Andrew Talansky was a kid with a crazy dream when he rode his bike up and down the William Powell Bridge on Rickenbacker Causeway, pretending Miamis mountain was a French Alp. He rode the 15-mile loop from the end of Key Biscayne near his home to the toll booth and back multiple times, pretending it was a 150-mile stage through the sunflower fields and vineyards of the Tour de France.
The power of his imagination was even greater than the power of his legs.
So when Talansky pedals to the mile-high peaks of Mont Ventoux and Alpe-dHuez in the coming weeks, climbing 12-mile stretches with steep 8-percent grades, perhaps he will recall his rides on the short, 78-foot-tall Rickenbacker molehill and smile if he can manage a smile through gritted teeth during the worlds most spectacular and grueling bike race.
Talansky, 24, is among the promising rookie cyclists in the Tour de France, which began its 100th edition Saturday with a 127-mile ride up the east coast of Corsica and jolts the field Sunday with four climbs along the spine of the island.
I always wanted to ride in the Tour de France, but now that Im here its kind of unreal, Talansky said. Its a demanding, insane challenge. I know Ill learn a lot about myself by the time it ends.
Should Talansky survive stairway-like ascents that are hors categorie (beyond classification), descents that can reach speeds of 70 mph, crashes, illness, exhaustion and mechanical mishaps during the 2,042 miles of the three-week Tour, his arrival in Paris would be via a most unlikely trail. He did not start cycling seriously until age 17 and did it in Miami, not known as an incubator for the next Greg LeMond.
With the exception of the Rickenbacker bridge and Mount Trashmore, Miamis topography resembles the EKG of a flatlined patient. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote in Everglades: River of Grass, South Floridas clouds are its only mountains.
Talansky is not expected to be on the wheel of favorites Chris Froome of England and Alberto Contador of Spain. But he is a contender for Best Young Rider (25 or under) honors, which means he would don the white jersey on the Champs Elysees podium when the Tour concludes July 21.
A lot of guys come unraveled the third week, Talansky said. If you can be consistent day by day then when someone cracks on a mountain stage, you can put yourself at the front of the pack.
If Talansky earns the award it would not only be a boost for his career but for his cause: Riding drug-free. He is part of a new generation trying to reinvent the disgraced sport by pledging to stay clean. His team, Garmin-Sharp, has been in the vanguard in the race to distance cycling from its unseemly past, when riders relied on blood doping, steroids, EPO, HGH an array of banned substances and methods that included testosterone patches and surreptitious transfusion sessions in village inns when blood bags were hung from picture frame hooks.
Its like a movement, Talansky said of Garmin-Sharps activist stance, which includes disbanding the entire team if one rider tests positive. Were proving you can perform without using drugs. We take pride in accepting responsibility to compete with integrity. We want to be the face of change.
Talansky, once inspired by seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, is now the anti-Lance of American cycling. Armstrong was stripped of his titles and faces several lawsuits after a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency investigation revealed that he cheated throughout his career, coerced teammates into doping and bullied potential whistle-blowers.