Vuelta a Espana

Studious Talansky hanging tough in Vuelta

Big TT ride punches Garmin sophomore into top 10 as he learns the grand tour ropes with an eye toward the future

EZARO, Spain (VN) — The short but explosive climb up the Mirador de Ézaro on Thursday might have been a tad too steep for Andrew Talansky’s tastes, but for the second-year pro, this Vuelta a España is unfolding like a daily seminar on how to race a grand tour. Although he’s racing for GC as the protected team leader at Garmin-Sharp, defending his eighth-place overall on Thursday, Talansky’s second grand tour start is just as much about the future as the here and now.

Talansky ceded 57 seconds to stage winner and race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), but this Vuelta is about laying the groundwork for what he and everyone at Garmin hopes will be a legitimate run at a grand tour within the next few years.

“It’s not about this Vuelta, it’s about the Tour de France for next year and the year after that, and three years down the road,” Talansky told VeloNews after Thursday’s stage, before quickly adding, “It is also about this Vuelta.”

That quick addendum says a lot about Talansky’s character and why he’s already earned the trust of his Garmin team.

Last year, he made it through a brutally hard Vuelta in a grand tour debut where the only goal was to finish. Flash forward one year, and Talansky is riding in the top 10 midway through the second grand tour of his promising career. The 23-year-old is proving tenacious so far through what’s been a very aggressive and challenging Vuelta, with five mountaintop finishes in just 12 days of racing.

After Garmin crashed out of contention in the team time trial to open the Vuelta in Pamplona, meaning he was starting the race 1:27 behind Movistar and Alejandro Valverde, Talansky has been hanging close to what he called the “fantastic four,” limiting his losses to the likes of Rodríguez, Valverde, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Chris Froome (Sky), while slowing picking his way up the GC.

Talansky punched his way into the top 10 with his rock solid time trial ride Wednesday, ninth at 1:24 behind winner Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), and stayed there Thursday, despite suffering up the short, 2km Évaro climb with ramps as steep as 29 percent.

“This kind of short effort, it’s always been hard for me,” he explained. “The way I climb is taking time trial power and turning it into climbing power. When it’s that steep, it’s almost like a different muscle group. It’s something I will improve on in the years to come, but I know I will never be someone like (Garmin teammate) Dan Martin.”

After Thursday’s stage, Talansky broke down the day’s key moments with Garmin sport director Bingen Fernández and then cooled down on the trainer. It’s all part of a learning process of how to race a three-week grand tour and Talansky is soaking in as much as he can.

For Talansky, he already realizes that learning how to manage three weeks of hard racing is just as much a head game as it is having a motor to stay with the likes of Contador and Froome when the throw-down attacks come.

“Being mentally consistent for three weeks — that’s just as important as being physically there,” he said. “And learning how to deal with something like today, when I know it’s not my terrain, and just try to get up the best I can. It’s about mentally keeping myself in the game no matter what’s happening. That’s the learning experience, because when you go to the Tour de France, it’s 10 times more nuts.”

Before heading to the Tour, there’s still the unfinished business of this Vuelta. Talansky knows he won’t be challenging for the podium, at least not this year, but he’s going to fight and scrape all the way to Madrid.