From Inside Peloton: Andrew Talansky

Long before Andrew Talansky won last week’s Critérium du Dauphiné, Jered Gruber sat down with him, in late 2012. Gruber wondered, is he the real deal? Turns out he is. Looking back at Andrew Talansky’s 2012 season, you could be excused for thinking that this was the hard-earned turning point…

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Long before Andrew Talansky won last week’s Critérium du Dauphiné, Jered Gruber sat down with him, in late 2012. Gruber wondered, is he the real deal? Turns out he is.

Looking back at Andrew Talansky’s 2012 season, you could be excused for thinking that this was the hard-earned turning point of a veteran pro coming good on years of experience and toil. The evidence? Eighth overall to open the season at Algarve, 2nd overall at the Tour de Romandie behind only soon-to-be Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, and then 7th overall at the Vuelta. The fact is that Andrew Talansky won’t turn 24 until November though. In only his second year at the WorldTour level, the California resident put forth a stream of tantalizing performances this year, leading to the often-recited questions: Is Talansky the real deal? How far can he go?

Words: Jered Gruber
Images: Yuzuru Sunada & Jered Gruber

We caught up with Talansky in Bergamo on the eve of his last race of 2012, the final monument of the season, Il Lombardia. At the end of the season, at the end of the day, on a memorably forgettable hotel balcony overlooking Bergamo’s industrial sector, the talk turned not to results, not to training, but to the topic that no one can escape: doping.

What follows is not for everyone, and Talansky understands that. For those willing to dream and hope of a brighter, cleaner future, there is a whole generation of young riders living it already, ready to assume the lead at the top of the sport. It feels like a manifesto, and for all those exhausted with the skeletons of two decades of rampant doping, it’s nothing short of inspiring, but for that, I can only speak for myself. I hope you feel the same.

Andrew Talansky takes it from here:

The thing I keep saying is that no matter what you say about doping, you are going to get crap for it. I have come to accept that. At first I thought that maybe it isn’t worth saying what I think, because people will judge this or that, but at the end of the day, you are going to have those people, always. 

The reason we are racing, and the reason I am speaking out about doping isn’t for those people who just want to be negative, give you a hard time for something, and say you are wrong about everything. It is for the younger guys who are coming up in the sport. It is for the fans who race on the weekend and love cycling and turn on the TV and watch us race all the time. It is for the people who have had to watch this sport get dragged through all this crap. It is to give them some hope that this is coming to an end. 

As clean riders, we are going to be able to race, get results, podium at the Grand Tours—hopefully win the Tour. And twenty years from now, it will be us on the podium, and that’s it. There are no secrets, and there will be no books or newspaper articles that will reveal hidden stories. What they see is what they get.

I will say it over and over again, as much as it takes, and all of us of this generation will continue to back it up with our legs and our performances: cycling is the cleanest it has been in twenty years.

It upsets me when I see people who are just so dead set on believing that everyone is dirty, cycling is dirty, everyone is on drugs. The truth is, they are wrong. I have been called every name you can imagine: stupid, moron, naïve, idiot, a young punk who doesn’t know anything. At this point, I just laugh. I just got seventh at the Vuelta—clean. Taylor Phinney won the prologue of the Giro—clean. Tejay got fifth in the Tour—clean. If there was doping everywhere, those results wouldn’t happen. Tejay is in his third year as a pro; Phinney is in his second year; I am in my second year. These things wouldn’t be possible if the sport weren’t clean. That is what gives me hope. 

Maybe if I was finishing 150th, I would be bitter or cynical too, but I’m not. I’m racing well, and I’m succeeding in the sport I love. That is why I can say firsthand that I have seen it. I have seen the front of the race at the Vuelta, and I’ve seen all these guys that they are accusing, and it’s clean. 

There are people who have accused me of being on drugs, people who can’t wrap their head around how I went from getting dropped in the U.S. to here. They can’t accept how I went from last year to this year. There are guys in the pro peloton who can’t accept that. At the end of the day, that is not my problem. I know the way I work, I know the way my team works, even the other teams, like Team Sky. I know the guys on that team, I know what they put into the Tour de France, and I’m happy to speak up for Wiggins and his win, too. I would never want someone to say that about me. 

I am really young, and I still have to deal with it. When guys like Dombrowski are getting results, I hope that the first question he is asked isn’t about doping, because it should not be a question that he has to answer. People should applaud and be happy. 

People have said that, by saying the things I do, I don’t understand. I’m not saying you should believe me, you should believe in Lance Armstrong or all of cycling. I am saying that this current generation of young American riders have never done one thing to warrant the doubt, criticism, anger, or the comments that some people make. If they want to differentiate the past and the present, that is fine, but when they group us all together and say everyone is dirty or that people are still doping, they are making blanket statements that are uneducated, inaccurate, and false.

