Yesterday at the Merco Cycling Classic time trial in a stacked field that included some of the top time trialists of the United States, youngster Evan Huffman of CalGiant/Specialized pulled off an upset, surprising everyone by setting the fastest time over the 12-mile course.
“I’m definitely excited, I’m a little bit surprised that I finished so well, I’m not really surprised with my performance.” Huffman told podiuminsight about his ride.
“I wouldn’t even say that it was an extraordinary day for me, I did similar power numbers that I’ve been doing in training, I guess I just got everything right with the equipment, the position as well. It’s a great confidence boost for the rest of the year knowing that I can beat these guys.”
Huffman clocked 24:55 with an average speed of 28.7 mph on the out-and-back course.By besting the likes of riders such Tom Zirbel and Scott Zwizanski, both of Optum and Ben Jacques-Maynes of BISSELL, Huffman not only tuned heads but took the GC lead for the first time in his short cycling career.
Though Huffman had been working on his time-trialing last season pulling out wins on local races at the end of the year, to win the CalCup series, he thinks his improvement might come from having a TT bike all winter long.
“I haven’t really changed a whole lot,” he said of his time-trialing. “I just had more time and I just keep getting better, I just made big improvements over the winter, for whatever reason, it really clicked, finally doing similar power on the time trial bike than the road bike. I think a lot of that is that this is the first winter that I’ve had a bike to train on and it’s the same one that I raced on last year and I’m racing on this year. So there wasn’t really any big changes and I was able to get miles on it and just keep improving.”
A long 2011 road season which ended rather abruptly with the cancellation of the Tour of Guatemala which Huffman had planned to race with the USA National Team led to good early fitness with a few weeks off the bike.
“I’m definitely fitter than I’ve ever been this time of year, and probably fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not too worried that I’m too fit too soon, I think that I actually still have room to improve.” Huffman explained. “I’ve also been very careful to take time off when I need it and not really force it. I’ve been kind of doing the same thing that I’ve been doing the last couple of years, it seems to be working for me.”
Team Manager Anthony Gallino stated that Huffman reminded him a bit of Talansky. “He’s not about school, girls, cars or anything. He’s all cycling.”
A serious Huffman lives cycling. So much so that he quit school to focus on it.
“I went to school at CalPoly in San Luis Obispo for about a year and a half and I really wasn’t enjoying myself. It was just one of those things It was just one of those things, I come from a pretty good family where you just have to go to college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I just went to school and I hated it and I fell in love with cycling at the same time and part of what helped me decide if I wanted to make a career of it was going to Europe, being in that environment where you’re really treated like a pro, you get up every day and you train, you just focus one hundred percent on it. I realized that this is something that I can do for a long time, that I enjoy so I decided to put school on hold and I haven’t looked back at all yet.”
Swimming led to triathlons which led to cycling. “I just really enjoy it, the team aspect of it. My first cycling race was in 2007 and I really focused only on cycling in 2008, so it’s my fifth year doing it.”
And he took to cycling fast, winning the 2008 USA Cycling Juniors U23 Elite Nationals Road Race in 2008, a day that is considers his best racing day – so far.
“That was a really good day, I probably would have to say that. I just rode, at the time I kind of didn’t know what I was doing but looking back I just rode a really smart race, I did exactly what I needed to do, I had no teammates. It was my first year of racing.”
But he was stomped when asked to identify his worst day on a bike. “I’m really consistent which I think is also my strength. I don’t really have terrible days physically, power-wise, I don’t know. I can’t really answer that, nothing comes to mind.”
The Norther Californian joined his current team in 2011 after racing with Adageo and Yahoo! Cycling teams while Gallino admits to having tried to sign him for a few years. Results last year included a stage win and the overall at the Madera Stage Race, Northern California/Nevada U23 Time Trial title, second place at Nevada City Bicycle Classic, third place at the brutal USA U23 National CHampionship road race and the overall win at the 8-race CapCup series.
“I think last year was a really successful season for me. I think I learned a lot about my body physically. My coach was saying I think you’re a stage racer, I think you respond well to lots of training, consecutive hard days training or racing, they seem to get me fitter than anything else. I think that’s the biggest thing I learned.” Huffman said.
The kid is a potential GC player with obvious skills as a time-trialist. He’s also shown that he can handle tough one-day races such as Nationals last year and Nevada City Classic, and of course criteriums.
One of Huffman’s strengths is his seriousness about training. “I’m really self motivated, if you leave me alone and let me train, I’m going to get a lot out of myself. I work really well with my coach.”
But is he too serious? Does he have fun? “Yes, I have fun. I’m really serious about my training. My teammate Nate Wilson says that we almost like training better than racing sometimes,” he laughed. “but I do enjoy it. There are always good days and bad days but they’re always fun.”
His goal for his final year as an under23 rider is to find a professional contract team and he admits to putting a lot of pressure on himself this winter in order to achieve it.
“I think that I’ve done everything that I can, I want to continue to be consistent all season long, just be competitive every race that I enter. Specific goals that I’d like to do well at, actually Merco, so far so good.” he said with a chuckle. “Redlands and especially Tour of the Gila with that being a UCI race. I want to have a good show there on GC and Nationals is always a target for myself and the team. After that, not too sure what the race program looks like.”
As to where he’s like to be at the age of 25, it’s simple. “In three years, I’d like to be riding professionally full-time in Europe on a division 1 team.”
He might make it too. Gallino replied simply, “He has all the tools to do it.” when asked if he through he could make it. And that’s the mission of the team, to develop young riders.