Although many of his former teammates went directly to the WorldTour from Axel Merckx's successful development team, Tanner Putt, twice the US U23 national champion, signed with UnitedHealthcare and is aiming to learn from the squad of talented riders in his first season in the senior ranks.
Putt, 22, hails from Park City, Utah, where he grew up with the ambition of being a ski racer, but success on the bike during the summer and a late-teen injury sculpted his path in life toward cycling and now he wouldn't change a thing.
"When I was younger I split my time between cross-country skiing and cycling," Putt explained to Cyclingnews during the UnitedHealthcare team's first camp in Asheville, North Carolina. "For a long time my goal was to be a pro skier, to go to Olympics, and ski for school. Cycling was just dry land training in the summer. The last two years of high school I had problems skiing with my shins - I have compartment syndrome. That helped me make the decision to give up skiing and take up bike racing."
Putt had used cycling as training since he was very young, but it was the USA Junior Road Championships in 2004, which were held in Park City, that provided the first impetus to take cycling seriously.
"I always had ridden my bike around, but I never raced before. The national championship was coming to Park City, so I thought it would be cool to race it."
Putt made the first chase behind eventual winner Lawson Craddock in the 10-12 age group, but lost out in the sprint for third, coming in fifth. The experience, however, made an impression. "I was hooked ever since."
Fast forward a few years, and Putt was on the US national team, racing in Europe for the first time, winning his first international race (a stage in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic) with Hincapie in 2012, then signing with the Bontrager team where he was top 10 in the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and in a number of UCI race stages in North America.
"It's been totally unexpected," Putt said of his cycling successes. "I thought I'd be a ski racer, I never thought I'd be here. I just love the sport, I love travelling and the people."
Some of his former teammates have gone on to the WorldTour, and other friends opted to go to college, but Putt is happy with his decisions so far. "Sometimes ... you have some friends who go to college and live that kind of life, and you think that would be fun - but I wake up every day and I get to ride my bike. I love doing that - I'm making a living doing what I love. School is always there, but this is an opportunity I didn't want to miss out on."
Putt chose UnitedHealthcare for the atmosphere and the comfort of being able to keep his American identity while at the same time having an opportunity to race in Europe.
"It was important for me to be able to speak the language and be comfortable with my teammates and staff. I can live in the US, have a home base, be with my friends, and train on my own roads but then also go to Europe and do some of the big races.
"The program has been around a long time, and I like how I see them having a future going to the WorldTour. It's a stable team, they're not rushing anything. I'd like to be able to grow with this team."
A fast finisher who is strong enough to get over climbs, Putt fits in well with new teammates like Kiel Reijnen and Lucas Euser, who are also his training partners in his new base in Boulder, Colorado. His main goal in 2015 is to learn the ropes and be a good teammate.
"I don't have specific race goals. For me, we have so many good riders, I just want to learn from those guys and try to help them with their results. I just want to get the most out of next year as I can."
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