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.
VN: Do you see yourself as a Tour winner someday?
AT: I do believe under the right circumstances, it is a possibility. Look at Bradley Wiggins this year. He had the fitness, the course was perfect for him, he didn’t have any problems, and it all came together for him. Regardless of who you are, that’s what you need to win the Tour. First, I need to ride the race, to learn the race, then I can go back with the intention of riding the GC. We will see what’s possible. I really don’t know if I am capable of winning it. We will see.
VN: When you say “ideal,” what would be ideal for you?
AT: I would say, after watching this year’s Tour, it would have been a nice course for me. I wouldn’t mind a few longer climbs. Maybe a team time trial and one more hard uphill finish. A more balanced course is ideal for me.
VN: Some people said this year’s Tour was terribly boring…
AT: As a rider, I didn’t find it boring. I found it pretty incredible. To me it was really exciting to see what Wiggins did at the Tour. (Sky) did everything for that race. They did everything in a way that people laughed at the year before. Everyone said Wiggins cannot win the Tour. People said he couldn’t do it. People laughed at Sky and their methods. People said Wiggins peaked too early. I never thought that once. They knew what they were doing the entire time. It’s like a piece of art. They executed their plan to perfection. They made it their race. That is so difficult to do, to control what is seemingly uncontrollable. I really enjoyed seeing that. It’s like conquering some mythical monster. And they did it completely clean, something that hasn’t been seen in this sport in a long day. They did something that people thought was impossible.
VN: Do you believe Sky and Wiggins did it clean?
AT: I have no doubt that they did it clean. I know what went into their training. I know guys on that team. I know Richie Porte. I know Chris Froome. I’ve seen Wiggins all year. They have taken a different approach. They have left nothing to chance. There is no team in cycling that does things the way they do it. Fans do not understand what they put into it. They had four, five guys on Tenerife, doing intervals, suffering, away from their friends, and they did that a few times this year. They had the same guys racing from Algarve all the way to the Tour. I completely believe they did it clean. There is not a doubt in my mind.
VN: Do you, and some of your generation, feel a sense of responsibility to race clean?
AT: I cannot speak for the other guys. I can say that what Jonathan wrote in The New York Times is true. I cannot speak about what happened in this sport, I only know what everyone else knows. Maybe that casts some negative publicity on the sport and people want to doubt us. All I can say is I am never going to have to make the choice between following my dream and compromising my own moral values in order to do so. I am not going to judge the guys who did. I was not in their shoes. I do not have to face that decision. You see journalists and fans who say there was an easy choice, the choice was to not do anything. It’s really hard to say that. It’s easy for me to say that. I would never, never do drugs, but I will never be faced with that decision.
You can judge all you want; the reality is none of us were in Jonathan’s or David Millar’s shoes. If you read his book, when he started out he was 100-percent convinced he would never do drugs, and little by little, things changed and he made a decision that he has to live with for the rest of his life. There is nobody in this sport who has done more to be outspoken about it. Because of Millar and Jonathan, riders like myself, Taylor (Phinney), Tejay (van Garderen), Joe Dombrowski, Alex Howes, Peter Stetina, we never have to make that decision. What I will say is that we do have an obligation to do things the right way; now it’s a very easy thing to do. It’s not a choice for us. It’s the way things are done. We train, we recover, we race our bikes. There is nothing else. Our team takes that stance. The riders in the peloton take that stance. We know it’s our responsibility to show people what can be achieved completely clean.
VN: A lot of fans and media are incredulous. They simply do not believe the peloton has changed or that Wiggins could win the Tour clean. How do you deal with that skepticism?
AT: A second part of that is I also believe that fans and journalists owe it to us to believe in us, because we have never given them a reason not to. Every single day we race our bikes, we race clean. Taylor, winning the Giro prologue; Tejay, fifth in the Tour; me, second in Romandie to Wiggins, who won the Tour – every single result we get in this generation is proving that the sport is clean, proving that we are clean, and proving the majority of the peloton is clean.
What I feel is unfair is I do not feel like I owe it to a single person to show some proof that I am clean, because I do show it. I do get tested. I have a biological passport. I go out and work my ass off. I really wish sometimes that people could see how we live. Come take a look into my life for a week, to see what it takes to compete at this level. People think they know and understand, but until you live it at this level, it’s hard to truly understand. Even professional cyclists do not understand what it takes to compete at the top level clean. It’s more than anyone can imagine. It’s dedicating your entire life. I feel like some fans should believe in us. We are a completely new generation. Like Wiggins said in the Tour, he doesn’t have time for them. If you do not believe in me? More than passing doping controls, more than a blood passport, more than getting results? You cannot prove a negative. There is no more that we can do.
VN: That’s what everyone always said in the past, that they never failed a doping test. That is not proof that they were not doped to the gills…
AT: That’s fine. They can continue saying that. I am not going to try to convince them. That’s what people always say. Look at numbers. Vaughters posted it. What is the watts-per-kilogram now? With Rodríguez, it was 6.1. I was at 5.8. Those are doable numbers. That’s what winning races. It’s not 6.7, it’s not seven anymore. The numbers are there to prove it. It’s premised on assuming that we are clean. In my neo-pro year, I was getting results in time trials; that’s not possible if people are doping. I was close to Wiggins at Romandie; that’s not possible if Wiggins is doping. What I am seeing at this Vuelta is that people are winning because they are better riders. That is what I choose to believe. I have no reason to not believe that these people are exceptional. It’s hard to read the headlines; the reality is that the sport is changing. The riders in the peloton are changing. There is no tolerance for doping now. People who do are outcasts. They are looked at differently. When guys come back, it’s not the same.
