Andrew Talansky has opened up about his trials and tribulations over the past couple of years, describing in an emotional blog post how he has fought back to regain his confidence and purpose after experiencing "the lowest of lows".
The American rider flashed with promise when he finished 10th at his debut Tour de France in 2013 and won the Critérium du Dauphiné the following year, but he has endured a challenging couple of years and a string of disappointing performances since.
"This sport, all professional sports really, can be cruel. They can break you, chew you up and spit you out and leave nothing but lost hopes and dreams in their wake. I've seen the lows, I have lived them," wrote Talansky, describing the doubts and questions he faced since crashing repeatedly during the 2014 Tour.
"You see, for over two years I didn't know what I was fighting for. I was so focused on the expectations of others, on the criticisms, on the judgement leveled towards me, that I lost sight of why I was riding. Training became work. The passion waned.
"Finally, during the early months of the 2016 season, it felt like people had given up. It had been too long since I had performed at the level people (including me) thought I was capable of. I was on the verge of breaking."
Talansky, 27, described how he hit rock bottom in April this year, after abandoning the Tour de San Luis and Paris-Nice, and finishing 105th at the Tour de Romandie.
"The reality was I had failed. I hadn't performed. There was no further that I could fall."
That moment, however, proved to be the catalyst for change.
"At the lowest of lows during April of 2016, I rediscovered who I am and once again found meaning out on the bike," wrote the Cannonade-Drapac rider. "During the second half of the 2016 season I got my life, and my career, back on track.
"The past few years I felt like something was missing but I couldn't put a name on it. Now I know what it was: Freedom. Freedom from the expectations of others. Freedom from that fear of failure. Freedom to be myself on the bike. Honestly, at my lowest point this April, I felt like everything was possible yet again."
Since April, Talansky finished fourth overall at the Tour of California and fifth at the WorldTour-level Tour de Suisse. He then decided not to ride the Tour de France, citing a 'personal issue', but went on to win a stage and finish third overall at the Tour of Utah before finishing fifth overall at the Vuelta a Espana.
In his blog post, Talansky talks about the support of his close friends and family in helping him to rediscover his motivation, but also speaks about his attitude towards fear.
"Over the second half of 2016 I came to embrace the fight. More importantly, I came to embrace fear," he writes.
"I've come to realize that fear will never leave. Fear of failure. Fear of not achieving my goals. Fear of giving all of yourself to something and still coming up short. That's probably my greatest fear.
"What I came to realize is that those fears don't need to go away. They don't need to be blocked out. I am thankful for them, they are a driving force in what gets me out the door every day. They are there to remind me of why I do what I do. If the outcome is all that matters, then your fears will always be realized.
"When you can find meaning in what you do, when you love the process, then there's nothing to be afraid of."