Born and raised in high altitude outdoor-lifestyle mountainous towns, it’s no surprise he fell in love with bikes. A common theme arises with the places he’s lived and the races he loves – cold miserable weather.
Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare), Park City’s cycling golden boy, does not have the build of a lanky climber, but an 80kg (180lbs) frame full of raw power and muscle of a rider of the Spring Classics. The tough cobbled farm roads of the heartland of Belgium where boys become men, heroes come alive, and legends are set in stone is where Putt loves to be when he’s racing in Europe.
While Putt seems cold-blooded to the bone being at home in high-altitude towns in America and the cold cobblestones of Europe in the early spring, he’s warm at the heart. It begins with his family, who has fallen in love with the sport of cycling right alongside him.
Putt was born in Breckenridge, Colorado and currently lives in Boulder, but his roots run deep in Park City, where his family moved too when he was about five years old. His family is close-knit, Putt says and while the family is crazy about cycling and the sport now, that wasn’t always the case. As with most kids who grow up in ski havens, Putt was on the white powder from the time his life began.
“I learned how to ski when I learned how to walk or even before that,” Putt told CyclingTips. “I started out skiing, we did downhill for fun, but mostly cross-country and I was competitive and raced all through high school. I started racing when I was eight or nine.”
Putt would go mountain biking on the lush trails surrounding Park City in the summer when he got a little older, as a form of cross training, but soon his summer tires began to get smaller and smaller. He had caught the roadie bug.
“I did a couple of mountain bike races and loved it,” Putt said. “I was also watching the Tour on TV during the summer and I was like ‘oh man, road biking. That’s what I want to do.’ You know, Americans winning big races in France and I was like ‘that’s what I want to do.’”
The 24-year-old’s first road bike, well, he had to share it with his older brother. While they began switching-off days on who got to take the bike out for a spin, Tanner eventually took the bike over. He was slowly becoming a roadie. Compartment syndrome in his shins, which never required surgery, forced him to stop ski racing, thus moving him onto the road bike full-time.
Putt’s blossoming into a full-fledged professional bike racer turned his family full-on to the sport, but that wasn’t always the case. When asked whether his parents were involved with cycling, particularly the sporting side, before their kids came along, Putt chuckles and says, “No, not at all. They were real active people and always went camping and backpacking and would do [bike] tours, but they never raced.”
Putt and his his band of brothers are taking the cycling scene by storm, both from the racing perspective and industry perspective. “I have three brothers, an older one and two younger ones,” Putt said. “The older one works for Scott, the bike company. He races enduro and downhill. He used to race on the road as well. Then my two younger brothers, Chris, who I used to race with [on Axel Merckx’s development team], now races for Jelly Belly and my youngest brother, who just graduated high school, races for Hot Tubes. Everybody races. Everybody is into it.”
Putt’s dad has found his own niche in the sport by driving a car at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah or Amgen Tour of California and his mom, well, you’ll find her cheering loudly for her son from the roadside. Putt’s dad is able to use his driving position at the big U.S. races to find his way onto the sign-in stage in the mornings and give his son a huge hug before the stage.
A special moment occurred for the family when Chris and Tanner, both riding for Merckx’s development team in 2013, competed in that year’s Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. The final stage began and ended in downtown Park City and the two easily received the loudest cheers from the crowd.
Putt, a two-time under-23 national road champion, first cut his teeth in Europe with the U.S. national team and Merckx’s development team, a team he says he “always wanted to be on,” as an espoir rider. While he didn’t experience the cobblestones much an an espoir, as a professional with UnitedHealthcare he was able to spend most of the spring last year in Belgium and even raced the “Hell of the North,” Paris-Roubaix.
“I spent a good three or so months in Europe,” Putt said. “I rented a house in Izegem. When I was on the national team that was where the national team house was, so it was just kind of familiar and I found a place from one of my old teammates, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). I rented a place there with John Murphy and Danny Summerhill. We spent three months there racing with UHC and it was a blast. That was probably one of my favorite Europe trips I have ever done.”
The spring of 2014 Putt spent racing the brutally tough cobblestone roads further set the wheels spinning in his brain of a place he could see himself living. “I love it,” Putt said of life in Europe. “If I were to ever go back to Europe again…I mean a lot of the Americans and English-speaking people go to Girona, but I just really like Belgium.”
“I have a pretty open mind and going over there I was just open to it all. Obviously there are times when it’s really tough. In Belgium it rains all of the time or it’s windy or it’s cold, but you just kind of have to deal with it. Honestly, I like that kind of weather and I’m better in that weather. I do better in the snow and the cold and the rain. Belgium is just a place that I love and it’s my favorite country over there.”
While Putt has never been to Girona, he doesn’t see himself settling in the professional bike racer-infested town due to the terrain. The hills of the Catalan region of Spain are not necessarily conducive to the hard men of the flatlands of Belgium. Putt simply put it as, “All the roads you race on you probably want to train on as well and I’m not really a climber, so there’s no real reason for me to be somewhere were there are a bunch of climbs and such.” Ironically, Putt lives in Boulder, Colorado, home to a few leg-searing climbs itself.
Life in Europe is tough, with the language barrier (Flemish is not an easy language to grasp) and a culture shock compared to life in the States. However Putt described that it’s all about rolling with the punches and embracing the culture wherever you are, but also not forgetting where you come from.
“I was over there with two really good buddies of mine and we would get serious and we would train and race hard, but when we weren’t doing that we would just act like we would when we’re in the States,” Putt said. “We would go out and get some beers and hangout downtown. I would say if people were younger riders and looking to move over [to Europe], you just have to accept their culture, but also bring your culture and what you do at home over there with you as well.
“If you have barbecues every week, then have a barbecue over there every week. If you like to go out and have some beers, then go out and drink beer there as well. Go downtown, go dancing, whatever you like to do. I just love it there. I feel I can make good friends with Belgians pretty well.”
While the UnitedHealthcare team didn’t travel to Europe this year, opting to race in Australia, the Middle East, and Asia, Putt hopes to get back to his beloved classics. “I’d like to get back to racing in Belgium. I just love bike racing and I see myself doing it for another 10 years.”
Putt is in a contract year, but has his sights set on being a professional cyclist for years to come and hopes to rub shoulders alongside his brothers in the peloton from time to time as well.