Rally's Colin Joyce banks on tenacity and talent

Colin Joyce (Rally Cycling) could have thrown in the towel long ago.

When he first started racing in adolescence, he was "pretty bad," he now admits. "But I kept learning and growing with it, and eventually I really loved it and wanted to keep doing it."

Joyce stuck with it and eventually won the US Junior 15-16 time time trial in 2010.

"After that I was able to kind of realize that maybe I could compete with some of these kids," the modest 22-year-old from Idaho said.

Joyce continued to progress through the ranks, competing with the Hot Tubes Junior team and slotting into the USA Cycling development program, which allowed him to compete around the world. Joyce made the most of his opportunities, claiming the overall at the Junior Tour of Ireland in 2012.

In 2013, his first season in the U23 ranks, he moved to the California Giant-Specialized development team and also continued to race with the national team. It was with the US team in 2015 at the Volta ao Alentejo that Joyce got caught up in a crash that might have caused many to re-think their decision to pursue a cycling career.

Team director Mike Sayers described the crash as horrific, telling Cyclingnews at the time that the entire team was crying for Joyce after the race. Joyce broke his leg and a wrist, and he was out of competition until June of that year. But when he came back, he did so with a vengeance, finishing third in the U23 national championship road race and taking second in the Reading 120 with the national team.

When California Giant and Axeon Hagens Berman merged in 2016, Joyce found himself on arguably the best development team in the sport. But his 2016 season, his last as a U23 rider, started off with a thud rather than a bang.

"There was just a lot of – I don't know if I can say bad luck – I just had a lot of crashes and a good amount of sickness and injuries and a little bit of family issues, so I didn't really have a healthy race without injury, sickness or a crash until Cascade [Cycling Classic in July]," he said. "So I had to go a lot the of season until it started to click."

But it certainly did click for Joyce in the second half of the year. He finished second in Cascade's final stage, the notoriously difficult Awbrey Butte circuit, and finished 12th overall. From there he went to the Tour of Utah in August and finished second on the opening stage ahead of BMC's Rick Zabel in the bunch sprint. He added another top 10 stage result in Utah and was firing on all cylinders in September when the Tour of Alberta rolled around.

Joyce showed off his form on stage 1 with a win in front of Cannondale-Drapac's Alex Howes. It was a win that required Joyce to rely on his patience and perseverance once again. A group of 26 riders jumped away on the hilly circuit in Lethbridge, and with most of the overall contenders from the top teams represented in the move, there wasn't much impetus or horsepower left in the peloton to chase it down.

That could have been the end of it for everyone else, but Joyce joined Cannondale's Lawson Craddock and Amore & Vita's Redi Haliliaj in a bridge attempt that quickly made contact with the leaders.

"Luckily I had two really strong guys in the move, and Axel [Merckx] recommended just sitting in, so I was like, 'Yeah, I'm totally OK with that.' So I kind of got a free ride up there and that really helped. And then it went from there."

When the chasing peloton started getting close to the break, Joyce made the split again as attacks in the break whittled the move down to a dozen riders, including Howes, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Toms Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac), Daniel Eaton (Axeon Hagens Berman), Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel), Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly), Evan Huffman (Rally), Alex Cataford (Silber) and Matteo Dal-Cin (Silber). Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai) and Antoine Duchesne (Canada) soon joined the leaders to form the new group of 12 off the front.

In the finale, Carpenter led through the final corner and seemed to be in control, but Joyce and Howes edged past the Holowesko rider at the line, giving Joyce the biggest win of his career.

"The stage win at Alberta was a really nice one, especially after a rough start to the year, for sure, and then being able to end the season on a high note," Joyce said.

Joyce went to the Olympia Tour with the US team and scored two more top 10 stage results and contributed to the stage 1 team time trial win. He ended his season with a 15th-place finish at the World Championships in October, then finally set in for a well-deserved rest after signing with Rally Cycling for the 2017 season.

"I was in Idaho most of the winter," he said. "I had a little off-season trip with some friends in early December, and then went down to my own little training camp in Southern Utah. I had really nice friends who let me stay at their house down there for a week and a half. And then we had the winter team camp in Colorado mid-December, and then went back to Idaho a couple of days for the holidays for Christmas. Then I flew out to SoCal on the 27th, so I've just been kind of training down here."

Joyce's early jump on the off-season training could pay big dividends when Rally begins its season in Europe at the Vuelta a Murcia, Volta ao Algarve and Volta ao Alentejo.

"With our first trip it's kind of one of the earlier season starts that I've had," he said. "But hopefully I'll be ready for it."

Algarve will be the first 2.HC race Joyce has ever done – the past five winners of the race are Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Tony Martin (Katusha), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) – so he's pragmatic about what to expect from himself there.

"Mostly just to learn and then if the opportunity presents itself maybe go for a result or help the team get a result for sure," he said. "But a lot of it will be just learning and the experience of them."

For the most part, Joyce is learning to enjoy his experience in cycling, and his spot on Rally has helped him understand that at 22-going on-23, he's still got plenty of time to pursue his cycling dreams.

"It's funny," he said. "I go from being the oldest kid on the team to being one of the youngest kids on the team. Growing up in kind of the cycling pipeline or development pipeline, you're always around kids your age. Then all of the sudden you age out of U23s, and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm old, what am I going to do?' But then you get on a team like this and it's like, 'No, I'm young.' I still have so much more improvement and more time to really find myself, so I don't need to stress about it at all."

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.