Team Astana neo-pro Evan Huffman has criticised how his team handled the signing of Franco Pellizotti. The American, racing in his first season for the Kazakhstan squad, told Cyclingnews that the team deserved ‘some flak’ for the way in which they signed Pellizotti.
Pellizotti, a former former king of the mountains winner at the Tour de France, was suspended for two years in 2010 following a UCI Biological Passport infraction. The doping-related suspension means that – owing to MPCC rules - he can not ride for a WorldTour until two-year period has elapsed from the time his ban ends.
However Astana announced the signing earlier this year leading to questions being raised over both the credibility of the MPCC and Astana’s interpretation of the rules. It was later clarified that Pellizotti would not start racing with the team until May 2, 2014.
“I didn’t hear about that until it was public news,” Huffman told Cyclingnews.
“It was almost as if they didn’t know he wasn’t going to be eligible to race. So it was a bit of ‘if you guys don’t know part of the MPCC and want to make an effort, you have to know what you’re getting into beforehand.’ That lost some points for me but I don’t know. They got a lot of flak for it but it’s not like he’s going to training camps and he’s still banned so it could be worse. It’s not great. I’m not super happy with it.
“I’m not saying he’s a bad guy or shouldn’t be on the team but I think that the way they did it wasn’t right. They got some flak from the media for it but they should have. I’m not going to be rude when I see him, I’m not going to make a scene but they should have realised it was going to be an issue before they announced it. It was just frustrating to me that they didn’t realise it was going to be a problem.”
Huffman signed for Astana at the start of 2013 after a successful season on the domestic circuit in America in which he claimed the U23 national individual time trial title, a stage at the Tour of Gila and fifth in the Mount Hood Classic.
This season has seen the 23-year-old jump in at the deep end, immersing in the WorldTour ranks as the only American on the Kazakhstan team.
“It was really difficult just figuring out how to live in Europe and work within the team. The racing was a lot harder than the year before but basically I’m happy with it. I think I improved a lot throughout the season,” he told Cyclingnews.
His move to Astana may have raised some eyebrows – most of the promising US riders in the U23 ranks opt for slightly more familiar ground, with Garmin, RadioShack and BMC typical destinations for American riders of promise. However Huffman, who drew some interest from a number of US domestic teams, decided to take the plunge once a team from the top echelons of the sport came calling.
“It came through Specialized,” he said of his move to Astana.
“I’d been talking to them since around May 2012 and they were trying to put me in contact with one of their teams, whether it was QuickStep, Saxo Bank or Astana. I was pretty relaxed about the whole thing and then in October they said they could help me with a slot on Astana.”
Since his first meetings with the team, Huffman has found the team accommodating, allowing him to find his feet with too much pressure and testing his talents in a number of different racing environments.
“Not everyone speaks English but the ones that do are really helpful. I don’t feel like an outcast because they always try and include me. They’re all helpful and whenever I have a question I can find a genuine answer. It was a little overwhelming having come from an amateur team.”
His first season in the professional ranks has seen him take on a varied race programme, starting off in Qatar and Oman and ending with the Tour of Beijing last month.
“I got to do a lot of good races, especially in the spring but it changed a lot from what I was first told. I guess that’s to be expected because I’m new to the team but in the end I was happy with it and I got to do a pretty good mix of races.
“I think I started out really well earlier in the year but then I wasn’t up to my expectations for the rest of the spring. I think a lot of that had to do with me moving to Europe and all the mental stress that comes with it. Then I came back to the States for a couple of months and had a chance to regroup mentally and physically, get back into my normal training routine and then I was happy with my performance at Eneco.
“I actually didn’t race a lot in the second half of the year. I did the Tour of Belgium in May, then did Eneco and Beijing. I didn’t get any top tens but I definitely felt part of the races and stronger, rather than just surviving. I wanted to race more but I think the team was really focused on the Vuelta so a lot of things, to me, got overlooked.”
Heading into this second and final year of his current contract, Huffman will be looking for a more settled race programme in 2014. He’s well aware that he will need results too.
“We have our first camp this week but I can see my programme going in a number of different ways. I’d like to start a little bit later next year. There are still a lot of races I’ve not done. I don’t particularly want to do Qatar and Oman again as those aren’t really my favourite but it would be cool to do California if we’re invited. I’d also like to do a grand tour but at the moment that’s a longshot as I need to prove myself a bit more.
“I just really need to have a good year and get some results because at the moment I don’t think anybody would sign me. I just want to take any opportunities I have.”