film about the Schlecks and their team Leopard-Trek in the 2011 Tour; or gives a shout out to his dad, Johny, on his birthday.
I learned Andy will pass on a rainy-day training ride if he’s too involved with his iPad2. Frank likes Coldplay concerts and cranks up the volume when daughter Leea is out of the house, and, he says, Andy is always late for their almost daily bike rides. I have discovered that Frank’s wife doesn’t always know what country her husband is in.
The Schlecks are in danger of becoming cycling’s equivalent of rock stars. That’s not a good thing. Fame takes away focus, and cycling is all about laser-sharp focus and will. It’s difficult not to pay attention to them, however. They’re just so darned cute, really quite funny and given to overshare if an interviewer asks a personal question.
Clearly I’m not alone in my interest in the Shlecks (of course, there’s The Book Club.) When I mentioned the boys during a New Year’s visit to Southeast Tennessee, a friend said, “Oh, you and your matinee idols.” When I explained to him who the Schlecks were, it dawned on him a female judge in his rural county was a big fan, too.
Talk about the Tour de France and most people say “that has to be boring.” Yes, I admit, there are times when the cyclists are pedaling along and you find yourself focusing more on horses in meadows or fields of sunflowers. Then suddenly someone will attack as Andy did last year. With 37-plus miles left in the 18th stage, he pulled away from the peloton. No one could catch him as he raced up the Col du Galibier to finish at 8,677 feet, the highest stage finish ever. Commentators say it will go down as one of the Tour’s greatest rides.
The Schlecks, guileless and forthright, are like friendly little puppies. Their fierce competitiveness seems out of character. Watching Andy attack on the Col du Galibier last year was like watching a golden retriever chase down and destroy a pack of wolves — unexpected and amazing — and Frank behind him but ahead of all the rest.
Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.