By Julien Pretot
PORTO VECCHIO, France (Reuters) - Andrew Talansky is a changed man in a changed sport and that is enough for the young American to aim for the top 10 of the Tour de France in his first appearance in the race.
The 24-year-old prospect finished seventh overall in last year's Vuelta without a team designed around him, and he has been showing he is a force to be reckoned with in the early season stage races.
A cocky youngster has been modelled into a focused rider by his Garmin-Sharp team's old guard ready to be part of the new generation gradually taking command of cycling as the sport deals with the remnants of the Lance Armstrong era.
"If you ask David Millar about two years ago, I guarantee he's going to tell you what I was like and I know what I was like," Talansky told Reuters in an interview.
"I showed up at the team, I was arguably one of the best Under-23 riders in the world and I came to the team thinking that I was really good, that I was going to show up and really just be good immediately.
"I learned that wasn't true but I still acted like it was true at times. I was always trying to prove something and guys like David and Christian (Vande Velde) have helped me learn to stay calm at races.
"They've helped me grow not just as a bike racer but as a person. They've helped me grow towards a leadership role where I can be somebody my team mates are excited to race with and help," he said after finishing sixth overall at the Criterium International two-day race.
Talansky also had a team working for him at Paris-Nice, where he finished second overall earlier this month having worn the yellow jersey following a stage win.
One of several U.S. prospects who have grown up watching Armstrong cheat his way to Tour de France glory, Talansky believes it is now safe to be enthusiastic about cycling.
"The first thing I point out to people who want to say 'why can we believe in cycling now?' is that now you have guys like (Frenchman) Thibaut Pinot who on his first year on the Tour is top 10," Talansky explained.
Pinot, 22, a member of the FDJ team at the forefront of the MPCC (Movement for Credible Cycling), won a mountain stage and took 10th place overall in his first appearance on the Tour last year.
"You also have (American) Tejay (van Garderen) getting fifth and best young rider in his second Tour," said Talansky, who will be a protected rider within Garmin-Sharp in this year's Tour.
"It should give a lot of hope to young riders," he said.
"You never saw that before, you never saw somebody coming in their first, second or even third year and be top 10 in grand Tours.
"It gives me a lot of confidence. You can get to the Tour and race to the top 10 of the Tour, there is no reason why you can't now."
Talansky, a 1.75 metres tall climber with good time-trialing skills, will continue his season at the April 1-6 Tour of the Basque country, where he will aim for a top five overall finish before setting his sights on the Tour de Romandie from April 23-28.
He will then take part in the Criterium du Dauphine (June 2-9) as a final warm-up for the Tour, which starts from Porto Vecchio, Corsica, on June 29.
"We will go to the Tour with (Giro champion) Ryder (Hesjedal) having been top 10 of the Tour, Christian (Vande Velde) having been top five on the Tour and David (Millar) has done countless Tours and won stages," said Talansky.
"He's been there for Christian, for Bradley (Wiggins when the Briton was at Garmin)... I just trust them, I know they'll guide me though my first Tour."
Faith is the key for Talansky, who has earned the trust of his team.
"I'm showing that when they send a team to support me, I can deliver a good result," he said.
(Editing By Alison Wildey)