Will Talansky thrive at Ironman? The pros weigh in

Can a pro cyclist win Ironman?

It’s a question that cyclists and triathletes have mulled for decades. Swiss rider Karin Thurig balanced both disciplines simultaneously, winning a five Ironman races and two UCI world time trial championships in the mid-2000s. Steve Bauer won Ironman Lake Placid in 2001 after retiring from his decorated pro cycling career. Chann McRae, Rolf Aldag, Kai Hundertmarck, and even Laurent Jalabert all gave it a try over the years.

Andrew Talansky is the latest pro cyclist to try his hand at triathlon. Talansky recently revealed his plans to race Ironman in 2018, having competed in cross-country running and swimming as a child. So how will he fare? I spoke with two of the strongest cyclists in Ironman, Andrew Starykowicz and (now retired pro) Chris Lieto, to get their takes.

How will Talansky’s strength in cycling shape his Ironman?

Lieto: He will be strong of course, but I think it may take some time to get used to the bike effort. Chann McRae came in and everyone thought this Postal guy is going to kill it, and it didn’t happen. He was a lightweight climber and the Ironman effort was different. The road guys are accustomed to riding hard for four or five hours. There’s a lot of cruising. When you’re done, you’re done.

Starykowicz: The current Ironman rules say the no-draft zone is 12 meters. No matter what anybody says, you can feel the pull at 12 meters. So in a big professional race, you have guys riding 10-15 meters apart, and those guys are getting towed along. If Andrew has a bad swim, he will be playing catch-up and pushing his own wind. So his advantage may be negligible if there are 40 guys riding together.

Where will Talansky struggle?

Lieto: So much about Ironman is how you manage your nutrition. During a five-hour bike race, when you’re sitting in, you have time to take in calories. You can drink, you can eat a sandwich or a bar, and that plays a huge role in your effort. In Ironman, you’re at your limit for four or five hours, and that’s just on the bike. Your heart rate is at a level where consuming calories and fluid is tough, and you always end up being in a deficit. So that’s a whole different ballgame for how you’ve built your energy systems as an endurance athlete. We’ve seen some cyclists come in and they don’t know how to dose those efforts.

Starykowicz: For him, he may be used to having a director giving him tactical information in his ear. Ironman is a really different world. You get zero feedback on where anybody is in most races. So you have no tactical information, especially if you’re the leader. You just gotta go. You’re going by feel instead of direction by the information that is being given to you.

How much time can he lose in the swim and still be competitive?

Lieto: If he can’t get good at swimming, then it’s all over. If he’s more than five minutes behind the top guys then he’s always going to have a hard time. Just because he’s a great cyclist doesn’t mean he can catch them. That is the key factor. The top [Ironman] guys are no joke. They can ride. If he’s within 2-3 minutes of the main group in the swim then watch out.

Starykowicz: We’ve seen [Mirinda Carfrae] lose a ton of time in the swim and still come back to win. On the guy’s side it’s different. If he’s five minutes back then he’s out.

Where will Talansky have an advantage?

Lieto: He’s 28 so he’s actually really young in Ironman years. I didn’t ride a bike until I was 25. I had a swimming background with no running. I started from zero, and by 29 I started doing well. I didn’t hit my prime until 37 or 38, and I would have continued to get better if I didn’t get hurt. Andrew already has a lifetime of doing endurance training. I could see him do relatively well in that first year. It will then depend on what shape his swimming background is in.

Starykowicz: I don’t know if he will have an advantage. The top guys at Ironman have been training at loads that far exceed what he’s been doing. Just racing cycling may have handicapped him because your body can only cycle so much. If you’re doing biking, swimming, and running, you can do far more combined work with all three. He will have a big engine relative to age groupers. But compared to professionals? I don’t think so.

What factor will determine his Ironman success?

