Ian Garrison passed his debut season in the WorldTour in 2020, and is looking to up his marks in his second year with Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
“Next year is about taking another step up for me,” Garrison told VeloNews. “Now that I have a better idea of what the races are like and where I fit in, I definitely want to put on a little bit more pressure and fit into the races and play more of a role.”
The 22-year-old U.S. national time trial champ graduated from a three-year tenure with Hagens Berman Axeon to make a highly anticipated WorldTour debut with Belgian classics crushers Deceuninck-Quick-Step in 2020.
It was far from an ideal debut season, however, and the Georgian saw just seven race days under his belt before the COVID racing pause. When racing was back on the horizon this July, Garrison had to navigate through the chaos of travel restrictions between the United States and Europe to be able to reunite with his “Wolfpack” teammates.
Garrison successfully negotiated the red-tape to add a solid stack of classics, stage races, and a grand tour to his blossoming palmarès in the past five months. Having found his feet in a testing first season, the youngster is ready to cast aside the badge of rookie, and it was the maelstrom of an intense 18 days at the Vuelta a España that marked a turning point.
“I learned a lot about racing and myself at the Vuelta,” Garrison said in a telephone call to his home in Decatur. “Once I saw that I fit in and realized that I’m on the level of plenty of others in the bunch, it made the hard days more manageable knowing that I was on a level with some of those guys.”
This autumn’s Vuelta was a baptism of fire for the grand tour debutant, with the climbs coming as early as the full-throttle opening stage into Irun and the foot never coming off the gas from there. Garrison’s character-building ride through Spain proved both to himself and the wider world that he is fit to deliver on his potential as North America’s next great rouleur.
“Coming through the Vuelta showed me I have the durability to make it all the way through,” Garrison said. “In the end, it taught me that you can push past limits that maybe you previously set for yourself – that was the biggest thing for me, just to push those limits. Being able to push those limits was generally the biggest thing for me this season.”
Built from the template of much of Quick-Step’s burly “Wolfpack,” the 6-foot-4 time trial specialist was not in his natural terrain in a typically attritional Vuelta, and the race proved a test of character as much as of legs.
Just as Garrison’s summer season at one point looked in doubt when he was refused a flight back to Europe, his debut grand tour was nearly shut down on the very last climb of the race. Dropped by the peloton early on the final mountain stage to Covatilla, Garrison bounced out of the back of the grupetto and was left to ride a long, lonely time trial, dead last on the road.
“It definitely made a difference that it was basically our last day,” Garrison recalled. “It was the last day before Madrid [a city center critérium stage] so there was a little bit more fight. I knew it was the last day and I could really leave everything out there.”
Garrison gutted it out and successfully crossed the line just a handful of minutes before the time cut to all-but tick off his debut grand tour.
Although it was the smooth pavement and steep climbs of Spain that affirmed Garrison to himself and the world at large, the 22-year-old is looking toward the mazy streets and gnarly cobbles of northern Europe to truly make his mark.
“I want to keep focusing on my time trials because that’s always been a big strength of mine, and continue developing there and make that step up,” he said. “Ultimately I think I would probably see myself trying to gear towards the classics more, too. Those are the races I always liked most as a junior, like kermesses. They’re the most fun.”
With a squad balancing budding young talents and grizzled classics veterans, Deceuninck-Quick-Step is the perfect classroom for a budding classics contender. Garrison speculated that Paris-Roubaix would be his dream race, though acknowledged a ride through the infamous secteurs of northern France may be a few years off yet.
In the meantime, he’s looking toward two masters of the pavé for guidance. Teammates Zdenek Štybar and Yves Lampaert have both landed on the podium in the Roubaix velodrome, and as elder statesmen in the Quick-Step squad, gave Garrison a guiding hand in his first year with the team.
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Štybar and Yves,” Garrison said. “I did some races with them, and I learned a lot from those guys, about positioning, where to be when, learning when to do things. A lot of it is just experience. They’ve done the classics plenty of times. It doesn’t come straight away.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step also boasts a fresh-faced set of young cubs to balance out the alpha wolves in the pack. The squad’s 2021 roster includes 12 riders aged 25 or younger, including the likes of Giro d’Italia sensation João Almeida and Belgian super-talent Remco Evenepoel.
“It’s a cool mix of guys we have, young and older,” Garrison said. “It opens up more opportunities for learning and inspires confidence. You have these older guys that have all this experience but also you see your peers competing at the top also. It’s a super-positive atmosphere.”
With an affirming rookie season now under his belt, Garrison could be the next in line to push to the top of his peer group.