Just a few years ago, if Andrew Talansky had lost the yellow jersey of a bike race on the final day, the ambitious racer that Cannondale-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters calls "The Pitbull" would have been inconsolable.
But Talansky is a changed man. After surrendering yellow to Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) on the final climb of the final day at the Tour of Utah on Sunday, a smiling and occasionally laughing Andrew Talansky was generous with his compliments about his competitors, gracious with reporters and a generally content looking fellow.
Ironically, Talansky addressed those changes – and why he's rediscovered his previous winning form – after his stage 6 win at Snowbird. On Saturday, Talansky out-climbed the best, took the Queen stage win and also the yellow jersey that he'd eventually have to give back to Morton.
After that stage, Talansky talked abut his drought in top results and form that dates back to the 2014 Tour de France, where he was at his best but had to abandon after crashing.
"I spent a lot of time trying to recreate that, trying to figure out what I did and how I get back there, and what actually ended up working is you try to stop being what you were because you're not the same person, and you're not the same rider," the 27-year-old American said.
"You're not the same on or off the bike. Every day and every year is different. When I started approaching it that way – you even saw it was pretty rough for me in the spring – things just started to come back together again," he said. "I've always said that I didn't change my work ethic or anything, knowing during those two years that you're going to have 15 years in this sport, and sometimes they are better and sometimes they are a little more difficult."
Talansky rode a nearly flawless race in Utah, with the exception of a crucial difficult patch coming up Empire Pass on the final day. The Cannondale-Drapac rider rode aggressively to defend his jersey throughout the stage, but when Morton attacked at the base of the final climb, The Pitbull couldn't counter.
Instead, 2015 Tour of Utah champion and Cannondale teammate Joe Dombrowski shepherded his team leader up the road, hoping to limit his losses to Morton, Axeon Hagens Berman 18-year-old revelation Adrien Costa and BMC Racing's Colombian climber Darwin Atapuma. Talansky finished fourth on the stage, 1:51 behind Morton. He slipped behind the Jelly Belly rider and Costa in the general classification but held onto the final podium spot.
In the post-race press conference in Park City, Talansky went out of his way to compliment his competition and to thank his teammate.
"It's obviously disappointing to lose the yellow jersey on the last day," Talansky said, "but you can't deny that Lachlan Morton is the best rider here. I think I said that on the Mt. Nebo day; he was very impressive."
As for Dombrowski, Talansky said he owed his podium finish to his younger teammate.
"Having the defending champion in this race working for you is pretty special," he said. "If anybody saw Tour de Suisse, you saw Joe do the same thing for me. Obviously today wasn't my best day, but it's very, very motivating having a world-class rider like Joe Dombrowski with you working for you.
"The way Joe was riding today, it's very likely he could have gotten Lachlan and maybe had a chance for the stage win, but he sacrificed any chance for that to stay with me and help me end up on the podium today. I'm very thankful for that, and I have no doubt that going into the Vuelta, Joe will definitely win a stage."
Talansky has obviously learned to take the difficult moments in stride, although he may find that those inevitable tough times will be spaced further and further apart as 'Talansky 2.0' moves forward.
His next opportunity to test his rebooted attitude and form will come later this month when he leads the Cannondale-Drapac roster at the Vuelta a Espana. Despite having lost the race lead on Sunday, Talansky said he is right on track heading into the three-week Spanish Grand Tour.
"I'm feeling really good for the Vuelta," he told Cyclingnews.
"Obviously I didn't have my best day today, but this race kind of served to complete the final altitude block coming into the Vuelta. I didn't spend two weeks before the race at altitude. I chose to stay down at sea level and focus on intensity. There's not a lot of high altitude finishes in the Vuelta this year. So — and I said it on Mt. Nebo — I was surprised at how I was riding, and I'm happy to come away with a stage win."
The Tour of Utah was 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner's final preparation for the Spanish Grand Tour that year, and Talansky said this year's race was ideal preparation for his own ambitions in Spain.
"I completed 12 days at altitude today and definitely got intensity in," he said. "I had a day that wasn't my best today, and a lot of times that's what you need heading into a tough three weeks like the Vuelta."
Talansky, who skipped the Tour de France this year to focus on the Spanish race, said a stage win in a Grand Tour is still lacking from his palmares, and it would be nice to fill that void in Spain, but his main goal is the general classification.
"Obviously I've never won a stage of a Grand Tour, so that's on my mind and it would be very special if the chance presents itself," he said. "But that's not the main priority. The Vuelta was actually my second Grand Tour but my first result in 2012 when I was seventh there. So obviously I'd like to improve on that, and this week showed I'm on track.
"I stayed at home instead of being in France in July, so I'm very, very motivated for the Vuelta. That's the main goal of my season, and I obviously expect to improve on how I did in 2012 there."