After a rollercoaster 2014 season that brought American Andrew Talanksy his greatest sporting achievement to date and also his lowest moment, the Cannondale-Garmin rider heads into the 2015 season with one objective in mind — success at the Tour de France.
What success at the Tour look would look like for Talansky, against a field that is expected to include three former winners, remains to be seen.
A 10th-place finisher at the 2013 Tour, Talansky, 26, won the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné, taking advantage of the rivalry between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome to pull of a daring final-stage coup. He headed into last year’s Tour as a contender for, if not the podium, then perhaps a top-five finish.
However multiple crashes, including a dramatic finish-line collision with Australian Simon Gerrans on stage 7, saw Talansky on the back foot, struggling to survive. His string of bad luck and frustration came to a head on a dramatic day spent riding alone from Besançon to Oyonnax, over four categorized climbs, pressed to make the time cut. In the span of six weeks, Talansky had experienced an all-time high, followed by a very public low, both on the roads of France.
The Florida native abandoned the Tour the following day. He closed out his season at the Vuelta a España, in a support role riding for Dan Martin, and at the UCI Road World championships, where he placed 15th in the time trial.
Talansky comes into the 2015 season recharged, with all eyes on redemption, and improvement, at the Tour de France.
This year’s major Tour favorites — Froome (Sky), Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and 2014 Giro d’Italia champ Nairo Quintana (Movistar) — will square off at Tirreno-Adriatico, but Talanksy will instead start his race season on March 8, at Paris-Nice, which overlaps with the Italian stage race. He’ll follow that with Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, March 23-29, and then Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, April 6-11, before taking a break. It’s the same spring race schedule as his American GC rival Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), who finished fifth at last year’s Tour, and more recently finished second overall at the Tour of Oman.
But when it comes to team depth, Talansky won’t have the same support as van Garderen, or any of the other major Tour favorites. After the retirement of teammate David Millar, following the 2013 retirements of Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie, this iteration of the former Garmin squad is the youngest since it launched in 2008, with the lowest average age of any 2015 WordTeam.
Though he’s just 26, Talansky was named one of the squad’s three road captains, along with Martin and Ryder Hesjedal.
At an early season Cannondale-Garmin team launch in Manhattan, Talanksy spoke with VeloNews about his 2015 objectives, his dramatic 2014 season, his young Garmin squad, and whether or not he and van Garderen should be considered rivals.
VeloNews: What can you share about your race schedule and season objectives?
Andrew Talanksy: My schedule is pretty simple for 2015. I made a couple slight changes based on wanting to be kind of even better in June and July, but also with the goal of really being able to focus on the early part of the season 100 percent, being as good as I can possibly be, come March and April for that time of year. I’m going to be doing Paris-Nice, Cataluyna, and Pais Vasco, so yeah, three one-week races with essentially one week in between each one. It’s a little different whereas in the past I’ve done Paris-Nice and then Critérium International, and then Tour de Romandie. I’ve done Paris-Nice and Basque combos but I’ve never done that three-race block, but I like the idea of … in the past I’ve tried to be good for Paris-Nice and then again at Romandie and then again for the Tour. So this year I’m focusing on being as good as possible for that three-race block, and then come back again for Dauphiné and the Tour. That’s the plan.
VN: Pais Vasco is one of the hardest one-week stage races on the calendar …
AT: Yeah, it’ll be the third race in a row, but it’s kind of like a grand tour — it’s not a grand tour, it’s not strung together three weeks — but kind of with that idea, mentally you can just switch on for that whole time. For those, it’ll be five weeks by the time it’s done. For those five weeks you’re 100 percent switched on, focused — race, recover, race, recover. And I like that, I like where you have a very clear goal; a very clear period of time that you know you need to be good, and then can take a proper rest than I have in the past, a little longer, because Romandie is a little later in the year and you can’t take as long of a break after it, before the Tour. So we’ll take a proper break and then rebuild, maybe for nationals on the way to Dauphiné, and then Dauphiné and the Tour.
VN: Heading into just your fifth season on the WorldTour, 26 is pretty young to be a leader of the team at the Tour de France.
AT: I think this team; we’re kind of growing together. With David Millar retiring in the last year, he was kind of … we still have riders from the original squad, but Christian, David … they both took on pretty heavy leadership roles. They were kind of the heads of state of the team, and with both of them gone, it’s definitely a transition. We have a younger team, and we’re kind of growing into it together. We have great directors, to fill that missing gap, but I don’t think age is the crucial factor. It’s how you interact with your teammates, how you are on and off the bike, that’s what really makes you a leader. There are guys who are 35 who aren’t leaders, because that’s just not what they do. I think between myself, Dan, and Ryder, we’ll do pretty well.
VN: How do you feel this new, young squad is going to help you achieve your season’s goals?
AT: I think they’re going to do well. I think you saw a preview of it last year at the Dauphiné and the Tour. That was momentum building; you saw it again with Dan in the Vuelta. It’s like when we send a team for Dan, to Lombardi, or Beijing, when you send a team to accomplish something with the group we have, I think we’re very, very good at doing it. Obviously the team is younger, but we’ve raced together for years. Ben King and myself, Alex Howes and myself, Dan and myself, I mean we’ve raced together for years. Dan has been here since we’ve been on the team, Ryder has, so this will be five years racing together and a lot of people change teams every year or two in cycling and don’t end up building those kind of relationships. I’ve raced with Alex Howes and Ben King on the national team in 2010, so we might be younger, but we have a pretty close relationship, and Sebastian Langeveld is another great example of a person who is just from last year, but I have a lot of trust in him, he’s an incredible teammate, he’s a great person on and off the bike.
