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A conversation with Andrew Talansky: Part II, why fans should believe in the new generation

This is the second of a two-part interview with Garmin-Cervélo’s Andrew Talansky, a first-year pro who has already shown great potential at the Tour Méditeranéen, Paris-Nice and Critérium International. Wednesday’s interview outlined Talansky’s rise to the pro ranks. Today, the Garmin-Cervélo rider talk about his early season…

This is the second of a two-part interview with Garmin-Cervélo’s Andrew Talansky, a first-year pro who has already shown great potential at the Tour Méditeranéen, Paris-Nice and Critérium International. Wednesday’s interview outlined Talansky’s rise to the pro ranks. Today, the Garmin-Cervélo rider talk about his early season results, where he hopes to go in his career and why fans should believe in the new generation of riders entering the peloton.

Talansky finished 7th in the time trial at Paris-Nice

VeloNews: You’ve been getting some good results already in Europe; you’re certainly not holding back.

Andrew Talansky: First off, I want to go and learn and do everything what the team wants me to do. At the end of the day, JV (team manager Jonathan Vaughters) didn’t sign me to carry get water bottles for the rest of my career. He signed me because he saw that I could win races and he wants me to be successful on the professional level. When you get the green light, you have to take advantage of it. They’ve giving me an opportunity on this team and I want to maximize that.

VN: Who on the team has been helping you?

AT: There are guys who are similar to me, riders who can time trial, who can climb. I’ve really been paying attention to guys like David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde. Now it’s about learning, but a day in the not too distant future, I want to come back to Paris-Nice, and not only try to do well, but win the whole thing. You have to know races before you can win races. They’re investing in me. To ride for the older guys, it takes all the pressure off me. The only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself. I do have goals and aspirations. I do want to get results, they know that. We’re on the same page on things like that.

VN: Talk about the first races of the season; strong at Tour Med, top-10 time trials at Paris-Nice and Critérium International, all good results.

AT: Tour Med was a perfect way to start the season. The stages are short, so much so you almost wish they were longer. You kind of ease in to the season. I climbed well there on Mont Faron. To get the opportunity to race Paris-Nice, that was huge. That was the first turning point of the season. By doing races like Paris-Nice, it’s just such a high level of racing. There is no one at Paris-Nice who is just there for training. Everyone is gunning for results. Guys like (Bradley) Wiggins and (Levi) Leipheimer are racing to win. You can feel the stress in those races. It’s a little bit overwhelming, but then you get settled into it. I was suffering, I was not at my best. I went in as prepared as I could be, but it wasn’t good enough to get amazing results. By doing well in the TT, it was a nice way of showing, okay, you’re suffering, but it’s coming along. It’s only a matter of time before it all comes together with the climbing, with the time trialing.

VN: What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed racing at the elite level?

AT: Everything a little faster, the level is higher across the board. Even the guys who were getting dropped at Paris-Nice are all very good riders. I really saw what it takes to be a pro when I was racing with Cal-Giant and I started training with Levi. It really opened my eyes to how hard you have to work to be a professional. Levi is the consummate professional. No one trains the way he does, especially when he’s coming into races he’s passionate about. He doesn’t leave anything to chance. He works harder than anyone I’ve met.

When I saw that, it redefined what I thought was possible. You have to reset your limits. You have to go beyond them. Watching how guys like that really prepare for the races has helped me the most. I was able to finish Paris-Nice and came out of it stronger. That’s what this year is all about – learning and gaining experience, and when the opportunities are there, not to let them pass by.

VN: What are the expectations for País Vasco? (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted during the week before the Tour of the Basque Country)

AT: I am a neo-pro, but the team is giving me an opportunity, saying we will let you be around guys like Ryder (Hesjedal) and Christian. These guys have been top-10 in the Tour. They know what it takes to succeed in this sport. I am like a sponge around those guys. Dan Martin, he was just third at Catalunya. When he’s good, he’s unstoppable. I’m excited. We have a great team for that race. I will work my butt off for the team and then have a chance in the final-day time trial. We hope to get someone on the podium there.

VN: How is your schedule shaping up for the rest of the season?

AT: Up next are the Tour of Turkey, then the Tour of California and the Dauphiné. I could not have asked for a better schedule.

VN: Does a start at the Vuelta a España look likely later this season?

AT: I don’t know yet. JV is telling me he doesn’t want to put too much pressure on me. He says don’t go too fast, that I cannot expect to go to my first grand tour and set the world on fire. I realize all that. I would like to go to gain the experience. I want to learn how my body reacts to three weeks of hard racing. I want to be able to see if that’s the kind of rider I can turn into. If that means setting tempo on the climbs for the team leader through the entire stage and then sitting up on the final climb and finishing 20 minutes back, that’s fine. I want to get through three weeks of racing, do what the team asks me to do and learn. It won’t be easy. We have a bunch of great riders, so I have to prove that I deserve a spot on the team.

I know I won’t be going to the Giro or the Tour, so if I had a choice, it would be the Vuelta. The Vuelta is on my mind. I’ve expressed interest in it to the team. They won’t pick a roster until later in the year, so there’s plenty of time. If I can do a grand tour this year, maybe I can start the Giro or Vuelta next year and be ready to race and possibly do something.

