It was not too long ago when North American cycling fans were wondering when this continent would produce a new generation of champions. Riders such as Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, Steve Bauer, Ron Kiefel and Davis Phinney set the bar high with overall victories and stage wins at the grand tours in the 1980s and ’90s. Another generation that included Lance Armstrong, Bobby Julich, George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton, Fred Rodriguez, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie kept America at the forefront of world cycling into this century. And the last four of those riders are still in the peloton. But no replacements seemed to be on the horizon.
Then this new decade arrived, and suddenly we have multiple names turning heads in big races on both sides of the Atlantic, including Ryder Hesjedal, Tejay Van Garderen, Taylor Phinney, Peter Stetina, and Andrew Talansky. They’ve come from different backgrounds. Hesjedal is a late bloomer on the road after being a product of Canadian mountain biking. Van Garderen, Phinney and Stetina all come from cycling families, developed their talents in Colorado and raced on national junior and under-23 teams before turning pro. But where did Talansky come from?
That’s the first question I asked the Garmin-Sharp rider, age 23, whose break-out 2012 season included an aggressive seventh overall at the Vuelta a España, second to Brad Wiggins in the UCI WorldTour’s Tour de Romandie, and victory in the Tour de l’Ain, a five-day French stage race.
What’s your story, Andrew, how did you develop?
I started a little bit later than some of the other guys. I didn’t start riding until I was 17 and I came up in a different way. I grew up in Miami, Florida, a little different from say the Boulder area where it’s pretty easy to find under-23 teams, or get noticed. Because I started later, I wasn’t on the junior national team, or even the under-23 national team for quite a while. I just hopped from team to team. In 2008, I was on Toshiba, a U.S. Continental team, for one year. I rode over in Italy for a few months with Amore & Vita in ’09, came back and raced the rest of the season without a team, then went to Cal-Giant, an amateur team, for a year. That’s when I had the results that got me onto Garmin. (NOTE: His 2010 results included second overall at the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir in the French Alps.)
What got you into cycling?
I got hurt running cross-country and started riding a bike to stay in shape. I got talked into going to a race, and from that race on I knew it would be the sport I’d practice for the rest of my life…but I didn’t know it would be my career.
Miami’s not exactly a cycling hot bed….
No, but Miami has a surprising number of cyclists. It’s not the safest roads, not the best terrain, but you show up on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m. for a group ride and there’s a hundred guys there, and it’s like a race. The older guys who just ride for fun are really supportive of young guys coming up, and there’s a decent race calendar there. I was only racing in Florida for about a year….
What made you move to Napa?
My girlfriend [Kate Fox] grew up in Napa, but I think it also has some of the most beautiful roads in the country for training. I just love it there. The weather’s good in the winter, good in the summer.
Both you and Tejay Van Garderen have had success very early in your pro careers. There must be pressure on you to keep on doing well…even though it’s very hard to keep on progressing at the WorldTour level.
It is. I think it’s just a logical process because when you get results like Tejay did, third in the 2010 Dauphiné, and the results he’s got since then, and the results Taylor Phinney has, and the results I’ve had this year, like second in Romandie, then you see you have what it takes. You see you have the ability, and that when you’ve got your training dialed in, you can get to that level. The difficult part is getting to that level at the races you target. So when you do have good form you have to take advantage of it.
For guys like myself and Tejay, when we get results, people expect more, and say, “Now what are you gonna do?” What I’ve learned, and I think Tejay knows the same thing, is that it is a process at 23 years of age. It’s just a matter of getting everything dialed in and really learning how to deal with the pressure from both yourself and the outside. Not so much from your team. The pressure mostly comes from what I expect from myself…so I’m learning to manage that and be happy when I do something good.
That’s a very mature attitude, to have the patience you seem to have….
I learned that a little bit last year…and this is only my second year as a professional. So getting second at Romandie, and knowing I can get to that level, takes the stress away a little bit.
Do you have a coach?
I do. It’s Jesse Moore. This is the first year I’ve been working with him. I think a lot of the credit for my result at Romandie is due to him. I rode for about two and a half years without a coach, just doing my own thing, and I saw that I had glimpses of good form; but the most important thing about this sport is to be in the best form when it’s most important. And Jesse has helped me, and is helping me, to perfect that process.
How is he helping you?
It’s the training. It’s a lot more scientific than, say, ride hard for five hours. There are all sorts of little things that I’m doing all day, very specific. Having a purpose for every single ride really works well for me. That’s the reason for my good form this year.
Regarding Romandie, you used a time-trial bike and placed second to Wiggins in the mountain TT, whereas others, including Wiggins, used a road bike, so was that the best decision?
Absolutely. I think for the options we had available it was the best decision. I’m really comfortable on my time-trial bike. I can climb on it, and I knew that on all the downhill and flat parts of the course it would benefit me. I think the TT bike was the best decision unless you go to the extreme, like Bradley Wiggins did. He almost replicated his position from the TT bike to the road bike, and on that bike, he had no handlebar tape and used a carbon saddle. It was built for the weight limit.
Was it your decision to use the TT bike?
It was mine, yeah. Robby Ketchell, our resident aerodynamic genius, sent me all the info on what different wheels would make, different frames would make, stuff like that, but it was ultimately up to me. And I made the right choice.
What are you doing to develop your climbing?
I think it’s just coming with age. I mean, as an under 23 I was always up there with the best guys [second in the Tour de l’Avenir], and it’s a bit of a transition when you go to the ProTour level. For the moment I always think I’m going to be more of a guy like Levi or Wiggins, who needs to climb a little bit steady. I’m never going to be an Alberto Contador, a pure climber, someone who can attack like that. I’m using my time-trial strength to climb. And I just think with every year, with every one-week race like Tirreno-Adriatico or Paris-Nice, or every grand tour that I do, that it’ll just bring it up a little bit more.
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Talansky did just that in the Vuelta last month, where he used his TT strength to stay within shooting distance of Contador and the other Spanish climbers on the steepest climbs, and even (briefly) attacked them on the Puerto de Ancares stage finish. The young American was also impressive at the world road race championship, breaking clear with Britain’s Ian Stannard in the finale of the 261-kilometer race. And even though the duo was caught entering the decisive Cauberg climb, Talansky, as a last-minute replacement for injured teammate Tyler Farrar, showed he has the fire, the confidence and the talent to help lead American cycling’s new generation into the 2020s.
You can follow John at twitter.com/johnwilcockson
Check out the December issue of peloton for Andrew's chat with Jered Gruber on the next generation of American cyclists.