Cannondale-Garmin has had no manner of luck in the Tour de France, but a tenacious ride by Andrew Talansky for second place on stage 17 to Pra-Loup has the American team hoping their fortunes have finally turned a corner.
Talanksy was part of a huge breakaway that escaped midway through the 161km stage, and by the end he was chasing eventual stage winner Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) alone on the descent from the Coll d'Allos. Finishing 32 seconds behind, Talanksy said he ran out of road.
"Once I got in that breakaway I thought I had a really good chance. I was suffering a little bit early on, but I looked at the faces of the other guys, and I know the way I'm feeling in the third week, the way I've been climbing I was pretty confident I was the best climber in the group. That proved to be true by the end. Geschke just had a bit too much time coming into the final climb," Talansky said.
"I rode the race as smart as I could, and rode with my heart and not my head in the end. I ended up being second, but I did everything I could."
Talansky came over the Coll d'Allos with 22km to go chasing behind Geschke and FDJ's Thibaut Pinot, but after the Frenchman slid out and then lost his confidence on the highly technical and treacherous descent, Talansky blasted past and went off in pursuit of Geschke, but couldn't close down the gap.
"Geschke is a pretty good descender, too, and the gap stayed pretty much the same between the top and the bottom. My only hope was that he was going to blow up in the steeper last two kilometers. He's a great bike rider, a class rider, and he knows how to meter his effort, obviously. I think I closed 50 seconds to a minute at the end, but it wasn't enough. I ran out of road."
The team has made the breakaway in just about every stage, but has had no luck. Dan Martin finished second on both stage 11, behind Rafal Majka, and on stage 8 behind Alexis Vuillermoz, and was fourth behind Joaquim Rodriguez on the Mur de Huy on stage 3, but a stage victory has eluded the team. Talansky is hopeful that the next few days will bring another chance.
"Whenever you come in second - you're out there racing for the win, in a break that goes to the end - it's disappointing not to get it. But we had myself and Ryder [Hesjedal] up there, Dan Martin is starting to feel better. I historically have come on strong in the third week of Grand Tours, and this is the start of that, and we will be able to create other opportunities."
Talansky has moved up to 12th in the general classification, but said at 16:25 from Chris Froome, the overall is not the main focus.
"The GC wasn't even a thought today. We were racing 100 per cent for a stage win, the time gain came as a by-product of that. Moving up is always nice, and being closer to the top 10 I'll definitely be racing with that in mind, but it's not going to change the fact that a stage win is the priority."
Talansky was sorry to see his fellow American Tejay van Garderen abandon the race while sitting third overall.
"There are only three Americans in the race. We've said it before when I was 10th and he didn't have a great year, he said I'm happy there's still an American in the top 10 to keep the US public interested. He was second on Alpe d'Huez that year. While we are competitors, we take a lot of pride in being American and giving the public back home something to get excited about, and clean riders to believe in. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for him to stop.
"I'm really sorry for him and hope he's doing OK."
He looked ahead to the next three stages, knowing that a big battle will be waged in the Alps. Stage 18 is 186.5km of mountain roads, with the Hors Category Col du Glandon en route to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and then two short but intense stages ending on La Toussuire and the Alpe d'Huez will be flat out from end to end.
"Every day from here to Paris is just going to be full on. The big GC guys are going to take every opportunity to hit each other hard, and by the time we get to Alpe d'Huez, we're going to see people on their hands and knees, maybe myself included."