BRIOUDE, France (VN) — The finish-line roar said it all.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) screamed and pumped his arms with raw, unabashed emotion as he blazed across the line victorious in Wednesday’s rainy, challenging stage 3 to claim victory and the yellow jersey at Paris-Nice.
For Talansky, that unfiltered emotion is why he started racing bikes on the flats around Miami more than a decade ago.
“That’s what you work and sacrifice for in this sport,” Talansky told VeloNews after receiving the yellow jersey from Bernard Hinault. “It’s all for that one second of emotion, to win. It’s incredible.”
Talansky was more than incredible Wednesday, riding with savvy beyond his 24 years to sneak into a seven-man breakaway after clearing a second-category hurdle with about 20km to go.
On rain-slicked road, he watched as David López towed Sky captain and teammate Richie Porte in the final 10km, cementing a seven-second gap to a chasing group.
Talansky waited, and finished off the stage with a perfectly timed sprint to knock back Davide Malacarne (Europcar) and Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi). When the dust settled and his 10-second winner’s bonus was deducted, Talansky held a slender yet empowering lead over Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Malacarne, tied at three seconds back.
Then the emotion came pouring out. All of it.
“That’s why I love this sport. When you’re in a moment like that, there’s no thinking. It’s what you feel,” he said. “You dedicate yourself to this sport. It’s not just about winning; it’s a reward. It’s the culmination of what you’re dedicating your life to. It’s really an emotional moment.”
The Paris-Nice treble (he also claimed the best young rider’s jersey) is also a confirmation of a steady progression that began back at the 2010 SRAM Tour de la Gila, when Talansky won the best young rider’s jersey on the Gila Monster climb.
That caught the attention of Garmin-Sharp boss Jonathan Vaughters, who quickly signed him to a deal. It was Vaughters who gave him the nickname “Pit Bull.”
When asked about that by curious European journalists, Talansky just laughed.
“JV [Vaughters] came up with that on his own,” he explained. “It stuck, fortunately or unfortunately, but its true, because I never give up.”
While American fans have taken notice of Talansky’s steady rise, few have paid much attention on this side of the pond. Despite winning the Tour de l’Ain and finishing seventh overall in last year’s Vuelta a España, Talansky is suddenly being hailed as the next American sensation.
Talansky fielded questions about the legacy of now-disgraced Lance Armstrong and what it’s like to be an American bike racer in today’s climate of recrimination and doubt.
Ever outspoken about his views, Talansky spun his answer forward.
“It’s an exciting and promising time to be an American racer. For so long, there was a shadow of doubt because of Armstrong, not just because of Armstrong, but because of how things were in that period,” he said. “It’s nice because now there are no more lies. If you want proof that cycling is clean, look no further that what happened today. If it wasn’t clean, I couldn’t have done what I did today. It’s a wonderful time to be an American cyclist, from my perspective.”
The future is now for Talansky. As in right now.
With the yellow jersey on his back, he’s intent on riding it all the way through Sunday’s 9.6km climbing time trial up Col d’Eze.
“We have the jersey and it’s easier to defend than to attack to take it, but there are a lot of good riders here,” he said, citing Porte, Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing).
“We’ll do what we can to keep it on Montagne de Lure, and then it’s up to me on Col d’Eze. It comes down to that and the final time trial on Col d’Eze,” he said. “Both climbs are good for me.”
Paris-Nice marks the first major goal in an ambitious, top-shelf third pro season for Talansky.
After proving himself with a string of promising results in 2011 and 2012, Garmin is giving Talansky full responsibility as team leader at early season races, such as Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie, where he was second to Bradley Wiggins (Sky) last year.
And then there will be his highly anticipated Tour debut this summer. Talansky is taking it all in stride, with confidence and quiet maturity. (http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/02/news/raising-the-bar-talansky-racing-to-win-en-route-to-tour_274329)
“With the path I am on, that’s what is expected,” he said. “I will be a leader, along with Ryder Hesjedal, at the Tour. We’re going to have a very good team at the Tour de France.”
Talansky is right where he wants to be. Whether he can deliver victory will be exciting to watch over the next four days. As his nickname suggests, he’s quite stubborn at letting go of something once he sinks his teeth into it.
“Paris-Nice, it’s all I’ve been thinking about since I got back on the bike in November. To win the stage and be in the jersey, it’s a big step in my career,” he said. “Now I have to do like I did today: win.”