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LEEDS, England (VN) — Matthew Busche doesn’t plan on racing this month like a Tour de France rookie. Even though the Trek Factory Racing rider will be starting his first Tour, the 29-year-old is intent on keeping both feet on the ground.
“On one hand, I want to try to treat it like any other race, and don’t over-hype it or over-think it,” Busche told VeloNews during a phone interview last week. “But it is the Tour. To even be on the long list was already an honor, so to be selected, I am definitely excited about it.”
Busche got the call-up last week from Trek sport director Kim Andersen, asking him to support GC contenders Frank Schleck and Haimar Zubeldia. The call came minutes before Trek announced the roster via Twitter and right before Busche went to bed.
For Busche, who’s had one of the most unique roads to the elite pro ranks, the Tour nod is confirmation that he has found his place at the top of the sport.
“It definitely means a lot to be selected. Being part of the Tour confirms that I deserve to be here, that I’ve earned my spot on the team,” Busche said. “I knew the whole season I was on the long list, so to have that already gave me motivation.”
Busche is one of the few U.S. riders of today’s generation who did not come through USA Cycling’s U23 program, which has proven so effective at feeding riders into the World Tour.
In fact, Busche was a long-distance runner who competed at the collegiate level, running the 10,000 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and he didn’t start seriously training on the bike until he was well into his university studies. He started joining local rides around Luther College in Iowa and was hooked. His progress was impressive. In barely two seasons, he went from racing on a regional Cat. 2 team in his native Wisconsin in 2008, to joining Kelly Benefit Systems in 2009, to making the leap to the World Tour in 2010 with RadioShack.
“I always knew what the Tour was, and my family was also interested in cycling, but I never thought I’d ever race the Tour until I turned pro a few years ago,” he said. “Being selected for the Tour is something I’ve always worked for, but I didn’t dwell on it.”
While his arrival to cycling was late by most standards, Busche quickly made up for lost time, and impressed with his deep engine. Getting thrown into the European peloton presented a steep learning curve for Busche, but he’s also proven a quick learner. In 2010, he was third at the Tour of Denmark, and was second at the 2012 Tour of Utah behind Johann Tschopp. Victory at the 2011 U.S. national championship punched his ticket to race his first grand tour at the Vuelta a España that year.
“When I first came over, I had never been to Europe, and certainly had never raced at this level,” Busche said. “Now, at this point of my career, it all seems second-hand. I am very comfortable living and racing in Europe. I am very happy here, and being in Europe has certainly shaped my life. I know I’ve evolved a lot as a rider, and matured a lot as a person.”
Busche has been knocking on the door for a breakout European victory ever since joining RadioShack. He nearly won a mountain stage at last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, only to get swarmed by Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the final charge to the line.
Also last year, he provided key support to Chris Horner, now riding for Lampre-Merida, in the veteran’s overall victory at the Vuelta.
That progression helped convince Trek officials to keep Busche on the payroll. In fact, Busche is the lone American on the U.S.-registered squad this season.
“Previously I was not selected for the Tour in part due to my lack of experience,” he said. “I’ve certainly stepped up on the experience ladder, and I think my performances have shown to the directors that I can perform at the level of the Tour.”
Now in his fifth season at Europe, Busche says he feels more at home inside the churning chaos of the peloton. His selection for the Tour squad only confirms his steady upward progression.
“I feel that I belong here, that I can race at this level,” he said. “I am still searching for that elusive win on European soil. I know it will come. I just have to keep working hard, and improve each year.
Busche suffered mild tendonitis in his hamstring during the Tour de Suisse, an aggravation that would make anyone nervous so close to the Tour. Rather than risk making it worse, he pulled out early, and was treated in Basel, Switzerland, for five days.
For this Tour, he will be helping the older Schleck and the veteran Zubeldia in the deep mountains of the Tour’s final half.
Depending how the GC shakes out, he might also have some freedom to go on the attack.
“I will be a domestique for Frank and Haimar for the GC, and then maybe get my chance in a breakaway, and try to steal a stage,” he said. “We don’t have an outright favorite for victory, but we still have pressure on ourselves to perform well. If we can walk away with a top-10 on GC, and maybe a stage win or two.”
As is true for any new pro, simply starting the Tour is a testament to one’s determination and promise. Busche vows to make the most of the opportunity to race on cycling’s biggest stage.
“I knew the Tour was a big race, of course, but I didn’t dwell on it. I always try to focus on doing the best I can in the race that I am in,” he said. “Once I am in the Tour, I will be able to see the show and be part of it. Then I will be able to see for myself just how big of a race it is.”