ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — A year after he pedaled into oblivion as a young American on what was once cycling’s top-ranked team, Evan Huffman has jettisoned life with Astana for a new start this season with Team SmartStop.
Huffman, 25, who rode for two seasons with Astana but compiled fewer than 100 total racing days, is competing in the USA Pro Challenge. He’s racing again after another multiple-week hiatus since withdrawing on the final day of the Tour de Beauce in mid-June.
A skilled time trialist, Huffman has a simple goal. He’s trying to rejuvenate his career. In 2011, Huffman finished third in the under-23 national championship road race and second in the Nevada City Classic. A year later, he was the national under-23 time trial champion and won time trial stages of the McLane Pacific Classic and Tour of the Gila.
Huffman rode for California Giant Strawberry and its relationship as a feeder team sponsored by Specialized prompted his signing with Astana. The controversial Kazakhstan squad of 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali also rides Specialized bikes.
“The only thing that’s been missing in my bike racing is that I haven’t raced much,” said Huffman, who finished ninth in the time trial at the National Championships in June. “I’m not going to think about it too much. I know I’m fit and I’m well acclimated. I’m just going to go out there and see what I can do.”
For part of his time away from racing, Huffman left his Northern California home to live and train for a few weeks at altitude at Mammoth Mountain in Southern California. It’s about four hours from his home in El Dorado Hills.
“It [this season] has been a little bit disappointing,” said Huffman, who in early February won a stage of the Vuelta Independencia Nacional in the Dominican Republic. “It’s had its ups and downs. I had a win and a couple of top-10s, but overall it’s been disappointing.
“But I’ve really focused the past two months and trained hard and did everything I could to be ready for here and hopefully I can do something.”
Like many young cyclists, Huffman moved to Europe to pursue the sport at its top level. He had an apartment. He had a bank account, began to learn Italian and he was largely left alone. He was assigned to Jaan Kirsipuu, the retired Estonian pro who won four Tour de France stages and formerly worked as an assistant director with Astana.
Huffman and Kirsipuu communicated infrequently. Huffman was on Astana’s roster in well-known races and he was dispatched to far-flung events around the globe. He twice rode on Paris-Roubaix as a late add-on to Astana’s roster, but withdrew both years.
“It feels like a different lifetime ago,” said Huffman of his tenure with Astana. “It was a different chapter in my life. At age 25, one or two years ago is a long time. But it’s definitely in the past. It’s not too long ago, but sometimes it feels like a long time ago.”
Huffman is also competing knowing that his team, sponsored by a Southern California-based storage unit company, is losing its title sponsor at the end of the season.
“The team is still looking for next season,” said Huffman. “It has every intention of continuing next year, but I only have a one-year contract. I haven’t had any serious talks with this team or any other teams. I guess for now I’m just focused on racing and trying to get some results for myself and the team.”
Huffman finished 18th in the stage 5 time trial, 1:18 behind winner Rohan Dennis. He’s 31st overall, trailing by 13:03.
Following the USA Pro Challenge, he will be part of the SmartStop roster at the Tour of Alberta, Sept. 2-7.