VN: You have a good combination of time trialing and climbing, do you believe you could become a grand tour rider in the future?

AT: Every year my time trialing is getting better. I am finally on a team where the time trial is very important to them. They love it. You have guys like Millar, Zabriskie, those guys live for the time trials. The team’s been helping me with my position. This is the first year I’ve felt comfortable on a TT bike. The climbing is there, now it’s a question of adapting to the higher tempo on the climbs. It’s one thing to have a steep climb in a U23 race, it’s something very different to be racing for five hours, having already climbed 3,500 meters, then have a 10km summit finish. That’s a big step up. I’m not a pure climber, and I am not a pure time trial specialist.

I can climb pretty well and I can time trial better than most of the climbers, so it’s a matter of time before the climbing and time trialing come together in the same race. Sure, I’d love to race in the grand tours, but we’ll see what tune I am singing after I do my first three-week race. That’s a long way off. Right now, I am focused on helping the team, learning what I can and getting through this first part of the season until Dauphiné.

VN: You’ve been fairly outspoken about the doping issue, even writing on your blog an article “Reason to Believe.” Why did you feel motivated to write that?

AT: People should believe in cycling these days. Fair enough, in the past, there have been a lot of doping scandals, people have tested positive. I didn’t write that article for the people who criticize the sport and who have given up on cycling. I wrote that for the people who want a reason to believe. I am young. I wasn’t racing 10-15 years ago, but I do know this sport has changed a lot.

I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and say I am naïve for believing that. I choose to focus on the good environment we have right now. We welcome being tested. We want to show the world that we’re clean. There are people who like controversy, people who like to dwell on the negative. They are ignoring the right things this sport has done, on how this sport can be clean.

A guy like David Millar is a hero to me. He made a mistake, but he paid for it and came back and is actively working to make the sport better and make it as clean as possible. I love the team I am on. We have a no-needle policy – nothing, no injections. All of our supplements are tested by labs to make sure they’re clean. We train our asses off, that’s the reality. I can vouch 100 percent for the guys on my team and I would for a lot of other guys on other teams, too. Look at Tejay (Van Garderen), he was third at Dauphiné. He is a clean rider. People can believe in him. We get tested day-in, day-out, and we welcome it.

But some people still want to believe that we’re doping, well, I feel very sad for them. If someone doesn’t believe what they’re watching is real, then leave the sport. They’re not helping. This sport is getting cleaner and cleaner. As a 22-year-old neo-pro, that I can compete with anyone at the elite level of the sport, that says a lot. If I thought I needed performance-enhancing drugs to compete with the best, I would quit this sport. Maybe there was a time when it wasn’t that way, but we’re lucky enough to come up right now and that doesn’t exist. It’s just not accepted anymore. The tests are better. They’re more frequent. There will still be people who try to cheat. I believe those people will get caught.

VN: There’s a lot of venom in the forums and comments against cycling, does that bother you as a professional cyclist?

AT: I wrote that column a little bit out of frustration. It’s frustrating when people accuse you of something that you haven’t done. I invited all these skeptics to come see how I train, to see how our team trains. Garmin has an open offer for journalists to follow our team, just to see what kind of hard work goes into these races. People don’t understand that.

I don’t like seeing people who proclaim they love the sport to always be so negative, so critical. People have to give cycling a chance to prove itself. Myself, and my team, we’re proving it every day. People need to see the passion and dedication and hard work that goes into the results. It’s about dedicating our entire lives to be at this level. It’s really hard for me to watch these people judge us without having a clue. We will continue to prove that they’re the ones who are wrong. We will win races and we will win them clean.

VN: A lot of fans feel betrayed by years of doping scandals and perhaps there’s not the perception that cycling has started to change from within, and get discouraged about things like the Contador case or Riccò.

AT: There’s a very big difference between a rider like David Millar, who comes back clean and achieves amazing results, and a guy like Riccò, who cheated, who never apologized. Nobody wanted him back. Not the riders, not the fans. People deserve a second chance, but some people don’t. It was frustrating to see that teams were willing to sign him, to sign someone who was so unrepentant. He did not care that he took drugs. For him, it was a joke. I heard there weren’t that many teams at all interested in him, so that’s a good sign. The UCI and the teams are working to make sure things like that do not happen again.

There are cases like Riccò’s, but he’s the exception now, not the rule. It’s 2011. We cannot change the past. We can only control what’s happening now and prove that we’re riding clean and show people that the amazing performances they’re seeing are possible through hard work. People are obsessed with what happened in the past. We are creating a new sport right now. I do not care what happened in the past, because I cannot do anything to change it. What we can change is today and tomorrow, and we have. People need to look to see how far it’s come, how the testing has improved, the biological passport, how the attitude of the riders has changed. It’s just accepted anymore. And the ones that do will be kicked out. It’s not the majority anymore. And guys like Riccò, he’s gone. It’s done.

Are you going to judge us based on Riccardo Riccò? That’s insanity.