Americans Abroad: Costa & Eisenhart at the Tour of Britain

taylor-eisenhart-bmc-twitter
Taylor Eisenhart, riding as staigiare for BMC (@tjeisenhart Twitter)

Taylor Eisenhart and Adrien Costa, two of America’s brightest young talents, made the trip across the Atlantic last week for the Tour of Britain. The week-long race marked the latest stage in their apprenticeships at two of the biggest teams in pro cycling – BMC for Eisenhart and Etixx-QuickStep for Costa.

22-year-old Eisenhart, who has raced for BMC’s Development squad for the past four seasons, was in high spirits as he prepared to start the race in Glasgow.

“It’s a dream come true for sure,” Eisenhart said of racing for BMC. “This is for sure the biggest race I’ve ever done – it’s like a show here – the crowds, everything. I’m more than excited to get this race going.”

The Utah native started his apprenticeship at his home race, August’s Tour of Utah, where he finished a strong seventh overall and supported team leader Darwin Atapuma as the Colombian finished fourth.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting that result. When we hit the first climbing day I looked back and there was nobody else on my wheel and just five guys up the road,” he said. “I was like ‘ok, we’ll see where this momentum is going’ and I was like ‘woah I can hang with the best at this race.’”

It’s a run of form he kept going at the Tour du Limousin, helping teammate Joey Rosskopf to the overall victory, and something he hopes to keep up this week. “By the time we hit the summit finish on stage six hopefully I’m the last guy for Rohan [Dennis] or I’m also up there in the mix,” he said. “Especially considering how I was climbing at Utah – I’m more than capable of being up there on those stages.”

Costa was also going well at Utah, ending up in second on GC – ahead of seasoned pros such as Andrew Talansky and Darwin Atapuma. Then he was off to France for the famous U23 proving ground, the Tour de l’Avenir – he took third overall to cap a great August.

Britain was Costa’s first race with Etixx-QuickStep, though he was already familiar with the team having taken part in a training camp with them back in December 2015. Racing with the team was a different experience though.

“I don’t really have any personal ambitions – I’m just trying to help the guys and see what I can learn,” he said at the start of the week. “I want to have some fun and I’m excited to discover this whole new level of racing.”

In the end Costa’s experience was a short-lived one, crashing hard on day two after his wheel slid on a reflector in the road as he ate a gel. He struggled on to the finish, rolling across the line in his blood-stained and ripped kit, over 23 minutes behind the winner – teammate Julien Vermote.

Suffering deep wounds to his elbow and side, he was off to hospital for surgery to close them – but not before a 24-hour wait. His race was over, but he remained with the team for the rest of the week.

“The cuts were right down to the bone on my elbows and on my abdomen, so it would’ve been too painful to clean and stitch while I was conscious,” Costa said outside the team bus before stage four. “Unfortunately I think if it had been on a normal road it would’ve been just a normal road rash sort of a deal but it was a really gritty, heavy road so obviously it cut me a lot deeper than normal.”

Costa, heavily bandaged, was smiling but clearly devastated to be out of his first race with the Belgian squad.

“It really sucks because you don’t get this opportunity every day, so for me that was the biggest bummer,” he said. “The wounds should be pretty much healed in three, four, five days so I just have to be careful with the bandaging. Hopefully I have a couple of races next week, so that should be nice.”

Meanwhile Eisenhart soldiered on, and looked to be improving as the week went on, taking sixteenth place in the Bristol time trial. After the summit finish of Haytor on stage six – where Eisenhart worked hard to help teammate Rohan Dennis take third – the Utahan reflected on his week.

“The whole race has been really hard – a lot harder than I honestly expected,” he said. “I think these power climbs are really just nutting me up. It’s different to getting on a 20km climb and setting a tempo.”

“The climbs – this whole race, just the style of it – it’s a lot more punchy, aggressive. It’s always very nervous in the bunch – honestly it’s been a fun race but it’s been tough.”

While Costa was forced out of the race early, Eisenhart left it much later – abandoning on the penultimate lap of the London criterium. The tough week eventually proved a bit too much for him, according to BMC DS Jackson Stewart, who said that he and teammate Loïc Vliegen had been suffering from stomach cramps.

He goes home having helped deliver team leader Dennis to a second overall and a stage win in Bristol, while Costa’s team went away with two stages and a spell in the yellow jersey.

But the calendar rolls on, and so will the American duo. Both headed to Belgium for the next stage of their apprenticeships. On September 17th they race the GP Van Petegem, while Costa’s first race back was the GP de Wallonie.

Looking further ahead, the duo’s futures are set, at least in the short term. Eisenhart was coy about exactly what he’d be doing in 2017 though.

