Andrew Talansky’s dramatic victory at last week’s Criterium du Dauphiné serves as a “confirmation” of his emerging talent.
That’s according to Bingen Fernández, the veteran Spanish sports director at Garmin-Sharp who had a front-row seat the team’s daring raid in the closing two stages to beat back such illustrious rivals as Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“This victory at the Dauphiné will consolidate him as a leader,” Fernández told VeloNews by telephone. “Everyone knew he was already a rider with big capacity, but to able to win a race as important as the Dauphiné, that is a confirmation that he is a big winner, too.”
Fernández said the team started the Dauphiné, the season’s major Tour warmup, with the ambitions of placing Talansky onto the final podium, behind what everyone assumed were the two aces of the pack, Froome and Contador.
Garmin-Sharp played exquisite tactics in the closing two climbing stages to catch the pre-race favorites by surprise, and claim the team’s most important stage-race victory since Ryder Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Froome and Contador spent much of the week eyeing each other, allowing Talansky to ride his own race. When Froome crashed in stage 6, knocking him off his game, Contador swept into the yellow jersey. With just one short, but explosive stage to go, everyone expected Contador to coast to victory.
Instead, Garmin-Sharp laid a trap for Contador, placing Talansky and Hesjedal into an early breakaway in Sunday’s short, 131.5km stage to Courchevel.
“It was a surprise for everyone to win. We came here to prepare for the Tour, but also to do well in the Dauphiné, with hopes of reaching the podium,” Fernández said. “We knew the final two stages would be hard, and we took advantage of an opening, and played it smart. And Andrew had the legs to finish it off. We reached the podium, that is for sure!”
‘Ryder was key’
After his thrilling victory, an ecstatic Talansky was quick to thank his teammates, especially 2012 Giro winner Hesjedal.
Fernández said Hesjedal was the “key” rider in the big breakaway Sunday who tipped things clearly in Talansky’s favor. Without the big Canadian diesel to drive the group, Fernández said Talansky probably would have never been able to hang on during the final climb when Contador began his surging counter-attack.
“A lot of the teams put important riders into the breakaway. We could see Sky and Cofidis sending people up the road. Andrew and Ryder saw that was the moment, and followed them out. We all started working together, but everyone was looking to Andrew to work, because he had the most to gain in the group,” Fernández explained. “Ryder was key. If he wasn’t there, then Andrew would have had to do a lot more work during the stage. The weight was on us, and Ryder did epic work to mark the differences, and then Andrew finished it off on the final climb. It was a big sacrifice by Ryder to help us win the race.”
Fernández recalled that Hesjedal did the same thing in last year’s Volta a Catalunya, sacrificing his own chances by taking huge turns to help set up Daniel Martin for his breakthrough stage victory in March 2013.
In the end, Contador was marking Froome so much that he let Talansky, and the overall victory, slip away. When the Spaniard started to truly chase, it was too late. Talansky nursed a promising lead on Contador at the base of the final climb, and eventually held him at bay, taking 1:06 to Contador to claim the overall in a dramatic coup.
“In the final climb, it was a bit of a calculator,” Fernández explained. “Alberto was isolated, but our fear was that when he reeled people in, they would start helping him. It was a chess match, trying to maintain the gap, and save some energy to fend off Alberto. It was a great performance by Andrew and the team.”
Measuring the Tour favorites
The Dauphiné serves as the best measuring stick for the upcoming Tour. Fernández, who raced from 1996 to 2009 before joining Garmin as a sport director in 2010, said Talansky will be ready for a strong Tour performance.
“Andrew will bring more confidence to the Tour, but we will make our own race. There are the big favorites with Froome and Contador, and then a lot of others behind them,” he said. “Andrew was 10th last year, and perhaps he can move even higher, but there are many factors and different players that affect the outcome of the Tour.”
Assessing the other top riders during the Dauphiné, Fernández came away with the sensation that the Tour should come down to an epic battle between Froome and Contador.
“Right from the start, we saw a very strong Froome, with Alberto improving during the race. It was unfortunate that Chris crashed, and we do not know how much it will affect him, but they are both at a very high level,” he continued. “It’s going to be a hotly contested Tour.”
Fernández agreed with other observers that suggest Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is not at the same level as Froome and Contador, but warned that Nibali could be playing a bit of a game.
“I see him missing a bit, but he will improve. All year long, his idea has been to be ready for the Tour. He is not stressed,” he said. “He hasn’t been at 100 percent this year. He’s a smart rider. Let’s see if he arrives in the Tour at a better level.”
Garmin-Sharp’s Tour squad, meanwhile, will be finalized following the Tour de Suisse next week. With Hesjedal skipping the Tour to regroup for the Vuelta a España, Talansky will go as the team’s main GC captain.