MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) – Solid performances by a largely young, untested crew in both the Olympic Games and the world road championships by the United States’ elite men’s team bolster hopes for international success for the coming years.
A silver medal by Taylor Phinney in the men’s individual time trial at the world championships and aggressive riding both at the London Olympics and the Limburg worlds should give fans something to cheer for in international competition.
“I think we have a good group of guys moving forward,” said Andrew Talansky, who attacked on the penultimate lap of the finish circuits on Sunday. “We are going to see the next few years more Americans at the front. I am excited about racing with these guys.”
With the exception of ageless veteran Chris Horner, who raced his first Olympics this summer after missing out on the Games from 1996 through 2008, the U.S. men’s team is turning the page on the past and looking to the future.
Riders such as worlds team members Phinney, Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Alex Howes, Timmy Duggan, Brent Bookwalter and Matthew Busche, as well as Tyler Farrar and Peter Stetina are committed to racing the worlds and representing national colors on the international stage.
Except the 41-year-old Horner, most of the current crop of riders are just entering the sweet spot of their careers. For many, racing in the worlds this weekend was a first shot at major international competition in the elite ranks.
And they’re certainly not afraid to make their presence felt. Duggan and Howes both rode into the day’s main breakaway Sunday. Howes hung tough when a group that included Robert Gesink, Juan Antonio Flecha and Alberto Contador bridged across.
Howes, who also rode into a breakaway in the Amstel Gold Race on similar roads back in April, said he was savoring the experience of riding in the day’s main move.
“We wanted to play it like we played it in the Olympics: be aggressive and get up the road,” Howes said. “It was a real treat to be out at the front of the circuit. It was just a big party out there and it was a lot of fun to be up there and to experience all that first-hand.”
That kind of enthusiasm is pumping new energy and excitement into the elite men’s cycling program.
For years, many U.S. pros were reluctant to race the worlds, especially when the UCI moved the championships from August to October on the racing calendar. Many pulled the plug on their seasons after the Tour and didn’t want to make another long trip back to Europe so late in the year to race in what has always been somewhat of a lottery. Riders like Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie often skipped the event over the last half-decade when they had realistic shots to medal in the time trial and provide crucial guidance in the road race, respectively.
Now that the UCI has nudged the worlds up to September and added the trade team time trial the weekend before the road race, the trip to the worlds is less taxing and more rewarding for the pros.
USA Cycling officials often expressed their frustration that top pros would not want to race the worlds, but that sentiment seems to be changing. A lot depends on how the worlds course shapes up and each rider’s respective racing calendar, but team officials say they notice a different spirit among today’s pros.
“These guys are young, but they’re very excited about racing together,” said USA Cycling’s vice president of athletics Jim Miller. “We’ve been on a high since the Olympics. They’re all just very excited about racing their bikes. It’s good to see that enthusiasm.”