MADRID (VN) — Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) lets his legs do the talking, but he’s also not afraid to speak his mind.
The 23-year-old is leading a new generation of American riders into the European peloton and he says things have changed within the sport, so much so that he and his peers will never have to make the hard choices that other riders were forced to make.
Speaking frankly to VeloNews, Talansky talks the Vuelta, why he believes Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France clean and why he thinks Andy Jacques-Maynes is wrong in believing that anyone who races in Europe is doped.
VeloNews: What’s the sensation of having arrived in Madrid in the top 10?
Andrew Talansky: There’s a sense of satisfaction. It’s been a really hard, difficult and trying three weeks, both physically and mentally. I endured situations that might have cracked me or made me stop completely just a year ago. It’s been a learning and eye-opening experience and it showed me of what I am capable of.
VN: You finished off well up the last climb up Bola del Mundo, moving up to seventh overall from eighth. What was that like up there?
AT: I was seventh on Wednesday, but (Laurens) Ten Dam attacked and (Bauke) Mollema waited for him. That was a crazy day and I was upset to lose that place. I had that in the back of my mind yesterday. I was only 10 seconds behind him, so I was happy to get that back. That climb was just incredible. We can it was hell, that it was too hard, but we had three kilometers of screaming fans. We had three feet to ride it. Being at the front of the race, behind guys like (Alberto) Contador and (Alejandro) Valverde, the fans were just incredible. It was the greatest amount of spectators I have ever seen in a bike race in my entire life. It’s something I will never forget. Sure, people say these kinds of climbs are ridiculous, but when you have that kind of turnout, you cannot argue with that. That climb Saturday rivals anything you see at the Tour de France.
VN: Contador really blew up the race at Fuente Dé. What happened from your seat in the peloton?
AT: It was an insane day. Garmin was helping contribute because we missed having a rider in the breakaway. We made a few tactical errors that day. It was just a hard day. After five minutes of easy riding, it just blew up. What Contador did that day shows that arguably he’s the best stage racer in the world. He saw a situation that he never planned and took complete advantage of it. When he went, he was just blowing the peloton into pieces. He attacked like he was shot out of a cannon. There was nothing anyone could do.
VN: What are you impressions after racing alongside Contador?
AT: I have never done a race with him before. It was pretty cool to see. He commands a lot of respect in the bunch. It’s been interesting this season, because I’ve raced with Wiggins this year as well. When Wiggins is on the bike, he looks intimidating. He looks like a metronome, he’s so calm and in control. That’s how he won the Tour. With Alberto, you can see the way he rides with such passion. The way he attacks is like no one else. He’s got an instinct for the race. He’s a real bike racer. It’s been pretty cool to see him, Valverde, (Joaquim) Rodríguez. Purito (Rodríguez) had one bad day at a bad time, but he rode an incredible Vuelta.
VN: Before we continue, Jonathan Vaughters calls you “pit bull.” What’s the story with that?
AT: You have to ask JV about it. I think he came up with that last year in an off-hand way and no other people have realized he calls me that. It’s not self proclaimed, believe me. It’s an interesting one.
VN: What do think of those super steep climbs? Is it too gimmicky?
AT: I will say, something like Cuitu Negru, it was completely acceptable. It was very hard, but it wasn’t over the top. If you look at the front of the race, you had Contador, Valverde, Rodríguez — the strongest guys. And they did it smart. It was hard. They didn’t just race us straight into that final 3km. There is a lot of suffering for everyone. I remember thinking last year up the Angliru, wondering why this is even in a bike race. When you look back, you realize it’s good for the race and provides a great spectacle for the race and the fans. I still think the Angliru is a little extreme.
VN: What was your gearing on Cuitu Negru?
AT: I rode 36×29. I didn’t need any more. At a certain point, a smaller gear is not going to help you. You’re going to have to get up it one way or another.