I think we have the right structure both on and off the bike — the riders, the staff, the directors, everybody — to accomplish the goals we set out, and I have 100 percent confidence that with the goals we’ve laid out, for me personally next season, that the team will be ready to support them and I will be ready to accomplish them for the team.
VN: Last year you went to the Vuelta in a support role. Obviously the Tour is your ultimate objective, but have you had thoughts about trying to win one of the other grand tours, whether it be the Giro or the Vuelta, before taking on the Tour?
AT: Well I can tell you it probably won’t be the Giro. I love racing in Spain and France. Italy is, for whatever reason… the styles of racing are different, the courses are different, so it probably wouldn’t be the Giro, I can tell you that. You know, I think we can address that when we come to that point. I do think there’s something to be said for that, but everyone’s different. I mean you look at what Nibali did. He took a year off the Tour and did the Giro and the Vuelta. I want to get some good results at the Tour first. I would like to do the GC that I think I’m capable of, that the team thinks I’m capable of. But say you do it for three or four years, and you’re fifth, and you’re fourth, and one year you’re nothing, and maybe even third, then there’s something to be said for it. If you’re at the level where you can podium at the Tour, then you’re probably at the level where, if you focus 100 percent on the Vuelta, it’s something you might be able to win. So I think there’s something to be said for that, because winning and being third of fifth, or whatever, is always different. The time for that is not right now, but I wouldn’t be completely opposed to that. If I get to that point that means that I’ll be at a very, very high level, if I’m going to another grand tour to win. That would be a good situation.
VN: When you talk about a good result at the Tour in 2015, what is a realistic good result for you at the Tour? The podium?
AT: That would be a dream result. I got 10th a couple years ago. I felt I was capable of a good result, well within the top 10, last year, and that didn’t happen, but that doesn’t matter because you can sit here all day and say, “I think I would have been able to do this,” and that’s great. But this year, that’s what the goal is still. I’ve had that 10th place, and the goal is obviously to improve on that, and as long as I ride the race to the best of my ability, and get to ride the race that I know I can do, and get to the mountains and get to do my thing, then I know the result is going to be one that I will personally be very happy with, that the team will be happy with, and that I think the American fans will be pretty excited about as well. As long as you get to race the race you know you’re capable of.
VN: Your 2014 season was pretty wild, with the Dauphine win, the crashes, and the dramatic day at the Tour. How much have things changed for you since all of that, and how did all of that affect you, emotionally?
AT: There was obviously a great high, with winning the Dauphine and everything, and a pretty low point with having to go home from the Tour. But I would say that’s kind of something that, in the moment, you can get a little caught up in things, but what I take pride in is that, that’s the result. We get to do the races, that’s our showcase to the world, of all the hard work we’ve put in, that’s what people get to see. But it doesn’t change the job at all, it doesn’t change home at all, you have to do the same work, you have to be just as dedicated, and I’m not any more or less dedicated to my job than I was before winning Dauphine, or than I was two years ago. It’s always stayed the same. The only thing is that I’ve progressed in what I can do physically, and obviously mentally progressed a bit, to the point where I can win a race like that.
It was a lot to absorb in the moment. It definitely took time. It’s something I’m very, very proud of. In the back of the race books they have a list of people who have won the race, right? It’s not first, second, third — it’s first. It’s whoever won, and my name will be there forever, and that’s an exciting feeling. But I definitely didn’t change off the bike. The result may change the way others may view you, but ideally it doesn’t change who you are and the way you act, and I like to think that’s true for myself.
VN: You and Tejay are the two biggest U.S. stage racers in the spotlight. You are similarly aged, you have similar strengths, you both ride for American teams. I’m curious about that relationship. Is it a rivalry, is it a friendship, or is it somewhere in between?
AT: There’s definitely rivalry. When we’re at races we’re competing against each other. There’s definitely pride to be had, in terms of being the best American in a race. But I think both of us are at a point in our career where we very much realize it’s not about that. Neither of us are the other’s biggest concern in a race. We’re racing against Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, Chis Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez — there are people who we need to deal with before dealing with each other. There are a few other obstacles. So it’s a rivalry, but I wouldn’t say it’s really any more than the other guys we’re competing with, at least for me.
I don’t talk to Tejay much during the year, but when we’re at a race, or at worlds, we’ll talk, we’ll chat, and we can definitely ride well together, and get along fine when we’re together. There’s no ill will or anything like that, so that’s nice. I was happy Tejay was in the Tour, and ended up fifth, because it gave the American public something to be excited about, and we both recognize that’s the most important thing; giving the American people something to really get behind in cycling — especially at the Tour — and have something they can follow every year, whether it’s me or him. Obviously I’d prefer it to be me, but I still take pride in it, that we have an American up there. The year before I was 10th, he was fifth that year  … so yeah, there’s a rivalry, but nothing out of the ordinary.