Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp is on an upward progression that may end on a podium step of the Tour de France someday.
In today’s Boulder Report, Joe Lindsey wrote a nice piece on the rider nicknamed Pitbull. Back in July, Lindsey was in France watching Talansky ride to a 10th place overall in his first Tour with a style that might be called methodically aggressive.
Talansky came into the race in excellent form and quietly confident. Although he had his weak moments in France, most notably losing seven minutes on the second day in the Pyrenees, Talansky kept his spirits up and the pedals turning. Slowly he worked his way up the GC ladder and on the last day in the mountains, he clawed his way to tenth with a strong ride up Semnoz, taking sixth ahead of Alberto Contador.
I was at the Tour beginning on stage 4 in Nice and spent many of those days in front of the Garmin team bus. It gave me a chance to observe Talansky close up and I had the good fortune, like Lindsey, to be standing across the finish line atop Semnoz when Talansky nailed his 10th overall and shortly thereafter interview him further up the road by the team car.
Here are a few personal observations I took away from watching Talansky.
He loves the Big Show. My sense is that one performance factor that favors Talansky is that he thrives in the bright lights. He draws energy from the chaos, intensity and high excitement the Tour brings. He feeds off it and channels that energy into extra wattage. On the same theme, I also think he likes the buzz of attention that the Tour gives him. Talansky has an interest in journalism and he’s quite comfortable talking with the media.
The man exudes confidence. I’d almost say — and this is a compliment, not an insult — that Talansky reminds me of a young Lance Armstrong. Not the dark, vindictive, drug-fueled side but there’s the same cocky, brash attitude Talansky brings to racing a bike. He has leadership qualities and there’s an aura of expectation that radiates off him. He expects to win, to climb faster, to ride higher on GC with every race. He believes there’s an inevitability to his trajectory.
There’s a controlled fury to Talansky. Talk to the guy and you feel the intensity of his gaze, the forcefulness behind his responses. One of my enduring images of the Tour is Talansky cooling down on the trainer next to Hesjedal and Danielson, ranting about stupid riders who almost crashed him. They didn’t nickname him the Pitbull because he’s laid-back and soft-spoken.
In those post-stage monologues, you see his anger, intolerance and lack of respect for riders who take unnecessary risks and don’t know how to handle their bikes. (You’d see that fury on full display a month later in the Vail time trial at the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Race officials mistakenly told him he’d won, then moments later relegated him to second. Talansky unleashed a public, obscenity-laced tirade that shocked everybody in hearing distance.)
Finally, it appears to me that Talansky learns fast — another good personality trait for an athlete whose end goal is a podium place in the Tour de France. In stage 14 into Lyon, Talansky made the large break and played his tactics almost to perfection, just mistiming his final acceleration in the sprint for victory.
That third place finish in Lyon was a great result but perhaps more importantly, he learned another valuable lesson. “In hindsight you always think you could’ve done something differently, but I felt if I could have started sprinting a little earlier, I’d have given myself a chance to win,” he said. “Fifty meters of hesitation probably cost me a stage win at the Tour. So it’s not a mistake I’ll ever make again.”
Lindsey quotes team manager Jonathan Vaughters as saying that Talansky needs to improve another three percent before his can become a true contender in Le Grand Shindig — 1% better in dealing with heat, 1% in better utilizing fat versus glycogen and 1% on trimming his weight.
I can’t say with any confidence that Talansky will ever win a Tour de France. But from what I’ve seen up close, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll check those boxes, improve that 3%. He’s that driven, that focused, that insanely competitive. Which means that Talansky will be one rider to watch when the 2014 Tour kicks off in Yorkshire.