MADRID (VN) — Andrew Talansky bounded out of the Cannondale – Drapac bus on Sunday morning, smiling and feeling very happy with how the 2016 Vuelta a España unfolded.
When he started the Vuelta three weeks ago, more than a few did not expect him to be knocking on the door of the podium three weeks later. Talansky’s goal was to improve on his breakthrough seventh place in the 2012 Vuelta, and through determination and consistent racing, he did just that and more.
After a few rough-and-tumble seasons, Talansky was back at his stubborn best during this Vuelta. A solid third week helped him claw his way to fifth, the best grand tour result of his career. And against a world-class field and a very difficult Vuelta course, the finish was sweeter for Talansky. VeloNews spoke with Talansky moments before he lined up for his final race of 2016. Here are excerpts from the interview:
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VN: What a hard-fought Vuelta. What were the goals at the start of the race?
AT: Coming in here, I set the goal to improve upon what I did in 2012. Really, the goal is to prove that I am a rider capable of competing in the grand tours, and I think this was a huge step in that direction. It was absolutely hard-fought. That defines a lot of the results I’ve gotten. I came in here solid, not lighting it on fire, but as I had hoped, I was strongest on the last two days.
VN: How difficult was this Vuelta?
AT: This is the hardest grand tour I have ever done. That includes the Tour, when I was 10th in 2013. It was a totally different race than the Vuelta I did in 2012, when I was seventh. I’ve only completed the Tour de France twice, but this is by far harder from a physical perspective. This is the hardest grand tour I’ve done.
VN: What made it so hard?
AT: It was a mix. Maybe there were 10 proper uphill finishes, and even the day that weren’t, there wasn’t an easy day. As a GC rider, you always need to be switched, but there were no days when you were inside 3km and you could relax. Every day there was something, be it a technical finish, with round-abouts in towns, there were splits, wind, or a little bit of uphill, it was being switched on every single day. There were no days off. With the exception of the day 1, when the breakaway stayed to the finish and Movistar called a little bit of a truce, and we rode a bit slower in the end. But even that, we climbed over 3,000 meters that day, and it was still tough.
VN: And what about the peloton?
AT: The level was so high. Quintana was here, racing 100 percent, looking for redemption from the Tour. Froome doesn’t go to a race unless he is racing 100 percent. Contador was also here for redemption after crashing in the Tour. You have three of the world’s best riders, and then you throw in Chaves, who was on the podium at the Giro, all competing at a top level and at the best of their abilities, you know it’s going to be a hard race.
VN: So fifth against this field …
AT: The four guys ahead of me are all confirmed grand tour podium contenders, so I am in good company.
VN: It seemed you were picking off GC positions one by one. What was your tactic?
AT: I knew coming in the super-steep stuff would be a little tough for me, but I also knew the third week would be good for me, with the time trial and the stage to Aitana. And the stage up the Aubisque, that is a more straightforward, Tour de France-style stage, you either have it or you don’t. That was the idea, to finish strong, and come on really strong in the final week, and that’s what happened.
VN: You were fastest up the Aubisque. A good sign?
AT: Well, Chaves and me. It was a solid ride. Granted, Froome and Quintana were attacking each other, going hard and slowing down, and there was no doubt that they could have gone faster if they had gone full gas from the bottom. That day we were fastest.
VN: What does this result mean for you?
AT: It is huge. You could see a turning point at the Tour of California, and I was starting to come back. I am not going to say my old self, because I have improved. I am better than I used to be. I said that to people at Utah, said it after the Tour de Suisse, and some people who really knew me, they believed it and they could see. Others who didn’t know me, said, well, he was only third at the Tour of Utah, he is not ready for the Vuelta. I know what I am doing because the finish of the Vuelta is a month away, so trust me. The team had complete confidence in family, my friends, and me, and it is a bit of redemption. A lot of people by this spring had written me off. It had been a rough couple of years since I won the Dauphiné in 2014. From there until 2016, there was nothing. There was not one result that I really rode to the best of my ability. I fought through the 2015 Tour but I was never at my best. Things just were not coming together. But when you do this sport for 15 years, you’re going a year or two, times that are not great. I am sure there will be more times that are challenging, but the important thing is how you come back. This result — this is the best grand tour result of my career — shows that I am back and better than ever.
VN: So it was the right call to skip the Tour and focus on the Vuelta?
AT: Yes, 100 percent. Some people were skeptical, but I was exhausted after the Tour de Suisse. I needed to rest, and everything was about arriving here to get the best result possible. There are so many variables in a grand tour. Thankfully, everything came together and here I am, top 5 in the Vuelta.
VN: What was your hardest day?
AT: The hardest day was the day when Contador and Quintana were off the front and the race was blowing to pieces. It was full-gas, start to finish. That was it. I was in the Froome group. It happened in the first 10 minutes of the race. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it made for a full day of racing. That’s part of what made this Vuelta so exciting.
VN: How was Froome handling that situation, watching the race riding away?
AT: He was trying to figure out who had teammates, and who could help. We all had teammates up the road. Chaves didn’t, and Orica rode for awhile. We had Formolo and Moreno up the road, and it was a tough situation for him that day, and I think he managed it pretty well. He is still second.
VN: So no worlds for you this year?
AT: My season is done after today. It is always nice to finish a season on a high note. Physically, when you finish in a nice place, it is much better. Last year, when I stopped the Vuelta, I was broken from the year; tired, sick. You take a rest, but when you finish that way mentally and physically, you’re not carrying any momentum into the next season. When you finish this way, you carry quite a bit of momentum into the next season. I saw that from 2012 going into 2014.
VN: And next year, back to the Tour de France?
AT: We will have to see. Obviously, the most important thing was putting together three weeks that I know I am capable of, and this is a great step in that direction. And obviously, I want to do that in the Tour.