Suffering (and Laughing) to the finish at L’Avenir
Ian Boswell was recently in France at the Tour de L’Avenir, where his USA Cycling teammate Andrew Talansky was fighting for the overall win. Talansky finished second overall after seven days of racing. Boswell sent Cycling Action these daily blog posts by his USA Cycling teammate and U23 national champ Ben King.
By Ben King
Stage 5: 153 km
Friday, Sept. 10
“Dude we sound drunk,” Taylor said after a fit of delirious laughter. “I know, it’s not even funny. How are we going to get over that mountain tomorrow?” “I don’t know… ” Stage 4 had driven us to a new level of fatigue.
It took only 20 km for a massive groupetto to form on stage 5, leaving Butler, Talansky, and myself in a lead group of 40. I fought to stay there to care for our leaders. A break dangled ahead of us throughout the twisty descent and rollers to the finish. Our diminished group sprinted for 6th, and after all my work for the team I indulged myself at the finish. Second wheel with 200 meters to go, I waited to unleash. Just as I stood up to accelerate, I felt a hand pull on my hip sling me backward. I went Southern VA redneck on that Lithuanian for one uncontrollable minute, not because it cost me a top 10 finish, but because I almost crashed at over 50 km/hr.
Stage 6: 210 km
Saturday, Sept. 11
The queen stage. We spent our rest week at the base of the finishing climb, and (team Director) Pat Jonker talked about how we would rip the finish to shreds. Our plan depended on so many variables, like having Talansky close in GC, and most crucially, having our whole team in the front group after six days of racing. I crashed at the very base of the first giant climb for an extra challenge. Actually, I thought I would never catch back on. I steadily picked my way past weaving defeated racers, until 50 guys remained up the road. A Brit, who I know to be strong, fell off the leader’s pace, and together we reeled them in. My relief turned to frustration when every rider I had passed up the climb materialized back in the group. They had held onto a car up the climb.
The Belgians (the new yellow jersey team) let a break go and rode a fast tempo for the next four hours. Thirty km from the Col du Risoul, the finishing 12 km climb, Team USA congregated at the front of the race. An increase in bumping and nervous energy made it stressful to keep our team organized at the front because our plan depended on it. Thirty km from the finish on a winding rolling road, I hit the front and started mashing with two Belgians. I pulled my heart, lungs and legs out for 10 km, and the field began to split. We caught some of the GC contenders napping at the back, but our entire team rode at the front. I led the charge until complete failure and got out of the way. Taylor took over next, then Howes. One by one, we unleashed ourselves until only 30 riders remained to start the climb. Once again, we domesiques (helpers) nursed ourselves to the finish, and once again Talansky rewarded our work with a second place moving into 6th overall.
Stage 7: 13.5 km Uphill TT
Sunday, Sept. 12
The Col du Risoul had another 40 minutes of suffering in store for us. With no pressure on our shoulders, Boz, Howes, Taylor, and I focused on finishing within the 25% time cut, a potential dilemma. It would be easy to lose that much time to the stage winner. Talansky, however, focused with vengeance. We awaited his arrival after finishing — all within the time cut — and sipped our vanilla recovery drinks. Time trials start in reverse general classification, so when Talansky burst across the line one minute faster than the previous best time, we detained our ecstasy in anxious anticipation. The five rider’s still on course had only a small time buffer. Fifth, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd all fell victim to Talansky in GC. One more rider, the yellow jersey, to overthrow. They say a rider can do magical things with that jersey on his back, and that little Columbian proved worthy setting a new best time by 48 seconds to win the overall.
The race began with a prologue, so why not end with an epilogue? ProTour directors stated as a matter of fact that our team was the strongest in the race. Maybe not individually, but collectively. I cannot disagree. Nothing to regret. Talansky quoted Steve Prefontaine saying, “Is there anything worse than finishing second?” No, nothing is worse if you could have won. But we have nothing to regret. Not even the flat tire and time penalty on stage 3 affected the final GC. In this case, second overall, defending the yellow jersey for two days, and five top 10 finishes against the greatest U23 riders in the world in peak condition is as good as it gets.
Now we’re driving to Belgium where we depart Europe. We’ll pedal the bikes for 45 minutes tomorrow, and I expect to feel broken. But the absurd truth is that we could race another 200 km stage in the morning, and often that’s what’s demanded. This is the “Baby Tour de France.” Imagine reading two more weeks of these blogs.