Steele Von Hoff (Garmin Sharp) sprinter recently came close to cracking that first WorldTour victory with two podium finishes at the Tour de Pologne. Von Hoff actually won the Stage 4 bunch sprint but was denied the win thanks to a herculean effort by Taylor Phinney (BMC) to escape and claim a solo victory. Nevertheless, Von Hoff was optimistic rather than jaded about coming so close, yet remaining so far.
"I was really happy with how everything went," said Von Hoff. "I think I got a little bit of respect from a few of the other teams so hopefully it'll just start getting easier, people will start wanting my wheel instead of just wanting me off the wheel that I'm on."
The Polish Tour started with two very hilly stages in Italy and for Von Hoff, it was victory enough just getting to the start of the sprint stages.
"I've never done hills like that before! We didn't live too far away from the Pyrenees in Toulouse last year [with the Chipotle development team] but that was just next level," said Von Hoff. "We were climbing 4000m a day! And it was just brutal and I'm just not built for that! I was just trying hold gruppetto and that was a struggle for me. I was getting helped by a few people, and Leigh [Howard] was quite motivation saying 'once this is over it's going to be a lot better, so you've just got to struggle through'. So that was good. But I was just exhausted after that day, so I was just so thankful that there was a rest day on day three which is unheard of in a seven-day tour. But I really needed it!"
Von Hoff was one of the few riders to celebrate the early rest day, and in regards to the laborious transfers following stage two in order to get riders to Poland, it's fair to say he wasn't too fussed
"It wasn't the easiest thing, I really felt for the soigneurs, they're always up a few hours earlier than us and then go to bed a few hours after us. And when we arrived at the hotel at midnight [after Stage 2] we know that they're still going to be going on for a while after that. And then they've still got to set up and everything. It made it difficult, for everyone. But for the riders it wasn't too hard! But definitely the staff, I knew that they weren't enjoying it."
Von Hoff's teammate, Nathan Haas, took to twitter voicing an alternate take on the situation from a rider's perspective:
"Just arrived in poland... Good god whoever sanctioned that has never raced almost 7 hours then travelled as many. Riders unite, this blows."
Regardless, the Garmin team did unite once the race hit Polish roads and put everything they had into securing a victory for Von Hoff.
"The team that we had in Poland was just unbelievable, we really got along well together and the teamwork they did for me was just as good back in the [Huon]-Genesys days, like Haasy rode the front all day and then the guys were just doing an awesome job of positioning me and even a few swingers coming into the corners as well, because it was quite technical, and they stuck with me all the way until about a k to go before it really got dicey and they just put me on Thor's wheel and then I just held that to the finish."
Von Hoff's start to the season was slower than he'd have liked due to illness, and just recently he went about adjusting his routine to a new coach. Von Hoff was previously coached by Huon-Genesys manager Andrew Christie-Johnston, but the new coaching arrangement within the continental team also applied to its alumni.
"I've just got a new coach, Mark Fenner. He's looking after [Huon]-Genesys now, I'll see how that goes. Fenner's really into his numbers. Like, Andrew [Christie-Johnston] really knew me so well that I never wanted to leave but he just ran out of time so now Fenner is learning how I cope with load. He cracked me before Poland but I've since recovered and I did alright!"
And as Von Hoff explains, it's not uncommon for riders these days to seek coaching from outside the ranks of their professional team.
"Everyone seems to have individual coaches away from the team. I don't know many people that are coached by the team. It's quite a common thing."
Ambiguity over what races lay on the horizon for pro cyclists is also common, and as Von Hoff explains, he is no different..
"This [the Tour de l'Ain] is all that's on my calendar at the moment, so I hate to be boring about it but I'm in the dark! I have no idea! But I am on the long list for the Vuelta, so I think there's 13 of us on that list and they take nine. But Tyler [Farrar] and Robbie Hunter are on that list as well so it's not looking like I'll go, so I might be doing World Ports and Tour of Britain, and then kind of follow a similar program to what I did as a stagiare last year."
One thing that is certain for Von Hoff, is some kind of Asian detour to close the year out.
"Maybe China or, Japan Cup again, it wasn't looking like we were going to get the start at Japan Cup, I'm not 100% sure on that but I'd love to go back to Japan. It's a good race to come home with, it's at the halfway mark, you know adjust the jet lag a little bit then fly the last bit and have a good break."