Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) heads into the 2014 season with a race programme similar to this past season, providing a steady build-up of stage racing throughout the first half of the season with a return to the Tour de France as the year's primary goal. 2013 was Talansky's third season at the WorldTour level, with a stage win, stint in the leader's jersey and second place overall finish at Paris-Nice an early highlight then culminating with a fine 10th place general classification result in his debut Tour de France.
The 25-year-old American recently spoke with Cyclingnews regarding his 2013 season and plans for 2014 from his off-season home base in California's Napa Valley, in the midst of weather described as "unseasonably perfect" for his training regimen.
"Overall I'm really satisfied with how it went," Talansky said of his 2013 season. "The high for me at the start of the year was Paris-Nice - winning a stage and getting second overall. That was a huge high. The year before I was second at [Tour de] Romandie but that was because of the time trial. But at Paris-Nice I got beat by a better rider and that better rider, Richie Porte, happened to be one of the top three riders in the world. That's ok with me for right now.
"That showed that I can go to one-week stage races and compete for the overall - to go for stage wins and really be up there with the best guys. That was a huge step for me mentally and physically.
"Obviously the other high for me would be the Tour de France. The Tour itself had so many highs and lows within it - every Grand Tour does. It's such a long period of time to be racing. I cracked in the Pyrenees and lose seven minutes but then I get in a breakaway, get third on the stage and get my seven minutes back. One door closes and another opens in the Grand Tours."
Every professional cyclist struggles through peaks and valleys, and for Talansky the 2013 Tour de Romandie was definitely a taxing ordeal. The American finished second overall at the 2012 edition and hoped to once again deliver a podium result, but instead the race became more a matter of survival and ultimately required an extended recovery time.
"I've always enjoyed that race," said Talansky. "To come in there and get second to Chris Froome in the prologue, beating Richie Porte who was third, that kind of showed I was really there to contend for the podium at the very least at that race. But I got sick after the first stage and I didn't do myself any favors by continuing on, but there was a little bit of a point to prove to certain team management to understand that I can race through being sick and through adversity, even though it's what I've done my entire career.
"That started a low point of the year - pretty much from there all the way to half way through the Dauphine nothing really clicked. I came home to the US in May and I was ready to get training but I'd gotten seriously sick and dug a big hole at that race. And then two days before the Dauphine I caught a stomach bug and was throwing up all day and that kind of screwed up plans for Dauphine. But again, it turned around by half-way through Dauphine and by the last stage I was climbing with Richie Porte and holding on to Chris Froome a little bit, but he wasn't going all-out it has to be noted, but I was climbing with Richie again like I had earlier in the year."
A return to the Tour de France
While Talansky believes that, at least on paper, the 2013 Tour de France route seemed better suited to his talents than the parcours on tap for 2014, he nonetheless relishes his return once again to the Tour as continues to push the boundaries in determining what he can accomplish at the Grand Tour level.
"I did the Tour last year and the course was designed in one way and then I'll got this year and the course is designed in a very different way with one long flat time trial, we go to the Alps first and then do more Pyrenees at the end," said Talansky. "I think it's good because I'll have two years of very different race routes at the Tour and that will provide a good perspective on which I prefer more.
"I think for me on paper last year was more favorable given the two time trials, but honestly I showed up at the Tour last year with not ideal preparation and I ended up 10th. With decent preparation this year in the month of May and the first part of June, getting everything on track and checking all the boxes, then I think it's a great route [in 2014]."
Talansky has always been a very solid time trialer in stage races and as he's shown in his previous two Grand Tours results, seventh at the 2012 Vuelta and 10th at the 2013 Tour, he remains strong in the third week. And while the 2014 Tour serves up the least amount of time trial kilometres in decades, a single 54km time trial on the penultimate day, Talansky believes it can still play in his favor.
"The fact is I'm not going to go out on your average, flatter 50+km time trial and win or light the world on fire but after three weeks of racing the people I have to beat are the GC guys and people are going to be tired. People are always on their hands and knees - we saw that the last couple days of this year's Tour where outside of Froome and Quintana the GC kind of re-shaped itself.
"I think it actually favors me quite a bit having a long time trial at the end and I'm looking forward to it. It's a little different than last year and I think I'll be ready to tackle it."
The first test of the 2014 season for Talansky is shaping up to be Tirreno-Adriatico, rather than Paris-Nice.
"Originally the thought was I'd start at Paris-Nice, but the course was sent out to teams for that and it doesn't look nearly as favorable for me as last year so I'll probably be going to Tirreno," said Talansky. He's done the Italian stage race once before in his career, finishing 120th overall in 2012.
"It's a chance to do a time trial, a team time trial and there's a proper mountain top finish so that looks a lot more appealing early on than a bunch of rolling stages at Paris-Nice. It's kind of disappointing, because I really wanted to go back and try to win Paris-Nice because I had a great time there last year. I really love racing in France but you have to deal with what the courses are in a given year and they change a bit.
"Then the plan is Romandie again - I've seen they've released the course a little bit and there's a prologue and a time trial on the last day. I don't know the profile for that time trial the last day but any sort of time trial the last day will be good. And if I show up there healthy then I really think I have a chance to win. That's another big goal for me, then it's time for a break and re-build a little bit and then do Dauphine and the Tour again."