There is a newfound assuredness about Andrew Talansky as he warms down at the end of stage 2 of the Criterium du Dauphine. It's clear to see as he cautiously makes his way towards the rollers, cleats-a-clacking as he tiptoes across the dusty tarmac before clipping in and spinning the four hours of lactic out of his legs.
As he shifts through the gears with a seamless ease that only Grand Tour riders can produce, he chats with several of his Cannondale-Drapac teammates, thanking them for their efforts and joining in with the collective eye-rolls when the discussion switches to faulty race radios. He looks lean, he looks confident and most importantly, perhaps, he looks happy.
Whisper it, but Andrew Talansky could be about to have the best summer of his sporting life.
"Things are coming together pretty nicely," Talansky tells Cyclingnews after finishing his warm-down and greeting a gaggle of American fans who have made it all the way to the suburbs of Arlanc for the conclusion of stage 2.
"I had a great time at the Tour of California personally and for the team it was a really nice week with my win on Mount Baldy and Pierre Rolland winning a stage at the Giro. That's built some good momentum heading into July."
After a few false starts in recent years and some well-publicised setbacks, Talansky is certainly in the groove, and momentum, that rare je ne sais quoi, which no marginal gain can ever replicate or replace, is certainly with him.
The turning point came at last year's Vuelta a Espana where he finished fifth overall behind a world-class foursome of Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, Esteban Chaves and Alberto Contador. The fifth spot represented Talansky's best-ever Grand Tour finish and provided a timely reminder of his pedigree after what had otherwise been a difficult period, blighted by bad luck, illness and, as a result, inconsistency.
"That was huge. I was fifth behind proven Grand Tour podium riders. I wasn't fifth behind a weak field and every one of the guys in front of me is almost a guaranteed podium finisher," he says, given that all but Chaves has won multiple Grand Tours.
"I said before that Vuelta that I just wanted to do the ride that I was capable of doing and fifth was the absolute best result. I wasn't better than the guys ahead of me, I didn't have terrible luck at any point, and that was a great race for me and the team. I'd like to go to the Tour and put together another good three-week race.
"For me that was a great boost in confidence and it gave me the motivation to want to improve on that, but also go back to the Tour having taken a step back from the race last year."
Although the Tour de France is now firmly on the horizon, Talansky has had to overcome a few natural blips this season. That said, the Vuelta result, coupled with the birth of his first son, seems to have taken away some of the self-doubt and stress that dogged him in the past. Even as he answers now, one can see that the determination and fight are still bristling under the surface but the rider nicknamed Pitbull is able to take things in his stride with a greater level of maturity. Whereas the broken thumb he experienced this winter might have derailed his ambitions in the past, it merely allowed him to recalibrate and shift early-season goals around before being rewarded with the Queen stage at the Tour of California.
"When you're young you're very motivated on the next result, the next contract and the next thing that you're supposed to do. Now there's nothing that I'm supposed to do. The only expectations that matter are my own," he says.
"I channel my intensity into the bike and into my training, but at the end of the day this is bike racing. I have a wonderful family at home and when the racing is over I go back to them. This isn't the end-all of my world anymore. I'm very thankful to be here doing this and doing these races, but with the birth of my son, it's given me a completely different perspective in a very different way. While I enjoy this, it's just one part of who I am, rather than consuming my entire being.
"As for managing setbacks, I've never had anything easy in this sport or in life. I've fought for everything, every result I've gotten and I think that's just part of who I am. Overcoming setbacks I think I'm built to deal with them pretty well and I'll continue to fight to overcome them. That's just who I am."
Tour de France
Talansky's status in the coming weeks is clear from Cannondale-Drapac's perspective, with the American team relying on their asset to deliver a top-ten result in Paris. When he rolls down the ramp in Dusseldorf on July 1, it will mark the 28-year-old's first Tour since his 11th place in 2015.
"Last year it was the logical decision not to go. The Tour de France was in July and when you're already in May and you don't really have the fitness…" he says before he's reminded of his fifth overall at the Tour de Suisse just weeks before last year's race.
"But the foundation that you need to build for a Grand Tour takes months and last year, even though I had a good ride in Suisse, I was completely empty. There was no way I would have put in a good ride at the Tour. And we'd made that decision before at the Tour of California. We came up with a plan – me, the team, and Jonathan Vaughters – and we stuck to it. We've done a similar thing this year. The first few races weren't great but we did California, Dauphiné and then Tour de France, and we're sticking to that too."
Of course, before the Tour there's the small matter of the Dauphine, a race Talansky famously and impressively won in 2014. The stage 4 time trial will provide him with a measure against Froome, Porte and Contador before three back-to-back days in the mountains really test his mettle.
"I love the Dauphine and it's a great race. The Tour of California was a big objective and minus winning the race, it went about as well as it could have gone. Here I want to put in the best ride that I can but it all looks nice to July."
And as for the Tour, Talansky isn't just thinking of a top-ten. He's dreaming bigger but for now, there's still a long way to go.
"I raced against a world-class field in the Vuelta last year and ended up fifth," he says. "There's no reason not to aim for a similar sort of objective at the Tour de France."
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