• Talansky: primed for a Grand Tour podium? (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The unenviable legacy left behind by Lance Armstrong's doping heyday is still being felt, leaving a generation of young Americans expected to fill the void despite being unable to, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
14 Sep 2016 - 8:02 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2016 - 8:04 PM

"Really, the goal is to prove that I am a rider capable of competing in the Grand Tours, and I think this was a huge step in that direction," Cannondale-Drapac rider Andrew Talansky, prior to the final stage of the Vuelta a España, told VeloNews Europe correspondent Andrew Hood.

The way the American they call 'the Pit Bull' was talking himself up last Sunday, you think he'd almost won the race, or finished on the podium. For me, his performance was less than convincing, and more resembled a sheep than a belligerent hound.

So much so that you'd be forgiven for asking whether he even rode the Vuelta.

"It's what happens when you have someone who won the Tour seven times and did for cycling in his country what Wiggins did for cycling in Britain - only to have the results voided six years later."

Fifth overall may be friggin awesome for the 27-year-old - granted, his best Grand Tour outing since 2012 when he finished seventh at the Vuelta - but was there anything about the way he rode that told you he could one day win, other than through the misfortune of others? There wasn't a day he finished in the top five. [Out of his three top-ten stage finishes his best was seventh on the Stage 19 time trial, a creditable, albeit unremarkable, two minutes behind Froome; the day to the Ausbisque (Stage 14) saw his optimum performance in the mountains where he ran eighth, notable because he was the best of the GC riders.] Nor was there an occasion where, like those who finished ahead of him, he was prepared to risk his position in search of a better one.

In fact, it was the most anonymous fifth place performance in a Grand Tour I'd seen since, well, Tejay van Garderen at the 2012 and 2014 Tours de France.

We're told American cycling's next big thing has got himself "into a slump" by BMC Racing's general manager Jim Ochowicz. "He's just in a slump," he parroted to Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson. "I'm not going to describe what that means. He's not performing. That's obvious."

After riding anonymously around Spain for a fortnight, the 28-year-old called it quits during the seventeenth stage. The plan was to target a stage win, help GC leader Samuel Sánchez, and get another Grand Tour in his legs in the same season. He achieved none of those goals. "He's a Grand Tour rider and it's not like he was the only guy to do the Tour and then do the Vuelta. Pretty much all the contenders went. It was good for him to do another three-week race rather than going to San Sebastian or the Canadian races," defended Ochowicz of the team's decision to send him to the Vuelta.

I need a lot of convincing for someone to honestly tell me that van Garderen is a Grand Tour rider. I need even more (actually, I probably need to be drugged or hypnotised) for someone to tell me he's a Grand Tour leader.

Contrast the fifth place of his team-mate Richie Porte at this year's Tour de France, or Esteban Chaves' fifth place at the 2015 Vuelta, or the Yates brothers' respective fourth and sixth places from this year's Tour and Vuelta; one begins to understand a top-five result only tells you so much, and of itself is no guarantee of future success - or improvement. Talansky essentially took four seasons to move two places on GC at the Vuelta. Van Garderen at the 2014 Tour, meanwhile, simply repeated what he'd done two seasons earlier (in a year when Froome and Contador crashed out) and on both occasions finished more than 11 minutes behind overall champions Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali.

It's what happens when you have someone who won the Tour seven times and did for cycling in his country what Wiggins did for cycling in Britain - only to have the results voided six years later and leave a gaping hole not just in the palmarès of past Tour champions but in the collective consciousness of American cycling fans, and, among the wider public, a tsunami of cynicism that, no matter how squeaky clean this new generation of Yanks may be, is impossible to dispel.

America no longer wants another Armstrong but they do want another Greg LeMond, or at least another Andy Hampsten. Hell, even a Chris Horner, their last Grand Tour winner (not to mention the oldest), will do.

Right now, Talansky and van Garderen are the best they've got but as good as they may be (both can be exceptional week-long stage racers) they're not going to win a three-week bike race around Italy, France, or Spain. (It would require a minor miracle just to make the podium.) Neither are Joe Dombrowski or Ian Boswell it seems, the next-best in line.

Harsh as it sounds, if they are to find their next LeMond or Hampsten or Horner, they need to look elsewhere.