Q&A: Adrien Costa reflects on breakthrough season

Adrien Costa looks back on a breakthrough 2016 season that saw him win major international races and ride for Etixx – Quick-Step.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Adrien Costa: Remember the name, as you’ll be hearing a lot more of him in the coming years. The 19-year-old had an exceptional rookie season in the under-23 ranks with Axeon Hagens Berman. He won four races, including the overall at the seven-stage Tour de Bretagne, becoming the first American to do so. His second place overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and his third overall and stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir reveal his deep and diverse skill set.

Considered by some to be the best American grand tour potential in a generation, VeloNews chatted with Costa while he took a break from the bike and his courses at Oregon State University.

VeloNews: You had a great year. What did you expect coming into 2016?

Adrien Costa: It was better than I hoped for. I was hoping to race and get the experience, find my place in the pack, so getting some big results was a nice surprise. After coming out of the juniors, I had no idea what to expect. In my first race, I said, ‘Well, I might as well attack,’ and that was baptism by fire. Attacking like that, you don’t always get the best result, but it gave me confidence I could be in the race. It was a big learning curve.

VN: What stands out to you?

AC: Winning the overall at the Tour de Bretagne was big. I wasn’t expecting that. I was hoping to be up there and racing hard, but I didn’t expect to be the one that everyone was watching. That was a big change when I went to the Tour de l’Avenir, because every time I stood out of the saddle, it seemed like the entire peloton did, too. I was flying under the radar at Bretagne, and that makes it a hell of a lot easier. But it’s been a really great year.

VN: You must have felt a lot of pressure going into l’Avenir?

AC: We had a really strong team there, and we were not putting any limits on ourselves. After Utah, I knew I was in good form, but it was starting to be a long season for me. I don’t think I was super-recovered going into l’Avenir, and I wasn’t feeling amazing going into the race. It is the race of reference for U23 riders, and all the best guys were there. We wanted to win, so to reach the podium in the end was cool. And for me personally, it leaves some room for improvement for next year.

VN: How was your stagiaire experience with Etixx?

AC: It was bittersweet. I was super-stoked to race with those guys. I had no pressure, and was back at being the underdog. That’s what I enjoy the most. At the Tour of Britain, I wanted to be aggressive and help out the team, but unfortunately I had that pretty nasty crash [on stage 2] that ended it all too quickly. That took me off the bike for four or five days, and I really struggled to get back into it. I had two more races with them, but coming back to racing at the GP de Wallonie after almost not touching the bike for 10 days, that was a real shock to my system. The next race was better, but I was really just hanging on for dear life. Overall, it was a great experience, but I wouldn’t call it ending the season on a high. It taught me a lot, to get a taste of it at that level, and hopefully I can use those lessons for a full season of U23 racing next year and hopefully make that jump to the pros in the future.

VN: What was most surprising about racing against the top pros?

AC: I was shocked about how controlled it was. If someone or some team doesn’t want someone to be in a break, a team will bring it back. It is not as chaotic as in U23 racing, when you never really know what is going on. When it is controlled, it was easy for the first two to three hours before it ramps up. At the end it was crazy fast. It might not be that much faster than the fastest U23 guys, but it’s fast with 100 guys.

VN: You have an interesting background: Your parents are French, but you were born in California.

AC: My parents moved to Silicon Valley in the 1990s, and they were both involved with some high-tech start-ups. I grew up in Los Altos, right near Stanford. It was interesting watching the transformation of Silicon Valley and how crazy it’s become. I moved up to Bend, Oregon, last year, and it has a lot more of a relaxed, small-town vibe to it.

VN: Do you remember your first bike race?

AC: I was just smashing it when I got on the road. I started racing when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I had no idea how to race, but I went down to the velodrome in San Jose, and they had some great people who really helped me along. I got involved in the local club. My first race was on the track at the U.S. nationals when I was 12, but the road is where my heart is.

VN: Which pros inspired you when you were growing up?

AC: I think it was Lance Armstrong. As a young kid growing up, even with the French background, Lance was the guy everyone was looking up to. He had a black Trek, and my first bike was a black Trek mountain bike; I was stoked on that. Obviously, he made some mistakes, but he also brought a lot to the sport. There is a resurgence of American cycling, and I think a lot of us grew up watching Lance. Thankfully, we do not have to make those same choices they had to make in the past. It is pretty exciting to be part of a fresh generation, without forgetting the past. It is not my job to judge him [Armstrong], and he made mistakes, but you cannot forget that he also did a lot for the sport in America. Axeon used to be Livestrong. The legacy lives on, but in a much cleaner place.

VN: How did you connect with the Axeon team?

AC: I actually met Axel [Merckx] at road nationals when I was 12 or 13. I asked him to autograph a Livestrong jersey I had. We started chatting a little bit when I was still in juniors, and there isn’t a better team to be on for young riders. I think half the guys on the team won a race this year, so it’s real exciting to be a part of that.

VN: What are your goals for 2017?

AC: I would like to have a race schedule similar to what I’d see in a WorldTour team, racing from March to September. This year, I raced about 50 days. Next year, I want to be dealing with more race days, and all the travel and recovery that go with that.

VN: What do you do to relax?

AC: Well, classes just started at Oregon State. I am taking some classes over the fall and winter, studying business. I play a bit of guitar, but it’s hard to do that on the road. I just love being outside, fishing, hiking, or skiing. Bend is perfect for that.

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