Tanner Putt's first professional win will only bolster his nickname. The 24-year-old from Park City, Utah, is often referred to as the "Polar Bear" because of his ability to endure cold weather and challenging conditions. He lived up to the name on Friday at the Tour of Alberta.
On a day when temperatures dipped to 10 degrees Celsius as wind and rain battered the race, Putt spent the majority of the stage off the front in two separate breakaways before outsprinting Alexis Cartier (Canada) for the stage 2 win in Olds.
Putt, who was likely the only rider in the race to where nothing but a skinsuit with no jacket, arm warmers or leg warmers, said when he saw the morning forecasts he knew it would be a good day to go on the attack.
"It did motivate me," Putt said when asked about the weather. "We have John Murphy here who is a really good sprinter. Me and him work really well in sprints. I lead him out usually, so it was a bit of a risk for me going so aggressively in the break and then getting caught and going again.
"But I just had a really good feeling about going in the break today, especially with the weather being so bad, sometimes the breakaway gets a bit of an advantage, so I really wanted to take my chances in the break."
Putt stubbornly refused to give in after the first move he infiltrated was brought back into the much-reduced peloton. He jumped away again with Cartier with about 75km to go. This time the move stuck, if just barely. But Putt, Cartier and the chasers had to deal with increasingly poor conditions.
The weather was overcast at the start in Kananaskis and with a little bit of a drizzle, but the wind, rain and cold continued to ramp up as the stage went on. Overall race leader Colin Joyce (Axeon Hagens Berman) said the main priority for most of the peloton was just to keep warm.
"It started alright and then it rained and then it got really, really cold," Joyce said. "Then I looked over at Tanner and he wasn't wearing anything except a jersey and I felt pretty bad about myself. It was pretty cold. They key was definitely trying to stay warm, so we were always going back to the car and throwing on a lot of extra layers to keep warm."
Putt and Cartier, meanwhile, benefited from a constant workload that kept them from freezing up.
"I knew being out front with just one other guy that we'd be working the whole time, we'd be hitting the wind and riding harder and staying a bit warmer, whereas in the field they were gonna sit up a bit, let this break roll and get a bit of time," Putt said.
"When you sit up like that after riding hard in the rain you get pretty cold. So when we got to 30km to go I went up to the guy I was with and was just like, ‘Hey man, let's get this gap up as much as we can and hold it a bit, then when we turn right at 16km to go and we have a bit of a tail-cross, we'll hit it was hard as we can to the finish line."
The Polar Bear's strategy worked, and the duo finished as the field had them in its sights. The win is the biggest of his career and his first since signing a two-year deal with UnitedHealthcare in 2015.
"I really, really wanted to win a race before my contract was up with these guys," Putt told Cyclingnews after the stage. "I signed a two-year deal and I really wanted to win a race before this contract was up, and so it feels great. I don't think it's really sunk in yet."
When a reporter asked Putt if he had a new contract in place for next season, he said that he did but he wasn't sure if he could say which team it was with. Asked if the team's colours were blue and white, he said, "Yes, blue and white."
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