It’s funny how many people have asked if I’ll be racing the Tour de France this year. They probably don’t realize that there are 29 guys on the team, and only nine get to start the Tour (we capitalize Tour as if it’s a religious reference).
I hope to race the Tour in a year or two when I’m ready, but for now, I’m excited to watch since I’ve gotten to know some of the players. You probably just know what you’ve seen in the results, so I thought that maybe you’d enjoy a more personal view of the guys on our team — as I have this year — so I’ll share a couple things that struck me about each rider on Garmin-Sharp’s Tour squad.
Andrew Talansky: I wrote a book about how hard it is to come up to the WorldTour from racing in the U.S., and Andrew Talansky had it as hard (or harder) than anyone. He wouldn’t settle for sitting in for a top-10, so Andrew was the guy always attacking, always in the break, going after the top step.
For years, the racing was very controlled by the bigger teams, and Andrew was the dude who’d rip your legs off but didn’t have a lot of results, so he bounced around smaller pro squads and development teams, probably spent a lot of time in vans and crappy apartments in Europe. Then one year he was good enough that he could race for the win every day, and he’d often get it. The domestic peloton was like “Oh, shit!” And then JV signed him, and we didn’t have to worry about him anymore. Lately, the WorldTour peloton is having that “Oh, shit!” moment.
Tom-Jelte Slagter: I haven’t raced with Slagter, but when he showed up to training camp, he’d just had a baby. It was nothing but baby pictures. He couldn’t help but smile when he was showing them, and you’ve gotta love that. Most guys get slower when they have a baby, with the crying and whatnot, but Slagter’s been killing it this year. Happy watts are a thing.
Janier Acevedo: Janier raced for Jamis last year, so he and I were kinda rivals. He dropped everyone on the first mountaintop stage at Gila, and then eight of us ganged up on him in the last stage and attacked for hours.
I was afraid there’d be bad blood, but at the Tour of San Luis this year, Janier was told that he and Danielson would be protected GC riders, and he said that he was having knee problems, so protection status should go to me instead. That’s some selfless team-player stuff, and I’ll forever love him for it.
There’s one typo in my book — I called him “Javier.” No one cares, but I feel really bad about that.
Johan Vansummeren: It’s weird to go from riding for Bissell to sitting in a cramped bus at the Tour of West Flanders with a Paris-Roubaix winner, but the team threw me into the low-prestige, cobble-heavy stage race for experience. I was a fish out of water, while “Sumi,” as he’s known on the team, was very much a fish in water, racing easily on roads he knew like the back of his hand. I struggled when I tried to navigate the field on my own, but when Sumi found me and gestured to follow him, he knew the fast way around each roundabout and the best line through every corner, so we’d make up a few spots here and there, and quickly found ourselves at the front. I’d have never made it to the top third without him.
Alex Howes: Howes might be the coolest bike racer I’ve met (which would put him way up there in the “coolest humans rankings.” At the Tour of California, he had stomach issues, and didn’t mind that I blogged regular updates about his bowel movements. He raced a few days where I’m sure his body didn’t process a calories, but hung in there, running on fumes, like a boss. They offered to send him home, but all Alex would say is “No no. I’ll come good.” And he did.
Alex also does an awesome impression of pretty much everyone on the team. He has us all in tears at the dinner table. And breakfast.
Jack Bauer: The southern hemisphere guys came to training camp late, so I only talked to Jack a couple times. He seemed cool, and I’ve heard nothing but good things. Sorry, that’s all I’ve got on the guy, except I’m sure he’s sick of the Jack Bauer “24” jokes. I was sick of them a year ago. So when he’s on TV and they mention his name, keep that to yourself, alright? You’re welcome, Jack.
Ben King: When you meet Ben, he just seems like a nice, quiet, country boy from Virginia, and he is. Gets along with everyone, including people that no one gets along with. But then you get to know Ben, and you realize that he’s the most worldly 25-year-old you’ve ever met. He lives in a small town in Italy, speaks fluent Spanish (at least it sounds fluent to me), and has read more than a lot of English majors I know. You get the feeling that Ben’s only racing bikes because it’s a way he can make a living until he comes out with a novel or something.
Sebastian Langeveld: When I showed up at training camp, I’d just had a good result at San Luis, but I was nervous around all the guys I’d looked up to for so many years. Langeveld saw me in the hallway, and he could have just smiled and walked past me, but he shook my hand with a big smile and a “Congratulations! You showed up ready to race!” That was really nice of him.
Ramunas Navardauskas: On a team ride in Mallorca, Ramunas rode ahead of the group for a few minutes, doing a little interval for his training, while we continued our pace. When he was finished and coasting back to us, the director in the car drove up to the group with a funny idea: “Hey guys, get behind the car, and we’ll speed past Ramunas and leave him behind.”
We must have been cruising 40 miles per hour when we got to Ramunas, who was probably going 15. At the last second, he looked back and saw us coming, stood up, took two pedal strokes in a big gear, on his hoods, and was immediately on the wheel. He laughed, like “you guys almost got me,” but it was once of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen on a bike.
Also, I know I just said Langeveld is nice, but Ramunas is really, really nice. Like he’s weird nice. Always smiling. He’s the kind of guy that you’d want on the team just for positivity, even if he wasn’t really fast.