The Tour de l'Avenir is certainly one of the peaks in his season, but Colin Joyce can't refrain from doing his favourite joke in the peloton. The 21-year-old American, seventh in the first stage on Sunday, a round face with impish eyes, tells Cyclingnews he might do one of his favourite pranks in the coming days: "I tap the other side of my teammates and they think it's someone else!"
It goes without saying he never jokes like this in tense moments, too close to the finish line, but these 'kind thoughts' can help to enjoy the long days on a bike, like Sunday's ride at the 'L'Avenir': 192-kilometres of racing and 9 kilometres of a neutralised start.
"Colin is a super nice guy, the comedian of the team," smiles Mike Sayers, the sports director of the United States' national squad of the Under 23s.
On March 28, 2014, nobody was in the mood for laughing, at the Volta ao Alentejo. During stage 3 of this UCI 2.2 event in the south of Portugal, Joyce was part of a big crash on a descent. "A horrific crash, everyone in the team was crying for him after the race," Sayers recalls. His rider broke both his leg and wrist, and could only come back to a UCI race in early August of that year.
"This is definitely one of my less favourite moments in cycling," Joyce says. "But it was also a bit of beneficial learning. This is not easy because we are always in the 'washing machine': food, recovery, training and we don't do anything else... So I try now to enjoy life a bit more. We are in Europe right now, participating to the Tour de l'Avenir: not everyone with 21 [years of age] can travel to Europe."
Raised in Pocatello, Idaho, in the Rocky Mountains, Joyce had a first successful trip to Ireland in 2012 where he won the UCI international tour. He had started cycling two years before after a few ankle injuries in soccer, his former discipline -- he still snowboards, though, but says he doesn't do big jumps anymore.
Before racing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Joyce claimed a national time trial title in the 15-16 category. On the Bremerton course, Washington, he beat Logan Owen, who is now one of the best American talents and a stage winner at the Tour of Utah earlier this month.
"Colin has an amazing potential," US coach Sayers says. "He can be top 5 of every race he does. And he can improve a lot because, after his crash, I consider him in his second year of Under 23, not in the third one." The rider, part of the California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized, hesitates to define himself: "Climber? Rouleur? Sprinter? All rounder? I am too young to know what I can do really. I like sprints but I could be a climber or a time triallist, depending on my training program."
In the coming six days, Joyce has an interesting opportunity to show himself at the Tour de l'Avenir, as the US team will not ride for general classification – his usual leaders Alexey Vermeulen and TJ Eisenhart, didn't start due to health problems and the possible hopeful of the group, William Barta, is only 19.
There's one thing Joyce definitely knows: he wants to experience the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and expects a first participation next year in the U23 versions of the two cobbled 'monuments'.
His new team for 2016, that he doesn't want to name, might help him to race more in Europe and learn the life of a Classics contender.
Pavés and tiny roads might suit him well. Those who are looking at his career say he has no fear. This is true, the Idaho's child insisted to come back to the Tour of Alentejo this year, the week after he went third at the GP Liberty Seguros, another Portuguese race.
"I wanted to overcome the fear and close the book on my crash," he said. "On stage 3, we went on the same course as the year before and it was an emotional day. I could remember everything, especially when in the downhill, in the turn where it happened." On the finish line in Mertola, Joyce went sixth in a bunch sprint and inevitably burst into tears.
Pierre Carrey, the founder and president of DirectVelo, is Cyclingnews' correspondent at the Tour de l'Avenir.