“I’m still keeping that under wraps,” said Eisenhart. “I can say that I’m extremely excited with the team that I signed with for next year, and they’ve had a lot of belief in me for a while now. As each days goes by I think more and more about it and I know it’s the right place to be.”

Meanwhile Costa will return to Continental team Axeon Hagens Berman for 2017, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the teenager move on to the WorldTour after that. “It’ll be good to stay one more year at U23 level – at least one more year,” he said. “It was super fun this year, and it was only my first year as an U23, so there’s still time.”

So the Tour of Britain may not have been as positive an experience as the two young Americans might have hoped for, but it’s just the start of a new experience, a new chapter in their careers – and there’s a long way to go yet.

On the comeback trail with Taylor Phinney

Phinney with his fans at the Tour of Britain team presentation (Sweetspot)
Phinney with his fans at the Tour of Britain team presentation (Sweetspot)

May 26th 2014 – that was the day Taylor Phinney’s world stood still. Flung into a guardrail while speeding down a descent at the U.S. road race championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the then-23-year-old’s left leg was shattered in two places after a race motorbike attempted to pass him on the inside of a corner.

It was a potentially career-ending injury, but now he’s back. Seemingly back to his best too, with a stage win at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in his native Colorado, only his second race back.

Now he’s in Britain, racing here for the first time, and looking ahead to the World Championships in the USA at the end of the month.

Phinney was in a positive mood after the first stage of the race, which finished in Wrexham. With BMC’s best finisher being Floris Gerts in eleventh, the Coloradan had a different reason for his upbeat attitude.

“There was sweet scenery on the first climb – that climb was very beautiful. I spent the whole way up just looking around,” he says. “It felt like I was on a very fast guided tour of North Wales, which was fun.”

Back to winning ways at the USAPCC in August (Cor Vos)
Back to winning ways at the USAPCC in August (Cor Vos)

While Phinney could spend the first stage of the race admiring the scenery, there are more serious matters up ahead, with stage wins on the agenda for the young squad.

“We don’t necessarily have huge GC ambitions, but we want to get a stage or two,” Phinney says. “So we want to do that however we can make that happen – they’d probably come via breakaways or on the harder days I would guess.”

The team has several options, with Dylan Teuns (top ten last year as a stagiaire) returning. Promising Swiss neo-pro Stefan Küng is also racing, and has already shown his ability on similar terrain with an impressive 25km solo victory at the Tour de Romandie.

At 30-years-old, climber Danilo Wyss is the veteran of the squad, while stagiaire Gerts will get his chance to prove why he deserves to move up from the BMC Development Team for good.

Then there’s Phinney, as hungry as ever, but with his eyes ultimately on a bigger prize.

“I would love to win a stage here, and I think my legs will improve towards the end of the race. That’s how they seem to be these days,” he says. “But in terms of personal goals the Worlds is what I’m looking towards. Obviously with them being in Virginia it means a lot to me.”

Tasting gold in the 2010 U23 TT Worlds (Cor Vos)
Tasting gold in the 2010 U23 TT Worlds (Cor Vos)

Phinney has a varied history with the Worlds, winning the U23 time trial in 2010. Two years later in the senior race he missed out on gold to Tony Martin by six seconds, while his crash meant he wasn’t part of BMC’s winning ride in last season’s team time trial.

Indeed, talk soon turns back to that crash, the crash that threatened Phinney’s career but ultimately caused him to miss fifteen months of racing during his prime. Surely there’s some trepidation coming back to the peloton after such a long time out?

“Actually I wasn’t so nervous, partly because I was racing at home in Utah and Colorado – I’ve always been comfortable in those races,” says Phinney. “It was a fun next step, and coming here is the next step beyond that – the smaller roads, the twists and turns – you know. But I’m just trying to have fun with it.”

“I still have to stay on top of my rehab – my left leg is still a work in progress in terms of regaining the strength, but I’ll just keep on trucking.”

There’s much to say about the cause of his crash too – a subject that has reared its head in recent weeks as Jakob Fuglsang, Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Sergio Paulinho have all been knocked from their bikes by passing race motorbikes.

Greg Van Avermaet, one of many moto crash victims this season (Cor Vos)
Phinney’s teammate Greg Van Avermaet, one of many moto crash victims this season (Cor Vos)

“I don’t really know how it can be solved you know. It’s been a strange year with all the run-ins with motorcycles,” he says. “Maybe the answer is in the education [of the drivers] or maybe just have less motos on the road.”

“I think the main issue is that we never find out who those people are. It’s like – there’s a human on the moto, it’s not the moto itself. Right now they’re just guys with helmets on and not knowing who they are just kinda dehumanises them.”