VN: You’ve come a long way in just one season, from your Vuelta debut just to finish, now riding in top 10…
AT: I think in my head, it all seems pretty logical. Say you don’t see someone who is 10, then you don’t see them until they’re 15, then you think, they’re so big! But if you see that person every day, it’s a gradual change. That’s how I see it. Some people say, “wow, you’re doing great so fast!” For me, it’s always been the thought. That’s why Jonathan hired me, because he believed I could do something like this. And that’s what I believed, that I could do this. Getting on the podium at Tour de Romandie, winning Tour de l’Ain, racing in the top 10 at the Vuelta. That’s what I was hired to do. That’s the role that I would always believe I would have in cycling, when I was winning U23 races. I would never be satisfied if I wasn’t racing at the front. I knew it would take time, but I have been happy that I have been able to do it this season.
VN: If it seems natural for you, there must have been some surprises…
AT: Last year, and even this year, have been a rollercoaster. Last year, in the time trials, I could get the form to be up there, but I couldn’t do it consistently. Last year, I got stronger. My only job last year was to help the team and to finish. It’s nice when that’s your goal. Getting to Madrid is the victory, no personal aspirations. This year, things got derailed at the Tour of California when I had a bunch of breathing issues. The Tour de France was pretty much written off. It kind of worked out to be best. I went to Ain, I came here to ride for GC, to learn physically and mentally. It’s been a learning experience, but in my mind, it’s been a logical progression. I always believed in my mind it would happen. I think that attitude has rubbed people in the wrong way in the past. In my mind, I always saw myself in a certain way, even when I didn’t have the results or the legs to back it up. In my mind, I always knew I would get here. In hindsight, I could see that. I am just happy that I can back it up. It’s one thing to believe you can do it. It’s another thing to do it. But you have to believe you can do it before you can do it.
VN: What do you take out of this Vuelta?
AT: I’ve proven I have what it takes to ride GC in a grand tour. I’ve already proven I can ride GC in a one-week race. For this Vuelta, I’ve shown that I am going to be a grand tour rider and that this is something that suits me. That’s an important step for me. It’s always what I thought I’d be best at. I’ve proven to my team that I can do it. The whole point was to learn and to try.
VN: You’ve mentioned the psychological aspect of racing. How do you deal with the pressure, leadership and other aspects?
AT: It’s really everything. Learning to deal with the pressure that comes with riding GC. It’s about learning to be turned on when you need to be and learning to be disengaged when you can. Physically, I know my body can handle a ridiculous amount. Keeping calm, focusing on the day-by-day effort, not getting caught up in looking too far ahead, that’s the hard part. Focus on each day; then you can start thinking about the next day. I’ve really learned to control what you can control, and that means myself, my recover and my mental state. The rest, I have no control over it. It’s a waste of mental energy.
VN: What was the biggest revelation for you during this Vuelta?
AT: I am saying the fact that I am riding in the top 10 is not a surprise, but some days have surprised me. Cuitu Negru surprised me, because I really disliked really steep stuff. I was happy with that climb and it gave me some confidence. I have been surprised what my body can take and what I can overcome in a grand tour. There was one moment when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to race the next day, then everything turned out OK.
VN: When did that happen?
AT: I had some respiratory issues in Galicia. I didn’t sleep the entire night, maybe for two hours. It was pretty much the same thing in California. Some asthma flared up and I wasn’t sure how I was going to race the next day. We have a good group of people, and they helped me through it. It was good for me to see that things can get better, whether it was sickness or a crash, you can turn it around.
VN: What happened in California?
AT: We figured out what it was. We didn’t say it at the time because I do not like making excuses. It turns out that I have high sensitivity to bad air. That, and something in the air around Bakersfield, triggered a severe asthmatic reaction. All my bronchial tubes got really inflamed. It’s not an overnight fix. Doing an intense exercise only makes it worse, so I will try to avoid areas with bad air.
VN: Looking into the crystal ball, do you see yourself going to the Tour next year?
AT: Yeah. It will be different; this year was a chance to go the Tour, after my performance in Romandie. Next year, when I start training, the Tour is going to be on my program. That peace of mind and tranquility will allow me to train even better. For the guys, like at Sky, they know they’re going to the Tour. They’re training, planning, and things are being done from January all the way to the Tour. You’re not on the team until you’re there at the start. Barring injury or illness, it will be on my program. There is a lot of racing before that; it will be built toward that.