VN: Before, if you raised your voice, you were an outcast, so now you’re saying if a rider is suspected of doping, they are considered an outcast? Do you have an example?
AT: That’s completely accurate. Maybe before, the outcasts were the ones who said something. It’s completely reversed. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I know for a fact there are people around who think I do drugs. They cannot understand how I have progressed in the sport. They cannot get their heads around how a rider who was getting dropped at the Tour of California three years ago is now doing well at ProTour-level races. These are people who are 30 years old racing on a Pro-Conti team in the USA who cannot understand how someone can be better than them. They think they understand what it takes to work hard, generally the ones who want to be outspoken about doping and who accuse all of us in Europe of doping.
I would like to call out Andy Jacques-Maynes — you can put this specifically — he put something in Twitter. I have raced with him in California. He went on Twitter and said that everyone who races in Europe has done drugs at some point. That is such an inaccurate statement, whether he intended to, he was implying that me, Phinney, Tejay, Stetina, Howes, that we’re all using drugs. He’s part of the problem in this sport. If you want to make an accusation, then you have evidence, but to make a blanket statement, in a public forum, from a so-called professional cyclist, I find it disturbing. Then he followed it up that he has exceptional physiology and what we do seems impossible.
We train in a completely different way than he can image. If he thinks he has exceptional physiology, then he’s delusional. Look at Wiggins; to win the Tour, you have to start at a different level. That is a genetic thing. It’s there or it’s not. No amount of training can change that. You have to accept that. He has to accept that if he trained exactly the way Bradley Wiggins did, he would never win the Tour. He might not even be able to ride the Tour. Those Twitters he posted made me sad. It gave me motivation for this race, because every day that I go out and perform, it’s proving people like that completely wrong. It makes me happy when Tejay is fifth at the Tour, Taylor won at the Giro.
VN: Ryder won the Giro…
AT: Yeah, Ryder won the Giro. Dombrowki is climbing with the best guys at Colorado. The list goes on and it proves guys like Andy Jacques-Maynes wrong every day. It just saddens me when someone who supposedly understands the sport would say something like that.
VN: If that’s truly the case, that the peloton is changed from within, that story is not being sold to the fans or media, these old doping stories certainly do not help change people’s minds about today, do they?
AT: To a point, that story is being sold. Wiggins did get upset at one point at the Tour, but he did follow it up with comments on how the sport has changed. At the end of the day, we can show them how the sport is clean. We can do all that stuff, but if they choose to believe we are on drugs, then that’s what they are going to believe. It’s not our job or anyone else’s job to change their minds. Those are the kind of people who are going to believe what they want to believe. Regardless of what facts they show them, they have decided something.
If you’re a true cycling fan, you might believe the riders are on drugs, you have to be open to also believing that we are clean. People who are so committed to believing that we are all on drugs, well, at the end of the day – cycling is not hurting. These climbs have so many people. Every climb we’ve done has people and they are cheering for us and they clearly believe in cycling. I feel like the minority of people, they do not believe, who are not even open to changing their minds, those are the people I have no responsibility to. The people I want to try to give hope to are the people who want to believe that it can be true.
I think some journalists are biased against cycling now. If you have an innate belief, that’s not enough to give Bradley Wiggins a hard time after he won the Tour. At least not for me.
VN: With so much negativity around the sport sometimes, where do you take joy? Out of winning a race?
AT: What I have really come to understand this year is that I don’t get joy out of winning a race or a certain result. I get joy out of doing this –– being a professional bike racer. I get to wake up every day and I get to do what I have dreamed about my entire life. I am thankful for that every single day. I am sure in this world there is a very small minority of people who get to do what they dreamed about for a living. I work very hard to be able to do this.
I understand at the end of the day, it is a sport. I am not changing the world. The best I can hope for is to inspire somebody else to follow their dreams. The process is incredible. People always say cycling is sacrifice, but for me, there is no sacrifice. I am not sacrificing anything to do this sport. It’s a sport of dedication and how much you’re willing to put into it. I hope that my performances… Wiggins’ performance at the Tour was inspirational to me and I am a professional cyclist. I hope that the performances that I can do, if it helps one kid in Miami believe that they can be a pro cyclist and that’s their dream, that would make me really happy. You have to fight for what you want, but sometimes it doesn’t work out.
VN: When did you start to believe you could be a pro?
AT: I knew about the Tour de France before I was part of cycling, because when Lance was winning, everybody knew about the Tour and that it’s in July. People were always telling me I could become pro. For me, there came a point when I was racing with Amore e Vita, even though it was a disastrous year, I decided either I am going to do this the right way or go back to college. For me, that meant riding for a ProTour team, making a salary to support myself, for a family someday and to have a life. I didn’t want to race for some U.S. pro team, and that’s not a criticism of anyone who does, it was just not what I wanted. It’s the way I want to live my life. I love cycling, and I would ride my bike even if I wasn’t a pro. I decided that after U23, it was to sign a real contract with a ProTour team or go back to school. I didn’t want to live paycheck-to-paycheck without having a future.
VN: What would you have done if you hadn’t become a pro?
AT: Journalism (laughs).