David Tanner is hoping an early end to season 2015 can be a blessing in disguise for next year with a settled off-season allowing the refreshed Australian to hit the ground running in his second year with IAM Cycling. Tanner crashed out of the Vuelta a Espana on stage 2, prematurely ending his season but with his contract extended with IAM Cycling into 2016 he has been able to "back into things slowly and take things a little more calmly" compared to previous years.
Tanner explained to Cyclingnews that signing his contract extension in June let him focus on racing which paid dividends at the Tour of Austria where he took his first win in five seasons.
"This is the first year, because owner Michel [Thetáz] only does one-year contracts, that I'd signed before the Tour," Tanner said from his base in Monaco. "Funnily enough, I signed at the Dauphiné and two-three weeks later I was on some of my best form in the last five years. I won a stage at the Tour of Austria and my numbers were the best they've ever been. Having that stress of your back helps with your head and just being more relaxed and getting down to the job, not worrying about the future holds."
Having been on IAM Cycling's long list for the Tour de France, Tanner explained he was "pretty disappointed" to miss out on making his debut at the French Grand Tour but bounced back with a strong performance in Austria. Having animated De Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold, two of his favourite races of the season, but missed out on a result the stage win was sweet relief.
"I thought it was going to do the Tour and I only found out a week or two before so I said 'ok I have this awesome form, send me to Austria' otherwise it would have been a waste of two months hard work," he said. "Maybe if I hadn't agreed [contract extension] before Austria then maybe I wouldn't have gone in calm and having a good head. You can always ask the 'what if' questions but at the end of the day I am happy with how it all panned out.
"As a team we rode really well that week with some young guys, some neo-pros and it was just a really, really good environment to be in Austria that week for some reason," he said of the race that also saw teammate Sondre Holst Enger claim stage 1 honours.
Tanner's last win was came at the 2010 Tour of Utah when he edged out Alex Dowsett in Salt Lake City, explaining that due to the hard work he'd put in training in the belief he'd be riding the Tour, a win felt like it was just waiting around the corner.
"I knew it was coming because I'd spent a few weeks at altitude and I knew my numbers were really good," he said of the stage 2 victory. "The week before I was at home and riding around there [Monaco] was the fastest I've ever ridden. I felt really good and the day before, on stage 1, the plan was to attack on the last hill and if I was caught then I'd lead my teammate out. The lead-out I gave him. it was impossible for anyone else to follow so I knew I had some special form. It was just a case of me putting it all together. I was basically on my own I the stage I won, the finish really suited me as there were a few corners so I hit out with about 800 metres to go into the first corner, sprinted into the next corner, went through the last corner then sprinted to the line."
Having managed only two top-five places between wins, Tanner went on to finish second on two occasions at the 2.HC race believing those could also have been victories in different circumstances.
"That was my first win in five years so it as pretty special to finally get some reward. I also get reward seeing teammates win after helping them and doing good performances but actually putting your hands in the air, it's a completely different feeling. I was asking myself that maybe it was better to not do the Tour and get a win. I think I could have actually win three stages there.
"Two stages afterwards there was a big problem with the commissaries and the race was neutralised and it was completely the mistake of the commissaries," he said. "There was a big crash and breakaway and the way they neutralised it was just wrong. Long story short, we caught all the breakaway but the last guy and I won the sprint for second after we missed him by six seconds. If things were done correctly I would have won that stage as well."
Looking to keep his momentum from Austria, Tanner was IAM Cycling's best finisher at Ciclista San Sebastian in 37th before heading north for the Eneco Tour. Tanner fell sick at the WorldTour stage race which meant heading into the Vuelta a Espana in less than ideal condition as he explained.
"I got sick on the second last day of Eneco Tour and I basically didn't ride my bike," he recounted. "I did one or two rides before the start and I didn't have any confidence. I didn't think I was going to be fit enough to do it but then funnily enough at the start of Stage 2 after about 30-40km I said to myself, 'man, you're healthy, you're going to get through the Vuelta fine.'"
"10km later I crashed for the first time then 30km I fell a second time and that was a bad crash. That's the way it is sometimes," he said, adding the example of Simon Gerrans' 2013 abandon from the Vuelta which then saw the Orica-GreenEdge rider go onto to have a season that "was one of the best of his life" has provided inspiration for his own recovery.
"There is nothing you can do about, I thought I had broken something," he said of the second crash. "One little goal that I always had was to never abandon a grand tour. Last year in the Giro I didn't feel good at all, I was made to change my saddle half way through and I suffered more than I ever thought I could suffer just because I wasn't good. The only thing that made me finish was that goal."
Having made a short return to Australia from his European base last month, Tanner will spend the majority of the off-season in Europe with the Tour Down Under pencilled in as his first race for 2016 having decided to skip the Australian National Championships one-week prior.
"Because I haven't raced for a long time I think it will be good to do Tour Down Under," he said. "With that I'll just leave a week before and fly with the guys from Europe. February is usually a month of work for me so I like to do Down Under then do more specific work on what I need to improve on at races like Ruta del Sol or Algarve. I'll look to do some altitude before Paris-Nice then it will be similar to past years with Milan-San Remo, Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, De Brabantse Pijl, and Amstel."
While his race programme it yet to be finalised, Tanner has a few requests for 2016 including a return to the Giro d'Italia despite it being a race in which he has suffered no like other.
"I am going to ask to do the Giro because for myself if I am in the Tour pre-selection I am always one of the guys fighting for the last place. I've done that a few times and it doesn't really interest me any more, I'd like to do the Tour one year but it's not the be all and end all," he said of the benefits to racing the Italian grand tour.
"I'll ask to ride the Giro so I know what I am doing and then I can focus on races at the end of the year that are good for me. Depending on which grand tour the team wants me to do, up until Amstel, it will be like last year. It will all come down to what the team wants though and I can only request the races I would like to do and then the team fits it all together depending on what the goals are for particular races."
At 31, Tanner believes that he is only getting better with age and feels his "best years are the next two-three seasons". To make the coming seasons his best yet though, Tanner will increase his time at altitude in St.Moritz which has become his go to training base away from home.
"I spent a lot of time at altitude this year, I think I did seven weeks and the feelings I had in the race was similar to 2010 when I was actually living at altitude in Boulder, Colorado," he said. "That reminded me I need to do more of that stuff to get to my best level. Some guys can hit there best level from just training at home all the time but for me to go up that extra bit and to be competitive, I need to go to altitude and that just works for me."
Tanner may be looking to ensure it's not another five year wait between wins but it's clear contributing to teammates' wins is just as important part of the job and remains a goal for 2016/
"Being a part of team success, that's important for me. To get a win is so good for morale and to get a bit of reward for the work you put in. I am not going to say 'I want to win three races instead of one', just to keep the ball rolling the way it is," he said of next seasons ambitions.
That desire to help his teammates celebrate victory is extended to current Australian national champion Heinrich Haussler and Tanner believes the duo could have a fruitful relationship next year racing alongside each other.
"I'd like to race a little bit more with Heinrich Haussler next year as well," he said. "I was watching the Giro this year and he just lacked one guy here and there and he could have been close to stage wins. He's a good mate of mine and he deserves more help I think so I'd like to do more races with him.
"Unfortunately, we don't do the classics together as he does the Flemish ones but I think if we were do to a few more races together and he had a bit more support in the sprints it would be pretty cool."