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SALON-DE-PROVENCE, France (VN) — What happened to Andrew Talansky?
The only American to enter this Tour de France with GC ambitions — in fact, the only American to enter this Tour ever having ridden it before — did not, in the end, contend. He will set off on Saturday more than an hour before Sky’s Chris Froome and will finish in Paris more than two hours down on the general classification.
“I did enter pretty hopeful,” Cannondale-Drapac’s Talansky said. But his early results weren’t a sterling case for optimism. He lost time on the tricky finish of stage 3. Then he dropped a few more minutes on Planche des Belles Filles, the first real climbing test. “I knew early on I wasn’t feeling super,” he said. “Even on those early climbs, you know if you’re there or not. It was pretty clear I was not.”
He hoped his legs would turn around, he said at the end of the first week. And slowly, they did. By Thursday he was jumping in breaks again. After a week and a half of near-complete anonymity, he was able to take an important turn for Rigoberto Uràn.
This may be the best Tour de France ever for Talansky’s Cannondale-Drapac team. That makes Talansky’s inconspicuousness feel even more unusual. Uràn is in third, likely to jump to second in the final time trial. He also won stage 9. Taylor Phinney and Nate Brown, the other two Americans in the race, both wore the polka-dot jersey in their first Tour.
In previous years, we would have written half a dozen stories about Talansky’s Tour already. For 2017, this is the second.
So what went wrong? A series of mildly unfortunate events, basically. A broken thumb over the winter slowed his base season, though the spring build went largely to plan. He was strong at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished third, and rode an acceptable Critérum du Dauphiné. But then he got sick, he says. Training between the Dauphiné and the Tour ground to a halt.
“Up until 10 days before the race started, I was unsure if I was going to be able to line up healthy,” he said. “It was touch and go. You don’t want to line up if you’re not healthy.”
He was healthy by Dusseldorf, but lacked the edge needed to truly contend. The Tour de France is merciless. It does not take kindly to riders who arrive even slightly off their game.
“I’m always an optimistic person, but I’ve also been doing this long enough that I know what the reality of it was as well,” Talansky said. “You need months, not weeks, of things going smoothly. You have enough little things not quite line up and they combine with not having a solid winter, breaking my thumb, you add those things up, and it’s going to be a big ask.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, particularly in this sport,” he said. “It’s more just being realistic. You don’t need 100 percent, you need 80, 85. One hundred percent never happens. Ninety rarely happens. But when you’re down at 50 …”
Cannondale did appear to make every effort to tune its only American GC contender for the Tour this year. Team general manager Jonathan Vaughters allowed Talansky to race infrequently this spring because he’d been given the green light to focus on the Tour. Before the Tour of California in May, he’d raced for just eight days. He didn’t finish either of the early season stage races he entered. It was purposeful, according to the team. Talansky had performed well at the Vuelta a España last fall on relatively minimal racing. He was fifth in Spain. Maybe he could replicate that in the Tour.
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Hindsight is 20/20, and one has to wonder if Talansk’s light spring schedule impacted his July form. Talansky said on stage 4 that he had come into the Tour a little “under-raced.” Vaughters says Talansky was never slated to ride as the team’s Tour contender this year. “I think [Talansky] felt like he could get to form on time for the Tour, but our take was always that Rigo [Uràn] was our GC rider and Andrew was there to chip in.”
Now it seems that Talansky may be looking toward the Vuelta, though he wouldn’t lay out a specific race calendar. “The Tour shouldn’t serve as laying a foundation for things, but this is definitely serving as a solid foundation,” he said. “I think I’ll be quite a bit stronger than I’ve been so far.”
So where was Talansky this month? He was reminding us how even the best-laid plans can be left crumbling by even minor pitfalls, and how very heartless the Tour de France can be.