Cycling's generational transition taking root

All Andrew Talansky had to do to feel better during the first half of the hardest race of his life -- and perhaps the hardest-ever edition of the Vuelta a Espana -- was to check out what fellow U.S. rider Taylor Phinney was writing about it.

Both were competing in their first three-week Grand Tours, and both were blogging almost daily from neighboring houses of pain. Phinney detailed how he was dropped with a handful of other struggling riders with 85 miles to go in Stage 5. Talansky discussed briefly fearing he wouldn't make it to the next day's finish line in Madrid during Stage 20.

"I'd think I was having a rough day, and then I'd read what he was writing and say 'I need to stop complaining,'" Garmin-Cervelo's Talansky said Friday from Lucca, Italy, the Tuscan town that has become the in-season home for a small colony of young U.S. riders, including Phinney.

BMC's Phinney, whose big frame makes him less suited for climbing, wound up abandoning the race out of exhaustion during Stage 13, while Talansky was able to complete the race. After what they just survived, the upcoming world championships -- their first at the senior elite level -- won't seem nearly as intimidating.

Talansky and Phinney will be the two U.S. representatives in Wednesday's 28.8-mile time trial event at worlds in Copenhagen. Both will also ride in support of Garmin's Tyler Farrar in the one-day road race on Sunday. At 22 and 21 years old, respectively, their combined age isn't that much more than some of the veteran Americans in the pro peloton.

Both have excellent and ever-lengthening resumes in the time trial. Talansky won the under-23 national championship last year and had top-10 time trial results in several prestigious races this season, including the Criterium International, Paris-Nice and the Tour of Romandie, where he also scored Best Young Rider honors. Phinney was the 2010 national champion and under-23 world gold medalist in the discipline last year.

In the 29.2 mile Stage 10 time trial at the Vuelta, Phinney finished fifth and Talansky 16th, 1:33 and 2:28, respectively, behind winner HTC-Highroad rider Tony Martin of Germany, a two-time world bronze medalist who will be a favorite next week.

The two young Americans owe their world team selection in part to the fact that more experienced riders like Garmin's Dave Zabriskie -- winner of six of the last eight national championships in the discipline -- opted not to compete, but their presence is also a sign that the long-awaited generational transition in U.S. cycling is finally taking root.

Phinney and Talansky had very different neo-pro seasons. Hampered by injury early on, the much-heralded Phinney realized a few months into the season that he'd gone into it unprepared and unduly confident -- a bad combination.

Once he was physically sound, Phinney re-committed himself to a more professional training schedule. In a recent telephone interview, he said he didn't ride enough in the offseason and uttered the words every parent longs to hear: "I should have listened to my Dad," (Davis Phinney, who was on the leading edge of the first wave of American riders in the 1980s).

"I'm glad I made the bulk of my mistakes this year," Taylor Phinney said. "I was fairly blinded to what I was doing and what I should be doing. I finished last year on top of the world and maybe it was a little bit too much success. Yes, I'm very talented, but I also have to put in the necessary work.

"In the offseason, I wasn't partying or fooling around. I was at the gym lifting weights and I gained too much muscle. I had a new girlfriend I was probably trying to impress too much, and I had just signed a contract for a lot of money. It all just kind of fell into my legs."

Talansky began racing in February, stayed healthy except for a minor back issue in Paris-Nice, made his presence known by getting into a few breakaways at the Vuelta and won't dismount until next month (he plans to race in the Tour of Beijing in early October). It's been a heady year for the Florida native, who broke into the pro ranks via an unconventional path that included a collegiate national championship in 2008.

With a few days of rest and perspective, Talansky said the Vuelta "made me really excited for the future -- it was really important to me to get the start, and to finish. A year ago I was doing U-23 races.

"If you go in [to a debut Grand Tour] thinking you're going to set the world on fire, well, only a handful of guys in the world can do that. I can see why everyone says the third week is what makes a difference -- every miniscule detail of recovery and rest will pay off in the third week. It's not that somebody gets better in the third week. They just get less tired."