In pain and fighting back tears, Andrew Talansky crossed the finish line in Oyonnax in last place, 32 minutes behind the day’s winner and barely inside the time cut during stage 11 of last year’s Tour de France. He was unaware that his painfully arduous, yet admirable, effort had been played out on live television for the cycling world to see.
His performance, which ended in abandonment the next day, was a stark contrast to his triumphant and even bold overall win during a thrilling finale atop Courchevel just one month earlier at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and a real-life demonstration of the kind of adversity that riders often face in professional cycling.
In an sit-down interview with Cyclingnews at the Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling team launch in New York City, the American rider spoke freely about his best and worst experiences during the 2014 season, what he’s learned from them, and about his “unfinished business with the Tour.”
It’s the start of a new year and Talansky is one of three leaders of the newly-married Cannondale-Garmin WorldTour team, alongside Canadian Ryder Hesjedal and Irishman Dan Martin. His season’s targets will start at Paris-Nice (March 8-15) and continue at Volta a Catalunya (March 23-29) and Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco (April 6-11).
From there, he will return to the Dauphiné (June 7-14) and try to defend his title, and like last year, he will aim to build the best form possible before the start of the Tour de France.
The Tour, which gets underway on July 4 in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is set to be his primary goal. From his experience at the race last year, he knows first-hand about the unpredictability of a three-week race. This time around, he's hoping to make it through uninjured and in good position to strike for a top overall finish.
“The Tour is absolutely my goal,” Talansky said. “When I said that I have unfinished business with the Tour, I meant that I want to go there and ride the race that I know I'm capable of, that the team knows that I’m capable of, and essentially, just get to ride my race. Whatever that means result-wise, we will see, but I believe it will be great and the team believes it will be great. That is the most important thing… I just want to get the opportunity to ride my race at the Tour.”
Talansky is starting his fifth season on the WorldTour and in that time has placed seventh overall at the 2012 Vuelta a España and 10th overall at the 2013 Tour de France. He's confident that he can improve on those results, and with help from his teammates, is expecting no less than a top-10 performance from himself at the Tour.
“Absolutely, yes, achieving a top-10 is the minimum,” Talansky said. “I mean a top-10 is the minimum to improve on from a couple of years ago. I think that if I get to ride the race that I would like to, and we have things go generally right – because you’re never going to have everything go perfectly – but if things go just a little better than last year, then I think it will lead to a great result in July.
“I’d like to just focus on the process, focus on training, focus on showing up like I did for the Dauphiné, and be ready to take the opportunities when they arise.”
This year’s Tour route will include a 14km individual time trial, a 28km team time trial along with seven mountain stages that will climb La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Cauterets Vallée de Saint-Savin and Plateau de Beille in the Pyrenees, and Pra-Loup, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, La Toussuire-Les Sybelles and L’Alpe d’Huez in the Alps.
The peloton will ascend L’Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate stage 20 and Talansky believes that it could play a deciding role in who wins the yellow jersey.
“I enjoy the Alps more than the Pyrenees, and this year the race goes up L’Alpe d’Huez on stage 20, and that is something that I’m really excited about,” Talansky said. “L’Alpe d’Huez has always been historic in the Tour but I think it might lead to a bigger shake-up than people imagine. It’s a really hard climb and people will be so exhausted by that point in the race, so much so that it might just explode and reshuffle. Anything can happen in the third week, especially in the second to last day in the race.”
Talansky knows that the parcours favours strong climbers like defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and former winners Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), along with Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale). He will gear his training specifically toward climbing in order to be among the contenders in the mountains.
“It’s a little more climbing-centric and so I will train more on the climbs to focus on that this year,” Talansky said. “I think that last year my climbing took a step up from what it had been in years past and became a strong suit in addition to my time trial, rather than just relying on my time trial and hanging on in the mountains. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a little bit of a different course than the last couple of years, it’s a new challenge."
Learning from the highs and lows of 2014
Talanksy arrives at the start of a new season, with a somewhat new team, and a fresh perspective, in part, from the knowledge that he has gained through his opposing experiences at the Dauphiné and the Tour last year. “I learned something from both races to bring forward with me,” Talansky said.
At the Dauphiné, Talansky went into the eighth and final stage positioned in third place overall, 39 seconds behind Contador and 31 seconds behind Froome. He made the most of the day’s breakaway and managed to hold off a late-race attack from Contador, crossing the line in fourth with enough of an advantage to jump ahead of the Spaniard and win the whole race.
It was the biggest victory of his career, an accomplishment that confirmed his place among the top overall contenders, but it was also a lot for the then 25-year-old to absorb.
“The Dauphiné was my first time winning a race at that level,” he said. “The way in which I ended up winning, with Ryder’s help and the team’s support, it was all unexpected. I think that made the experience even more emotional, a shock and a surprise. It was a good experience.
“It was also a lot to process, and to deal with, but it was a good experience in terms of keeping my expectations in check, learning to deal with all those emotions… for the future. You have to be able deal with the various races, compartmentalize them a little bit, and just keep going.”
He went into the Tour with hopes of finishing on the podium but several heavy crashes during the first 10 days ended up causing inflammation in his back and hips. He struggled through stage 11, after the peloton left him behind with 100km to the finish line in Oyonnax.
Although there was a breakaway of mostly French riders that day, TV cameras shifted to Talansky, who tried to make the time cut. At one point, he got off his bike and sat at the side of the road, but after a few words from his directeur Robbie Hunter, he remounted and continued on, finishing the stage just ahead of the broom wagon.
“That experience at the Tour taught me, and reaffirmed what I though, that when you ride GC, you can crash and you know that things can go wrong, but you don’t really expect that the whole race will be over for you,” Talansky said. “Maybe you fall, maybe you lose a minute, maybe you have something not go exactly the way you want, but you don’t necessarily expect to be completely out of the race, to be completely gone.
“That day was very much about me trying to get to the end of that stage, and then for me to try and assess things, so that I could look in the mirror and be a little bit happier with how I had to leave the race.”
People watching the live coverage were moved, and even inspired by his determination to finish the stage. The cycling community rallied in support and fans on social media broke out with words of encouragement. The next day, he revealed the extend of his back injury and made the decision not to start stage 12.
“It was a terrible day for me, but I like knowing that something good came out of it. That people took motivation or inspiration, and took away something,” Talansky said. “The moral of the story was that sometimes there is no reason to keep going because you’re not going to win and there was nothing to be gained, but you do it because it was about something bigger than that, something with in yourself, your teammates, your family or whatever the case may be. It made me really happy that people found something good out of something that, for me, was so terrible.”
Continuing to grow as a role model
Talansky is only 26 years old but he believes that he has come a long way in his role as one of the team’s leaders during his first four season on the WorldTour. Cannondale-Garmin has the youngest roster on the WorldTour this year and he hopes to continue to grow into a dependable role model for his younger teammates.
“I think the best way to lead is by example,” Talansky said. “My teammates know that I’m very focused and dedicated, methodical in training and all that, but that I’m also fully committed to supporting my teammates. I’ve learned that the way you treat people on and off the bike, the way you interact with people, I think all kind of lends itself toward being a good leader.
“I would like to see myself continue to grow into that role, where the guys are excited to ride for me and know that when they do, and when they commit to it, that something good is going to come from it, something that we can all share and be proud of, and regardless, be proud of the effort that we put into it.”