Lieto: It just takes time. If he has time to put into it, then I think he will adapt. He can get there quicker, depending on coaching. It may take him two years. He has good muscle mass, so I’m sure he will adapt quickly. He has that running background, so that will also play a huge part.I’m not worrying about his skill set. He’s amazing at climbing and time trials, so the question is whether his engine can cross over.

Starykowicz: I’m honestly worried about the guy’s health. The marathon is hard, and he’s going to have to train for it slowly. If he doesn’t have a ton of running under his belt, he could get injured in a bad way. He will be able to train at a high level, but it’s all about whether his body can take it. We’ve seen talented people get taken down by injuries and not be able to show their potential. There’s a high probability of overdoing it, especially if he is super motivated right away.

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Andrew Talansky switches to triathlon

A month after retiring from pro road racing, Andrew Talansky announced on Thursday that he is making the switch to triathlon with the goal of competing in the Ironman distance.

“After a short, restful break, I’m officially un-retired and ready to share my next chapter!” Talansky wrote on his Instagram. “Growing up in Florida I swam and ran cross-country competitively before picking up cycling. See where this is headed? Triathlon, and what’s often considered the ultimate test of mind, body, and spirit: Ironman.”

Talansky announced his retirement from Cannondale-Drapac in early September following a nine-year professional career that began in 2008 and included an overall victory at the Criterium du Dauphine, stage wins at Paris-Nice and the Amgen Tour of California, 10th overall at the Tour de France and 5th at the Vuelta a Espana. He rode with various iterations of the Slipstream program for almost the entirety of his career, beginning in 2010.

Talansky won’t be the first pro road rider to take a step into triathlon, though most do so at an amateur level. Fabian Cancellara just completed a triathlon in Spain, Laurent Jalabert has completed Ironmans, and, of course, Lance Armstrong tried to come back as a multi-sport athlete. Talansky, who is just 28, appears set to make a second career of the sport.

Talansky and his agent did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the move.

Sponsors or a new team have not yet been announced, though Talansky did note that he will be “supported by a great group of partners.” He will also use the platform to further his work with charitable causes.

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VN pod, ep. 49: Vuelta; Talansky retirement; Cannondale crowdfunding

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

Who is “Superman” Lopez, and how did he get that great nickname? The young Colombian has already won two stages of the Vuelta a España and could take another before the week is out. Could he make it on to the podium? Fred Dreier, Caley Fretz, Spencer Powlison and Andrew Hood have some hot takes on the final grand tour of the season and its feared stage to the top of the Angliru.

Then, a chat with Toms Skuijns about the uncertainty that hovers over Cannondale-Drapac and discussion of Andrew Talansky’s surprise retirement announcement.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and Fretz.

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Andrew Talansky announces retirement from pro cycling

Andrew Talansky, one of the most successful American GC riders over the past five years, announced his retirement from professional cycling Tuesday.

The 28-year-old Californian posted the news on his Instagram account. He said, “I’ve lived out a dream and I have Slipstream Sports and you, the fans, to thank for that.”

Talansky was fifth overall in last year’s Vuelta a España. He also won the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné and was second overall in Paris-Nice the year prior. His best result in 2017 was a win in stage 5 of the Amgen Tour of California, a win that snapped his Cannondale-Drapac team’s winless drought in the WorldTour.

The future of his Cannondale-Drapac team is in jeopardy. Management company Slipstream sports announced that the team might fold at the end of 2017 due to a sponsorship shortfall. It is currently running a crowdfunding campaign in an attempt to raise $7 million.

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Three American pros look back on their collegiate careers

The United States’s largest grassroots cycling program is the U.S. collegiate racing scene, which now supports more than 300 varsity and club programs across the U.S. Every year throngs of new racers take their first pedal strokes toward amateur glory in a collegiate race, where the low-pressure environment builds camaraderie and a love of the sport.

Elite riders also race in college, and every few years the collegiate system helps a talented youngster bridge the gap between amateur racing and the professional ranks.

