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Best Tactical Play of the Year: Talansky picks Contador’s pocket

Andrew Talansky's winning move at the Dauphiné stuns heavy hitters like Contador and Froome on the race's final day

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.

After the grand tours, the Critérium du Dauphiné is about as big as it gets. Many of the top names in the history of cycling boast the title on their palmarés: Indurain, Hinault, LeMond, Wiggins.

In 2014, the Dauphiné started as a thrilling battle between defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) and the resurgent Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). But something magical and thrilling happened in the closing days of the race, proving yet again that anything can happen in cycling.

Froome won the opening prologue and first road stage to claim the leader’s jersey, and looked to be in control, defending a 12-second lead over Contador. Then things began to unwind. Froome crashed heavily on a descent in stage 6, and couldn’t hold on during the mountaintop finale the following day; Contador nudged into the leader’s jersey, taking the lead by eight seconds with just one stage to go, a short, four-climb stage ending atop Courchevel. Contador looked to have things under control.

Instead, things quickly unraveled for the “Pistolero del Pinto,” who was outgunned by Andrew Talansky and the Garmin-Sharp crew in the biggest tactical coup of 2014.

All eyes were on the Froome-Contador matchup, but Talansky was hovering in third, just 39 seconds back. The final stage opened with a second-category climb, quickly followed by a first-category climb in the opening 45km. Garmin played a daring card, sending Ryder Hesjedal up the road, with Talansky sneaking across to a big group of more than 20 riders. The trap was set.

By the time the breakaway hit the base of back-to-back first category climbs in the closing 30km, Talansky was in the virtual lead. Hesjedal was taking huge pulls, allowing Talansky to save his legs. When Contador finally opened up his chase, it was too late. The American nursed a gap of just under one minute at the base of the final climb, and finished 1:06 up on Contador.

“I was dying in the last kilometers. I never suffered so much,” Talansky said of the final push to Courchevel. “Once Contador attacked, he never took much time back on me. The gap never changed. That gave me a lot of confidence for the future.”

When the dust settled at the line, Contador couldn’t believe he had just had his pocket picked, and admitted he was watching the wrong rider.

“That was huge to win the Dauphiné,” Talansky said. “It’s an important race, and everyone is racing for the win. I couldn’t have done it without Ryder, but to win the Dauphiné like that, it’s by far the biggest win of my career.”