By Dan Seaton, Velo News (Photo by Casey B. Gibson)
LE GRAND-BORNAND, France (VN) — Seeing him on the finish line, comfortably among the big guns after perhaps the 2013 Tour de France's hardest stage, it's hard to remember Andrew Talansky is still a Tour rookie. With a sharply focused gaze and a veteran's poise, Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) looks every bit the battle-tested warhorse he set out to become three weeks ago.
Talansky has lost time and suffered. Not every stage has gone according to plan. Yet, after the Tour's 205-kilometer penultimate stage in the Alps, he is sitting 12th overall, the top U.S. rider, just 16 seconds outside of a top-10 finish in his first Tour de France.
One final climb, the steep hors categorie ascent to Annecy-Semnoz at the end of the 125km 20th stage, will determine his Tour fate.
"All I'm trying to do is be as consistent as possible," he told reporters at the finish, soaked and filthy after Friday's final descent through a torrential rainstorm. "I mean, that's all I can do. Tomorrow I'll go finish the same as Alpe d'Huez, just TT up it and see what happens."
Talansky already has plenty to celebrate. Nearly a week after finishing a close third out of the race's first successful breakaway, he survived the ever-increasing pace set by Alberto Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff teammates on the Cat. 1 Col de la Croix Fry on Friday. Then, riding through a building thunderstorm, he kept pace with the Tour's biggest names on the high-speed descent to Le Grand Bornand.
"It was just a grinding kind of day," said Talansky. "I mean, we never went easy or slow up any of the climbs. Not the first two, not any of the last three, that's for sure. And then that last one, I think Alberto just wanted to make the race as hard as possible and try to isolate Froome, and he just made everybody suffer."
Despite his successes — including an overall win in the 2012 Tour de l'Ain and a stage win and day in yellow at Paris-Nice in March — Talansky came to the Tour with plenty to learn, and some of the lessons have been hard. His near miss in stage 14 in Lyon was agonizing. He endured a grueling day on Mont Ventoux the next day. Unable to stay with the race leaders, he struggled to the barren summit alone, losing hope for the best young rider classification.
Though he lost more time during Thursday's double ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez, he also cited it as a highlight of his Tour: a firsthand tour through the iconic images, the stuff from which young riders' dreams are made.
"That was the most incredible experience," he told VeloNews. "Going up twice, up the Alpe twice, with those crowds, that noise. For me, that is the Tour de France. That's what I will remember most from this Tour. It was just incredible."
Now there's just that final day, six more climbs, between him and the long parade into Paris. Talansky, satisfied with a solid first trip around France, and many lessons learned, said he would simply try to ride his best on Saturday.
"Everyone is tired, and it's just about attrition," he said on Friday morning. "It's about trying to be as consistent as possible, as I have been the whole race. I am not thinking about attacking."
With a place in the top 10 in sight and the whole Tour weary after a hard week in the Alps, one more consistent ride may be all he needs.