Some of these graduates even reach the Tour de France. Current WorldTour riders Andrew Talansky and Brent Bookwalter both attended Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, and Kiel Riejnen went to the University of Colorado in Boulder. We recently caught up with the three men to discuss their time in the collegiate ranks.

VeloNews: What role did collegiate cycling play in your development as a rider?

Brent Bookwalter: I think it was the bridge from being an aspiring junior to being a pro. It’s hard to make that jump, and I don’t think I was physically, mentally, or emotionally ready to make that jump. I grew a lot as a person and met a lot of awesome people and developed as a person more than even as a rider.

And there was some pressure. My college career was the start of this varsity collegiate cycling movement. Schools were throwing money behind some racers. We’d go to some races and guys would be partying and drinking beer and hanging out in the sun, and our coach is like, ‘Hey guys, we’re paying for you to be here. You gotta deliver.’ Myself and Aaron Bradford were brought in as aces to kick-start the program and put it on the map. There was some pressure. We got some heckles from other teams: ‘Oh you guys are the racers, you aren’t really out here doing what collegiate cycling is all about.’

We struck that nice balance: less pressure than being on a pro team but still some accountability.

Kiel Reijnen: That first year we won a lot because we didn’t take cycling crazy seriously. It was the warm-up for the elite racing season and we were there for fun. Lifting that burden of being so performance-oriented makes a big difference in the results. I think that was a good lesson for my career in the long-term. I made some great friends, friends I still have today.

Andrew Talansky: Collegiate racing is one of the few places where you can see how much of a team sport cycling is. Nobody is getting paid. Nobody is trying to get a contract. Everybody is there because they want to be. People will wholeheartedly help each other — and not for money or anything else — but because they truly want to do that. You’re friends and you feel like family and a close-knit group of people. As you move into the professional ranks, people’s individual ambitions often outweigh team goals. It’s hard to get everybody on a team — eight guys, nine guys, let alone 30 people — on the same page. In collegiate racing it’s everything good about the sport.

VN: What’s the story behind your best result in college?

BB: My real breakthrough was my first collegiate mountain bike nationals in Angel Fire, New Mexico. I won the short track and it wasn’t without incident. With one lap to go I got tangled with some guys and crashed really bad and hit my leg on a chain ring. It splayed my calf open pretty bad. There’s blood just going everywhere, we’re trying to untangle our bikes, and it was a mess. I was able to sprint away for the win. That was confirmation that I was on on the right path.

My most gratifying win was the cyclocross national championships. That was the last collegiate title I won. I was battling with Matt Shriver from Fort Lewis College up in Providence, Rhode Island. It was snowy conditions and brought me back to my roots in Michigan. I pulled it off.

KR: We won every race in our conference one year with the team. And then at collegiate nationals I got second in the road race, second in the team time trial, and I got held up in the crit because of a crash. In the road race there was a break up the road so I bridged across. In the final 10 kilometers the field finally got motivated and chased us down. Alex Boyd was just in front of me, so I let his wheel go, because I thought we were pretty much caught. Then the field just stopped chasing and he sat out in front of us for 20 meters until the finish. He won and I won the sprint for second. It was such a college racing moment.

AT: It was the [2008] national championships and Lees-McRae had undoubtedly the best team. We won the men and women’s road races. We won the crit and the men and women’s omnium. Everybody was having fun. Everybody was there because they loved riding their bike. It’s the true heart and soul of the sport. When I look back, it’s fond memories and good times.

VN: Do you have a story that best describes the fun of collegiate cycling?

BB: I still have this image burned into my brain from one of these guys who raced in our conference. He had a big thumbs-up tattoo on his ass cheek. He did every race with his shorts pulled down below his butt, just riding through the pack. He’d pop up around the corner and there would be his thumbs-up tattoo.

KR: I spent a lot of miles on the road. And I slept in some closets and had a lot of fun. It definitely made me grateful for what I have later on in life.

AT: I don’t really have any out-there stories. I only have fond memories.

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