If you believe in us, watch us race, watch us win. Watch us bring American cycling to a level it has never reached before; this time there won’t be any secrets that come out. You are going to get to enjoy the results. We can bring American cycling to the forefront again, but in a completely clean way that is free from any chance of scandal. What you see is what you get, and that is a bunch of hard-working young guys who were lucky enough to come into this sport at a time when, okay, you have to have some talent, but if you work hard enough and you pay attention to details, that is enough to get results. 

It is the same reason I don’t want to sit here and judge people from ten years ago. Everyone says, ‘Oh, there were other options.’ Ninety-nine point nine percent of these people saying that were not in that situation at that moment. It is easy for me: I can sit here and say to the day I die, I’ll never do drugs. Look at me, I am Mr. Clean. 

But then look over to my teammate, David Millar. He swore he’d never take anything, until little by little it wore away at him. Everyone around him was doing it. I know David now, and what he has done for the sport is incredible. He is a person who truly believed he wouldn’t do drugs, and then something changed. It is not fair of me to sit here and judge all these people for their choices. I can easily say, ‘I will never do drugs.’ That’s a privilege though. I am coming in to the sport at a time when that is not a choice we are faced with. To judge someone who came into cycling at a completely different time is not something I’m willing to do. I am not going to sit here on a pedestal and pretend that I am some great role model, when I don’t know [riders of the past], and I wasn’t there. Unless you were there and in that person’s exact situation, it is easy to say what the right thing to do was, but you weren’t them. 

I grew up as a cycling fan. There was a time when I cheered every year for Lance in the Tour. We all looked up to Lance and a lot of these guys. The same way that fans were disappointed and upset and maybe losing hope, it is the same for us. These are the people that we respect. When Floyd Landis had that incredible day in the Tour in 2006, I was still really young, and I would hear people make comments about doping, and I thought, ‘Why can’t they just understand that someone can be better?’ At that time in the sport, being better on the bike wasn’t enough. Now, if you have some incredible performance, it is just because you are better. Bradley Wiggins is a better bike racer than everyone else. He wins.

All that stuff happened, but if it didn’t happen then Jonathan Vaughters would never have created Slipstream. All this testing wouldn’t be going on the improvements in the testing wouldn’t have happened. At the end of the day, all this terrible stuff happened, and it has been dragged through the mud, but our generation is actually getting the benefit of it. The sport is cleaner than it has been in a long time, and we get to come into it without ever facing those choices. I just want to emphasize that. 

I am a good person, and I can sit here and tell you that I will never do drugs, because I’ll never have to to compete in the sport. It is not necessary. It would be nice if people would understand; that is why I don’t sit here and come out swinging and judge and make all these blanket statements about the past generation of cyclists, because that would be hypocritical. I understand and have seen a lot more of the sport than people sitting at home have watching it on TV. That is not a criticism, it is a fact, because I am doing it. I am in it.

I am not a fan of everyone. I do think that there are some guys who should have lifetime bans from the sport, and that they should not be involved in any way. I don’t make the rules though, and I’m not going to come out and say that it is the case for everyone, and that everyone who ever made a mistake in the sport should just be out. Millar wouldn’t be racing then, and there are other guys like him that should be allowed back in the sport. Look at what Millar has done for anti-doping. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s the prime example for me. If I didn’t know him, I could probably sit here and make those statements and judge everyone who made those choices, but knowing David, and seeing how good of a bike racer he is, and how good of a person he is, I can’t sit here and judge, because I wasn’t there. I am not going to sit here and judge David Millar for a decision he made, because I know who he is now, and what he has taught me personally, and I respect him a lot.

I don’t ask for forgiveness for the last ten or so years and all those people. All I ask is that people now give us the benefit of the doubt, because we have never given them a reason not to. You can doubt other riders, but how are you going to doubt us?

If you are a true fan of cycling, you have to have a part of your mind moving forward to accept that a performance can be clean. If you are 100% certain that every winning performance that you see is doped, and you have no tolerance to change that view—which some reporters have, and I don’t have tolerance for that either—then what are you doing here? You don’t have to believe us now, or next year or the year after, but in ten years when we are getting results, then you are going to have to believe it. 

The facts are there. I feel bad for the people like that. They are going to miss it all, because they are so convinced that everyone is on drugs, and they are going to sit there twenty years from now still screaming from the rooftops that we’re all on drugs. They’ll be just as wrong then as they are today.

There are journalists who have made it their career — maybe in the past they were right — but by being so negative that is how they get attention. That is essentially their journalistic approach: to make a scene. Then they get renowned for their anti-doping stance, but really they just accuse people of doing things, sometimes when it is completely unjust and uncalled for. Then they call people like me naïve, when I am in the sport and see things firsthand. I think that would be the opposite, no?

People ask for facts and proof. We have the biological passport, and we have the tests. At the end of the day, you can believe the tests are a farce, or you can believe that the tests and the passport are making a difference, which I do. If you don’t, then you aren’t going to believe a word I have to say. That is a choice that the fans watching the sport and the journalists interviewing me can make. I can’t convince one person one way or another. This year I have come to terms with that. All I can do is keep speaking my mind on doping and the positive things going on, and back it up with results. There is no better proof.

Twitter: @andrewtalansky

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