Duggan Q&A: It doesn’t get any better

Duggan talks about putting together a healthy 18 months, winning a U.S. championship and his medal goals in London

After driving the peloton for days at the Amgen Tour of California — and bringing Peter Sagan to a head-shaking five stage victories — Timmy Duggan’s summer of success only got better. The Nederland, Colorado, resident soloed off the front of an elite group of America’s best riders — Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Matthew Busche (RadhoShack-Nissan), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda) — to claim his first pro national championship. It was a long way from the traumatic brain injury he suffered four years earlier not far from Greenville, at the Tour de Georgia.

Then, when it seemed it couldn’t get any better, a dream came true when he was named to the Olympic road team.

VeloNews caught up with Duggan at the end of June as he took a much-needed rest in the Dolomites of Italy in preparation for the second half of his season.

VeloNews: What was your reaction when you heard you made the Olympic team?
Timmy Duggan: I think maybe it hasn’t even hit me yet, you know? It’s been a goal of mine for a while and this year, you know, I did everything I could to meet that. Something like the Olympics, there’s a lot that’s out of your control, so I was never too stressed about it or worried about it or keeping my fingers too crossed or anything. I just do my best and see what happens and see how it plays out, and it played out well for me and I’m really excited and honored to be selected. But I don’t think it’ll really, really hit me until I get off the plane in London.

VN: Do you remember where you were when you heard?
TD: I had heard that USA Cycling was making the announcement, and I was in the middle of Tour de Suisse, and I had heard that they were making the announcement at 11 p.m. or 12 p.m. [European time], so I was like, “Eh, I’d love to find out but I’m tired, I’m going to bed!” So around 11 o’clock or something, my phone, my iPad, my computer, every electronic thing I have starts going off; so I checked my email, and sure enough I had made the Olympic team. I didn’t sleep a whole lot that night.

VN: Being national champion going into the Olympics must have special meaning for you. Tell us about that.
TD: If you tell someone walking down the street, “Hey, I won a stage of the Dauphiné Liberé,” or, “Hey, I won a stage of the Vuelta Pais Vasco,” they wouldn’t even know what you’re talking about. But even if they don’t know anything about cycling, to say you’re a national champion or to say you’re an Olympian, that goes across all people, all walks of life — people that don’t have a clue what you do or what cycling is. There are just a few monuments in any sport that everybody across the world can recognize, so to be wearing the national champion jersey and going to the Olympics at the same time is a huge, huge honor.

VN: You’ve always been a strong rider but this year it seems like you’ve reached a new level. What’s been the difference?
TD: I think a combination of things. For one, I put about a year-and-a-half together in a row of being healthy. So that’s nice. Sometimes after you get derailed with a big accident like I had with my brain injury, or breaking my arm several times in one year, it takes a long time to get back and get into your race rhythm again, and be at the highest level. It’s always easy to get back to 90 percent; anyone can do that within a year. But to get back to the very, very top and beyond what you were before, that takes twice as much time again for only two more percent. I’ve kind of crossed that time barrier, that time and work barrier, and finally it’s all coming together. And more so than that, just mentally I’m kind of really figuring out what works for me, and where I need to go in my head, and what the few things are that I need to focus on to be successful on any given day, whether it’s a big goal I’ve had for a long time like the national championships, or whether it’s just another day in another stage race where I’m doing my job for my team. I feel like I’m finally — it takes a lifetime obviously — but I’m finally in a place in my head where I know what I need to do.

These next races with the Olympics and [USA Pro Challenge] in Colorado, I mean according to me, that’s why I race my bike. It’s for that kind of race. And for me, in the Olympics and in my hometown race, it doesn’t get any better than that. So in terms of motivation I’m at the peak of my career right now. So I’m really excited to see where that room in my head takes me.

VN: What are your thoughts on the Olympic team as a whole? How do you see team dynamics and team tactics playing out?
TD: With Tyler Farrar we’re obviously banking on the possibility that it’ll be a diminished bunch sprint kind of thing, and Tyler is obviously one of the best guys in the world in that situation, and we have a team to surround him and help him get to the line fresh. But if that’s not how the race plays out, we have [other cards to play] with the rest of us.

With the 250km race and really small teams and everybody having not raced together before, it’s kind of like a collection of all-star teams; it can be a really chaotic race. So anything can happen and the team has to reflect that and be ready for anything. I think it’s really nice that we have Chris Horner — he’s another generation older than us, he’s almost 20 years older than Taylor Phinney, you know, that’s kind of crazy — but there’s very, very few people I respect as much in the sport as him, in terms of his enthusiasm for bike racing. That guy loves to race his bike more than anybody I know. It’s crazy, and he loves it. And, also, just how cerebral a bike racer he is; in the middle of a race he’s so tactical, and always thinking tactics, when to put in the effort, who to put in the effort, how is that going to effect the other teams and what their goals are, and when they’re going to work. He thinks so much, so to have someone like that at the helm and communicating with our very young team at the Olympics, that’s going to be a very good asset.

VN: Some people say the Olympic team selection process, because it comes so close to the Olympics itself, doesn’t allow you to focus your training to peak for the Olympics. Would you agree?
TD: It’s definitely a concern; in an ideal world you would hear, say, a year in advance, “Hey, you guys, you are going to be the Olympic team and let’s train together a little bit and let’s focus ourselves around that.” But the reality is the Olympics aren’t necessarily supported by everybody’s trade teams; if we’re successful at the Olympics, that doesn’t necessarily pay back the trade teams, so it’s kind of hard to get the resources to go full-gas into the Olympics as a team, as a national team, unless your federation is just truly, truly behind it. The other 364 days of the year we’re racing for our trade teams and have other commitments. So it’s kind of hard to find that balance.

But that said, it’s a long season and stuff happens; people get tired, people get hurt, and so certainly it’s tough to commit to a rider or a group of riders early in the year, and come July when the Olympics are coming, then two of them are burned out, or they’re not quite up to form, but you said they’re on the Olympic team way back when and you can’t go back on that. So I think a certain part of it has to be somewhat last minute, but not so last minute that you can’t prepare for it. Maybe a solution would be a more solidified long team, like back in January, say “You ten guys, this is who we’re going to pick from, but it’s only going to be five, but it’s going to be out of you ten. So all of you focus real hard, we’ll see how your results and how your work is coming out closer to the Games, and we’ll make the decision there.” But I don’t think there’s any right way to do it, and of course, you’re never going to make everybody happy.

VN: What would be a successful Olympics for you personally?
TD: For me personally, if I can arrive on the starting line fit and prepared and ready to do my best, that’s step one. Step two, if I can make a major contribution to a medal–winning performance by my team, that would be unreal. For one, participating in the Olympics is incredible, but to win a medal or be a part of winning a medal, that’s a whole other level. The Olympics is kind of the one time of the year where eighth place really doesn’t matter. There are no points for it or anything; [either] you’re on the podium with that medal around your neck, or you’re not, and people forget about it. But you have an Olympic medal for the rest of your life, even if that’s a bronze medal. That’s big time, and that means something to everyone forever.