Still just 19, Adrien Costa is one of the brightest prospects on the US cycling scene. The two-time silver medalist in the junior time trial world championships dived into the deep end of U23 racing last year with Axeon Hagens Berman and emerged with enough laurels to earn a trainee spin with top WorldTour team Etixx-QuickStep.
Costa spent the majority of 2016 racing in Europe, either with Axeon or with USA Cycling's U23 national team. During the spring European campaign, he was seventh at the U23 Tour of Flanders, won the Queen stage and the overall at the Tour de Bretagne, was third overall in Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour, and won the time trial stage at Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc. He returned to the US for U23 Nationals and was third in the time trial as part of Axeon's podium sweep.
A short break led into the Tour of Utah, where Costa dropped the likes of Darwin Atapuma and Andrew Talansky on his way to earning three stage podiums and second overall. With a mid-August birthday, Costa accomplished all this while he was 18 years old. After Utah, Costa returned to Europe, winning the time trial and finishing in the top 10 on the final three days to take third overall at the Tour de l'Avenir – the world's most prestigious U23 stage race.
From there, Costa headed to the Tour of Britain with Etixx-QuickStep, but a bad crash on stage 2 forced him to drop out. He recovered in time to race a couple of one-days with the Belgian super team and then returned home to Bend, Oregon, to start preparing for another year with the development team run by Axel Merckx.
Cyclingnews caught up with Costa last month while he was in California at the Axeon Hagens Berman training camp.
2016 Tour of Utah runner-up Adrien Costa (Axeon Hagens Berman) will turn 20 in August. (Davey Wilson)
Cyclingnews: You had a phenomenal season in 2016 with what you were able to do in Europe and at the Tour of Utah, so what do you do in 2017 to top that?
Adrien Costa: I think there are lots of things I can improve on. For me, the big thing will just be being consistent all season and trying to replicate a (WorldTour) calendar with as much racing as I can. When you're trying to go up to the next level you need to race from February through October and be on good form all year, not only for yourself but also for the team.
I think as I get older I should be on a more or less natural progression, but nothing is set with specific races. I won Bretagne overall but there are still some races I'd like to go a spot or two better. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm super motivated.
Also, I'm only a second-year U23, but I'd like to step into a leadership role within the team, not only on Axeon but also with the national team and just working on that dynamic. That's something that doesn't come super natural to me, so I'm just kind of working on the whole package, I guess.
CN: What are some of the traits you need to develop to take a leadership role?
Costa: My big things is I tend to focus on being the best that I can be myself, and maybe sometimes that doesn't come off in the best way. So I think it's more just kind of realising how important the guys around you are, boosting morale and everything like that. It's definitely a learning process.
CN: Speaking of learning processes, you got to spend some time last fall with a little team called Etixx-QuickStep. Aside from your unfortunate crash, how did that go? What were some of the things you learned from that experience?
Costa: It was pretty hard mentally to hit the deck like that at the end of a long season. I wasn't able to bounce back physically, and then maybe mentally as well, it was the last nail in the coffin. But it was great. I was in the follow car when Tony Martin won the TT, so still kind of in the race, but it's never super fun to be there and just be watching. It's always amazing to be with those pro guys and see how they do things, and the support they have is phenomenal.
It's motivating, and you can see that the level is definitely in reach, so it's nice to see that, that you can afford to take your time and focus on really making sure you don't rush into the next level unnecessarily.
Adrien Costa raced as a trainee with Etixx-QuickStep at the end of 2016. (Tim de Waele/TDWSport)
CN: Assuming you had some offers from teams at the next levels, why did you come back to the Continental level and a development team for this season? Why was that important to you?
Costa: Even if you're the biggest talent in the world, I don't think spending only one year at the U23s is ever a good idea. You've seen riders in the past who have tried that, and have won national championships or world championships – they win everything – but down the line in the pros they start to struggle a little bit. So I still think only doing three years is already pretty short, so for me, I never even considered making the jump. Like I said, I still think I have lots to improve on and lots to learn, not only on the bike but also off of it. That's why I'm really excited for this year, to keep honing the craft and hopefully be ready at the end of this year. But you never know what can happen in a season, so it's nice to take another year. There are worse places to be than Axeon, for sure.
CN: Will you make any changes to your race program or how you approach things this year compared to your first year in the U23s last year?
