Reigning US U23 time trial champion Evan Huffman has confirmed that he will ride with the Astana team for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Huffman used his Twitter account to confirm he had signed with Vincenzo Nibali's new squad, writing: “It's true, I have signed for 2 years with @AstanaTeam.”
The 22-year-old from Elk Grove, California, had a breakout season in 2012 with the California Giant-Specialized Domestic Elite amateur team. He started the year with an individual time trial stage win at the Merco Cycling Classic and followed it with another time trial win at the Tour of the Gila in front of Rory Sutherland and Joe Dombrowski, both of whom also signed with UCI Pro teams this year. Huffman won the U23 time trial championship in June ahead of Bontrager-Livestrong riders Lawson Craddock and Nathan Brown.
He said representatives from Specialized, the California-based bike sponsor for both California Giant and Astana, helped work out the deal with the Kazakhstan-registered UCI Pro team.
“I actually dealt with Specialized a lot, and I've been talking with them really all season about riding for a ProTour team next year,” Huffman told Cyclingnews from Montecatini Terme, Italy, where he's taking part in his first training camp with the new team.
Huffman is following a path laid out by former Cal Giant rider Andrew Talansky, who also skipped the UCI Continental and Pro Continental levels, signing with Garmin-Sharp in 2011 after winning the Joe Martin Stage Race time trial in 2010 and backing it up with a win at that year's U23 time trial championship. Talansky has adapted well to cycling's highest level, finishing seventh overall this year at the Vuelta Espana.
“He hasn't really given me any specific advice,” Huffman said of Talansky. “But the main thing he said was just to focus on doing what you're doing, and do what's right for you. If you are racing well, opportunities are going to come to you, so just focus on that. So that's more or less what I did, and that's pretty much what happened.”
Huffman will join an Astana squad that will feature new team leader Vincenzo Nibali, but other recent signings Jakob Fuglsang -three time winner of the Tour of Denmark, Italian sprinter Andrea Guardini and climbers Alessandro Vanotti and Fabio Aru. The team also includes 2012 Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto, Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Maxim Iglinskiy and stage race threat Jani Brajkovic.
It's a roster that leaves the young neo-pro from California a little star struck.
“It's crazy to be on the same team as guys who I'm used to watching on TV,” he said. “It's hard to consider myself being on the same level as them. It's obviously a massive step up, and the shock of it really hasn't set in yet and what it really means.”
Huffman said he has spoken briefly with team management about his program for next season, but there haven't been any concrete plans made about what his goals or target races will be. First they'll have to figure out how he fits in with the team.
“Obviously, time trialing is my strength, and they know that, and most time trials are in stages races,” he said, adding that his overall goal for the reason will be to continue to improve while learning about racing in the European pro peloton and living a European lifestyle.
“Results wise, I haven't really made myself any goals because I don't really know what I'll be capable of yet. It's going to be such a higher level than what I'm used to. At this point it's impossible to say. But you never know. If I have the opportunity to get a result, I definitely want to be in a position to take advantage of that.”
He'll most likely take up residence soon in Northern Italy near several team staff and riders, who will be able to provide support for the neo pro's training and travel once the season starts.
“The team has been very accommodating and realizes it's very different for me doing this, being an American. I'm not just changing teams, it's my whole life that's changing,” Huffman said. “I'm essentially moving to Europe.”