Evan Huffman to leave Astana, return to racing in U.S.

American Evan Huffman's time with Astana is up. He signs on to ride for SmartStop in 2015

Photo: Tim De Waele

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The Astana project is over for American Evan Huffman, as the Californian will return to racing stateside next season with Team SmartStop. Huffman, 24, rode for Astana for two seasons.

For Huffman, it’s a chance to further develop in an American program; for SmartStop, it’s a chance to bolster the team, and add a time trial specialist.

“He’s got the papers signed. He’s a pretty crucial pickup. We’ve been fairly inconsistent in time trials,” SmartStop director Michael Creed told VeloNews. “To have a guy like Huffman, who obviously excels at them and he can handle himself in the bunch and help out in a lot of ways. It was a pretty key signing.”

Huffman will aim to strengthen the overachieving SmartStop squad. Last season, it won a national title in the road race via Eric Marcotte (teammate Travis McCabe finished second as well), and McCabe won at the Winston Salem Cycling Classic and stages at Nature Valley Grand Prix and the Cascade Classic. Jure Kocjan held the leader’s jersey for two days at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

Huffman, a promising time-trial talent, has been quiet since making the move to Europe to race in Astana blue. “I think he can kind of hit the reset button here, you know? I could probably draw a lot of parallels to my time on Postal, feeling like you’re not fitting in … maybe not developed enough for some of the races that they had him go to,” Creed said.

One such race may have been the 2013 Paris-Roubaix, which he rode on little notice and did not finish. Throughout his two seasons, Astana sporadically sent him to races, and in both 2013 and 2014, Huffman saw little to no action in June or July.

“A team like Astana really doesn’t have the time to develop talent. I think here’s a good place where he can kind of hit the reset button and develop where he missed out and hopefully get back to [a] ProTour or Pro Conti team,” Creed said.

Huffman signed with Astana in November of 2012 and is the most recent in a line of California Giant-Specialized elite riders to move into the professional ranks. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) is the most well-known product of the development squad. Huffman was formerly the under-23 U.S. time trial champion, and he won a stage at the SRAM Tour of the Gila in 2012.

SmartStop will hope to race the Amgen Tour of California and USA Pro Challenge, in Colorado, next season. It raced in Colorado last year, but not at California. “Hopefully we’ve done enough, and if there’s anything more we can do get into that race, you better believe we’ll do our best to make it happen,” Creed said.

As Huffman leaves Astana he does so amid troubling times for the Kazakh team.

Astana took itself out of the Tour of Beijing Monday, electing to “self-suspend” in light of two recent positive tests for the banned blood-booster EPO that ensnared two brothers on the team; riders Valentin Iglinskiy and his brother Maxim both tested positive for EPO in a 12-month period. Valentin tested positive at the Eneco Tour this season on August 11 and Maxim on August 1, after he finished the Tour de France, helping Vincenzo Nibali to a yellow jersey.

The decision came in accordance with the rules of the Movement for Cycling Credible (MPCC), a group to which Astana and some other pro teams — but not all — belong.

“Really disappointed to miss out on Beijing,” said Huffman on Twitter. “That brings my 2014 season to an end and also my time with Astana. … Already looking forward to 2015. I’ll be moving back to the U.S. and hopefully winning some races again, especially on the TT bike.”

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