Costa: No, I think my race program should be pretty similar. I'm pretty lucky to have a good spring block with Axeon, and then it's still uncertain what the deal will be with [Tour of] California. I think, regardless, I should have a really good spring, mostly in Europe, and then California would be the race I would come back for in the States. Then the second half of the season should be pretty similar: come back and do nationals, have a break, then hopefully do Utah and l'Avenir. You can't think too far ahead either, so we'll see how things progress, but I'm really excited for all the opportunities.
CN: Are there any races coming up this season that you are especially targeting, that you really want a second chance at?
Costa: I don't like to say 'I want to win this or I want to win that'. But I think if you see what I did this year, it's pretty obvious what races I'd like to go back to - to apply what I've learned, not only having the experience in the race, but also having another year of racing and just being a cyclist under your belt. Because it's not only tactics, but also hopefully get stronger over the years and mentally you know what to expect.
I think it will be a good combination of going back to a few races that I was able to discover last year, and then there's also some new stuff. Like I said, California could be interesting, and hopefully I'll do a race like Liège. It's not a super race for me - I prefer longer climbs - but that's still a Classic, and there's a lot of historical significance.
Obviously, in the pros it's mythical, but in the U23s if you look at the list of winners it's pretty impressive. It's equivalent to the U23 Roubaix or something like that. And I think we have a team with lots of guys who are really good on that course, and we've shown in the past with Tao's [Geoghegan Hart] success and then Logan [Owen] winning it last year. I think that's a big objective for the team and I'm motivated to go there and contribute to that effort.
And then California as well. If we're able to get in that would be incredible. For sure it will be another level than Utah, being a WorldTour race. So getting that first taste of what it's like when you jump into Paris-Nice or something. Obviously, it's not as hard, but it's all part of the progression. So I think I'll have a good balance between new and old.
CN: I saw that at least one publication had compared you to Greg Lemond, so no pressure there or anything for a 19-year-old. How do you handle that kind of pressure when people start talking about you as being the next American hope?
Costa: For me, I don't feel any external pressure at all. I think I've come to the point where you can't put all your eggs in one basket and you have to be a complete human being. If you put all of your happiness or your mood or whatever into what happened in today's training or today's race, you're not going to last very long. It's obviously an honour to hear that. It's actually something my old coach, who used to train with Greg all the time when he was a junior, he would say the same thing. It's motivating and humbling, but I don't let it get in my head at all. It doesn't keep me up at night.
Costa rides to second during the final stage of the 2016 Tour of Utah. (Davey Wilson)
CN: Your calm attitude seems to help you not get too caught up in that stuff.
Costa: Yeah, I think that's just kind of my nature. Like I said, as you progress through the ranks everyone has to find their personal balance and the approach that works best for them. So over the years you find a way to find a balance in your personal life and still be the best cyclist you can be. So I'm always learning, always thinking – maybe sometimes too much – but just trying to improve myself, not only on the bike but also as a complete human.
CN: Anything else exciting coming up?
Costa: I'll be pretty busy actually because I'm moving to Nice in France directly after this camp. I spent some time there last year, but it was a short-term rental all furnished and everything. But this year the place is empty. All the furniture orders and everything are coming in right when I arrive, so that will be occupying quite a bit of my mental energy at the beginning. So I'm just enjoying the training here while I can just focus on the bike, but I'm looking forward to some nice training down there as well.
CN: Isn't that where Joe Dombrowski and Ian Boswell are?
Costa: Yeah, and Larry Warbasse as well, and Will Barta, my teammate, and another guy on Axeon, Chad Young. He's not going to live there full-time, but he's renting a place in the area as well. I think people are starting to see it as an alternative to Girona, which is cool to see the slow transformation. Hopefully some day we will inspire more people to join us. But everyone who is there absolutely loves it. There are lots of pros who go there for tax reasons to Monaco, but as Americans, no matter where you live you still have to pay, so the guys who go there go there because they love it. Usually, they stay and they don't want to go anywhere else. So it should be good. It's something that's good to set up and have it all dialed.
CN: I've heard other riders say that it's good to get set up in Europe early and get that out of the way so you can focus on the bike.
Costa: This is the time to do it, because at the next level you're travelling more. And I'm still trying to balance some classes in there, so it's good to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
Having a place where you can leave your stuff and come back to two months later if you need to is super good for the head. We were in Nice for three months, but then I spent two months on the road more or less, bouncing between races with both Axeon and Team USA across Europe. When you're always in the cycling bubble, always living out of a suitcase, it gets old pretty quickly, so it's nice to have somewhere where you can feel at home, disconnect a bit, and just have a bit of normal life, I guess, or as much as can be for us.