CYCLING

Key Biscayne’s Andrew Talansky confident heading into Tour de France

 

Buoyed by his victory in last month’s Criterium du Dauphine, Andrew Talansky is ready for the most grueling trek in cycling.

lrobertson@MiamiHerald.com

Andrew Talansky took a gamble on Father’s Day and rode an opportune breakaway into the lead of the Criterium du Dauphine bike race. Then he stubbornly held off three of the world’s best cyclists on the final, steep, four-mile climb to win one of the sport’s most prestigious events.

Talansky’s dramatic victory last month confirmed he’s on the verge of more milestones and also served as a warning bell to his competition: Let him get too far up the road and you’ll run out of road.

Talansky won’t be permitted any sneak escapes at the Tour de France, which starts Saturday. He has made too big a name for himself. He will be the leader of the Garmin-Sharp team and has been steadily establishing himself as top American. He finished 10th in his Tour de France debut last year and was second to Colombia’s Nairo Quintana for the white jersey signifying Best Young Rider.

Talansky is no longer the unknown, upstart redhead from Key Biscayne. He foresees a podium finish in the most famous and grueling bike race. Maybe not this year – he’s only 25 – but in due time. And the maillot jaune – the yellow jersey? Talansky donned one after his brilliant Dauphine finale. Why not in Paris someday?

“I think 2013 proved I can go to the Tour and compete for top 10 and soon top five and eventually top three,” he said. “Maybe it’s still another two or three years before I’m coming into my peak. You have to take this sport step by step.”

Or kilometer by kilometer, mountain by mountain. The 101st edition of the Tour, which starts in Yorkshire, England, is 3,656 kilometers (2,269 miles) over 21 stages in a clockwise direction around France, which means the Alps come first, Pyrenees last. There will be nine flat stages, six mountain stages, 9.5 miles of nerve-wracking, teeth-chattering cobblestones and one long individual time trial before the odyssey finishes on the Champs Elysees on July 27.

RICKENBACKER CAUSEWAY TEST

Talansky, a Gulliver Academy graduate, started cycling at age 17 while recovering from a stress fracture that prevented him from running. His mother’s boyfriend, triathlete Boris Fernandez, found an old bike for him. He rode back and forth on the Rickenbacker Causeway and up and down the William Powell Bridge, a hump known as Miami’s mountain. Despite his upbringing as a flatlander in a sea level city, he has excelled as an all-around rider and powerful climber.

Last year’s course was more suited to Talansky’s style, but he believes he can turn this year’s layout – with the shorter, spiky Pyrenees and the 33.4-mile time trial at the end – to his advantage.

“The Pyrenees have punchier gradient changes than the Alps and that 65-70-minute time trial will favor older, stronger guys who have more Tours in their legs,” he said. “But my strength is the third week when everyone else is usually falling apart and I have the ability to recover pretty efficiently.”

He scouted the time-trial course the day after he completed the Dauphine.

“It’s good for me,” he said. “It’s definitely not flat. Anybody can take back a chunk of time, especially if others are fatigued. It truly will be the race of truth.”

LEARNING TO PERSEVERE

Talansky said the most important lesson he learned as a Tour rookie last year, when he finished 17:39 behind winner Chris Froome of Team Sky, was a simple one: Never give up. There were two stages when he could have, but did not, and quickly found himself back in the hunt.

“You can lose time, but you can gain it back,” he said. “Last year, I cracked in the Pyrenees and lost seven minutes on one day, but in Stage 14 I got into a breakaway, finished third and got my seven minutes back. Another day a rider rammed into the back of my bike, I had to switch to another one, raced frantically to catch up and wound up losing only 1:20.

“In either situation, if I had sat up and said, ‘Oh, well, my Tour de France is over,’ I would not have finished in the top 10.”

Talansky, who will be shepherded by his eight-man Garmin-Sharp crew through the unforgiving ascents and treacherous descents of the Tour, said his preparation was smoother this year. His coach, Jesse Moore, said his power numbers in training sessions have improved.

“We believe we have selected a strong team and we are committed to helping Andrew build on last year’s success,” said Garmin-Sharp sport director Charly Wegelius. Talansky was nicknamed “Pit Bull” by team manager Jonathan Vaughters.

American and BMC Racing rider Tejay Van Garderen, who placed fifth in the 2012 Tour, said Froome and two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador are clear favorites but third place is wide open. Contenders include Van Garderen, Talansky, Vincenzo Nibali, Rui Costa, Alejandro Valverde, Jurgen van den Broeck, Bauke Mollema and Michal Kwiatkowski.

BASED IN SPAIN

Talansky’s season included a sixth-place finish in the Volta a Catalunya, which takes place in the area he now calls home. He lives with wife Kate Fox in Girona, Spain, the base for a colony of riders. He also had two top-10 stage finishes in the Tour de Romandie.

“The biggest setback was the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had, 10 days before the Tirreno-Adriatico race, which kept me in bed for five days,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been a progressively upward-trending year.”

In the Dauphine, Talansky entered the eighth and final 81-mile stage in third place, 39 seconds behind Contador and 31 seconds behind Froome. Instead of protecting his podium spot, Talansky and his team jumped at the chance to join a breakaway group on the first climb up the Cote de Domancy that put him three minutes ahead of the lead pack. He pushed up the last agonizing climb in the closing minutes while Contador mounted a furious solo attack from behind to close the gap. Froome and Nibali faded.

“I knew when my team was done pulling that the last 15K would be up to me,” he said. “I was getting time-gap updates and I knew Contador was coming. By the last few 100 meters I was completely empty.”

Once Contador crossed the line, 27 seconds back, Talansky knew his time would stand and he was overcome with emotion.

“It was a very exciting day, the most memorable day of my career,” he said.

RIDING CLEAN

Talansky and his Garmin-Sharp teammates continue to be outspoken advocates of anti-doping integrity in cycling. He said he and fellow Americans Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney (recovering from a broken leg) can restore the faith of U.S. fans in the post-Lance Armstrong era.

“It’s great to stand on a soapbox and proclaim that you’re not using drugs but you need results to make it mean something,” he said “The results I’ve had – including beating the Tour favorites in the Dauphine – would not have been possible if people were doping now and would not have been possible 15 years ago. That’s why I know the peloton is clean.

“There will always be people who try to cheat. But fans who are disillusioned can take heart. Our generation takes pride in riding clean.”

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