ONTARIO, California (VN) — With a visceral scream and two thumps to a green-clad chest the winless streak was over. Andrew Talansky won atop Mt. Baldy, took his team’s first WorldTour victory in over two years, doused their drought in California bubbly. Finally.
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Ask Cannondale-Drapac if the drought was bothersome and they’ll say no. “It wasn’t ever something I thought or focused on,” Talansky said. Ask them to explain it, why it took so darn long to end, and they’ll redirect to their wins outside the WorldTour, and to close calls within it. They point to luck, or a lack thereof, and to decisions made that place a focus on bigger, harder to win races. “I made a conscious effort in our recruiting to get guys who can maybe win big, not guys who are guaranteed to win small,” said team manager Jonathan Vaughters. “The result of that is that sometimes you might be forced to be extremely patient.”
Patient they were, for a while. But do the sort of athletes who reach the top of their sport really not care about a two-year losing streak? Do they not care that they became known as the winless team?
Talanksy’s bellow as he crossed the line suggests otherwise.
Mt. Baldy unfolded largely as expected. LottoNL-Jumbo hit the front early and hard for their twin threats, George Bennett and Robert Gesink, whittling the field down to a dozen and change. Slowly the final domestiques fell off, one by one, in a methodical paring determined by size. Ben King went “as hard as I could for as long as I could,” until about 7km to go. Lachlan Morton was alone. Then Talansky’s teammate Nate Brown popped off, his own long pull finished. So it was until the group was down to seven: The contenders. Talansky, Morton, Bennett, Ian Boswell, Brent Bookwalter, Rafal Majka, Sam Oomen. The switchbacks wore on.
Oomen fell off. Bookwalter was distanced. Boswell, too. Morton surged and surged again, maybe one too many times. He fell back as well. In the final 200 meters there were only three — Talansky, Majka, Bennett. They rounded the final corner in that order and stayed that way across the line.
“The guys put full trust and full belief in me, even after losing a bit of time on Mt. Hamilton,” Talansky said after the stage. He held a bundle of flowers in his right hand, stopped for photos and autographs and beamed. “Hopefully this is the start of some positive momentum toward the summer, toward the Dauphine and toward the Tour de France,” he said.
Talansky raced only twice in Europe so far this year and took time off in late winter for the birth of his first child. He entered this race with form known only to himself. Even his boss, Vaughters, could do little more than shrug when asked of his GC star’s chances. “It’s hard to say with Andrew,” he said before the race.
As the race wore on, confidence in Talansky grew. His time loss on Monday’s Mt. Hamilton stage was a tactical error, not a physical one. He told Vaughters he would win on Baldy. He said so with confidence. Then he did it.
“When he chooses to be, and when he wants to be, Andrew is truly a great champion,” Vaughters said after Thursday’s stage. “He said was going to win today, and he did, and honestly I never really doubted him because when he states it and he wants it and he is focused on it then he is very good at achieving his goals. He’s just one of those guys that is not into every race he shows up to. But when he shows up and is really into the race and is confident about it, he always does well.”
We knew California was a focus for Talansky; he said as much, quite directly, when we talked over the winter. The Vuelta a Espana last year proved that he can prepare well without racing. But still, nobody was sure.
“The team placing their belief in me, to give me the time I needed to get ready for this race, I don’t think you’d find that in many places,” Talansky said. “I really appreciated that support. I’m happy I could pay it back with the stage win.”
Cannondale piled up the podium spots — 3rd at Paris-Roubaix, third in Wednesday’s Giro stage — but could never seem to seal the deal. Yet belief did not waver through the drought. For all the talk of staying focused, of ignoring an embarrassment that lengthened by the day, it was always clear that this team felt it had wins in it, somewhere. Turns out they were in Talansky.
“We knew that if we just kept at it the wins would come,” said Lawson Craddock. “We knew at some point we’d get the monkey off of our back.”