So far though, Phinney has stayed out of trouble, and he’s still keen to emphasise the positives of motos in a bike race.

“In races like this we’re really thankful for the motos – with all the road furniture and stuff these guys really help us out and warn us about what’s coming up.”

Face-to-face with a potential early retirement just last year, Phinney is now back in the peloton, back where he belongs. As for this week, well there’s more scenery to take in, but another win would be nice.

Future Stars: Dylan Teuns

Dylan Teuns at the 2014 Tour de Bretagne
Dylan Teuns wins at the 2014 Tour de Bretagne

It’s the second in the series and another Belgian – BMC staigiare Dylan Teuns. He has already signed a contract with the team, which will have a more youth-oriented feel next year as Joey Rosskopf, Manuel Senni, Campbell Flakemore and Stefan Küng join the likes of Rick Zabel and Rohan Dennis on the roster.

Teuns will ride for BMC next season (K.Hemerijckx)
Teuns will ride for BMC next season (K.Hemerijckx)

22 year-old Teuns hails from Diest in the Flemish Brabant, not too far from the hilly region of Limburg. Indeed the hills have been his favoured terrain thus far in his career, though he has had some strong results on the cobbles too. As a junior he raced for Avia, a team affiliated with Omega Pharma – QuickStep. In his two years there he showed his talent in the northern classics, beating the Yates brothers to take sixth place at the Junior Ronde Van Vlaanderen in 2009 and winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Juniors the following year.

2011 saw Teuns move up to the Continental Jong Vlaanderen – Bauknecht team. It was a tough first year, with no racing before April and no major results to speak of. Things improved season-by-season though – the following year he took fourth overall at the Ronde de l’Isard, an important race on the espoirs scene. He also raced the Tour de l’Avenir as well as getting a taste of the action alongside top pros at the Belgian Championships and Paris-Bruxelles.

Teuns (left) during his final year at Jong Vlaanderen/Ventilair-Steria
Teuns (left) during his final year at Jong Vlaanderen/Ventilair-Steria

The next edition of the Ronde de l’Isard saw another consistent performance from Teuns – finishing in the top ten every day and ending up third overall. Fifth place in Liège – Bastogne – Liège Espoirs was another highlight of 2013 as he confirmed his talent for racing in the hills. A stage win at the Triptyque Ardennais backed this up.

I know what you’re thinking – he seems a good prospect but a future star? I’d be inclined to agree but his performances in 2014 have been much improved. After three years at Jong Vlaanderen he moved to BMC’s Development Team at the start of this season. At Liège – Bastogne – Liège Espoirs he was narrowly outsprinted by Anthony Turgis in the velodrome (yes, it finishes on a velodrome). Winning the senior version of the race is his dream, and he certainly seems to have the characteristics to suit.

Later in the month, Teuns grabbed his first win of 2014 at the hilltop finish of stage three of the Tour de Bretagne. He finished second overall on GC after a consistent performance. Teuns’ next big result came in Belgium in July, where he lost out in a two-man sprint for the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Beloften.

Dylan Teuns wins from the break (girovalledaosta.it)
Celebrating a stage win at the 2014 Giro della Valle d’Aosta (girovalledaosta.it)

His last race before joining BMC’s senior team as a stagiaire was the Giro della Valle d’Osta. Stage 3 saw him solo away from his breakmates with 20km remaining to take the win on the undulating stage to Morillon. The Tour of Utah was his first race as part of the senior squad – he wasn’t eyecatching but took the young riders jersey nonetheless.

Soon after he took a win at the Tour de l’Avenir. On the summit finish of Carroz d’Arâches he attacked the peloton with 2km remaining and held them all off for his third victory of the season, and his first in the famous Belgian colours.

Teuns wins at the Tour de l'Avenir
Teuns wins at the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir

It was back to BMC in September and off to the Tour of Britain, a race he had a lot of praise for when I spoke to him on the final day. He was in contention for the podium until the stages in London, where he dropped down to tenth overall in the time trial. A highlight of the race was third place on the hilly finish in Bristol.

Sixth at the GP Wallonie followed (teammate Greg Van Avermaet was the winner), and he participated in the U23 World Championship Road Race for the first time. Teuns ended the season on a strong note, taking second at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia and on the attack from the chasing group in the finale of Paris-Tours.

BMC looks like a good place for Teuns to go next season. With a new group of younger riders at the team and some veterans leaving there should be a good deal of chances for him and others to prove themselves in the WorldTour. Some of the best puncheurs in the sport (Gilbert, Van Avermaet) are already at the team and they seem like ideal mentors for him. If Van Avermaet can help Teuns out with his sprint then he could make a formidable package in hills in years to come.

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Follow Dylan on Twitter.