Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Nearly nine years ago, on a February day at the Rose Bowl, a 12-year-old Geoffrey Curran was in the parking lot crowd of the iconic stadium in Pasadena, California. George Hincapie emerged in the finale and won the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. The race was in its third year; Curran was enamored.
It didn’t take much longer for Curran, the reigning U23 road and time trial national champion, to begin compiling results. He’s 21 now, approaching a decade into his amateur and pro career and beginning his fourth season with the Axeon Hagens Berman squad.
“There’s a big difference from when I started. The team was good, but getting a few guys can make all the difference,” Curran said from the Axeon Hagens Berman training camp in Calabasas, California — a two-hour drive from his home in Tustin. “Now every guy on the team could win the next race. Everything from the staff to the support, everything works much better than it did four years ago. You can see it every day, on the bike to the media.”
Curran is among eight returning riders under the guidance of Axel Merckx whose program, via several different sponsors, enters its ninth season.
A promising junior rider, Curran’s skills were known. He’s won amateur and pro races from Germany to New Mexico, often showcasing his strong time-trial skill. But like teammates Neilson Powless and Adrien Costa, Curran had his breakout year last season; in July he took back-to-back U23 national titles.
“It was good for the domestic side of my program because success often brings more success,” said Curran. “With Neilson (Powless) we had some success early in the season, and that helped everyone move along. I went to Europe and had some success there, too, and that’s obviously a bigger stage. I think that will help me this year to have more confidence.
”Some of the improvement is just because of racing more. But on the other side of it, for myself mentally, it’s being able to show up for every race. Obviously, you have to show up, but it’s now about looking the options for success.”
The strength of the Continental squad was evident at stage races throughout last season. And at the road nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, Curran led a top-four Axeon sweep; three other teammates finished in the top 10. The next day, Curran got his second win, followed by six teammates, with eight Axeon riders overall in the top 10.
“Axel gives us free rein — if you feel great and you’re ready to go, that’s great,” said Curran. “But having such expectations and executing some perfect plan? It’s not impossible, but it’s going to the hard part, because we are still so young. There’s going to be bigger differences in day-to-day abilities.”
Merckx is a quiet leader. He embraces riders after strong performances, and he doesn’t criticize riders in public. But he’s also frank. Young pros often need to work on positioning and confidence in the peloton, including Curran.
“You keep learning; cycling is not a perfect science,” Merckx said. “Race circumstances change all the time. Your competition is always different on any given day. The weather, the terrain. It’s a moving target. Any experience you can have out there is an asset.
“Geoffrey is a really strong and solid rider. He may not be developing as deeply as the other guys. But last year was also a breakthrough season for him. He grew not only on the road, but as a time trialer. He’s matured a lot in the past year. He’s not a kid anyone. He’s on his way to becoming a real developed athlete. He’s ready to step up [in 2017] if he keeps going like that.”
Curran agreed. “Sometimes, when you’re starting out, it’s looking at a race and hoping you can make it to the finish. Now, I can look at that race and say, ‘maybe I can help this guy.’ I think that’s where I’ve seen the most improvement.”
Curran’s schedule will include domestic and international racing. His season starts Friday with the first event on USA Cycling’s new American Road Calendar, the San Dimas Stage Race. Already winners of three races this season, the three-day, three-stage race in California, will be Axeon Hagens Berman’s first competition as a team in its home country.
“The most challenging part of San Dimas is remembering how to race,” Curran said. “It is not too long, both in number of days or in total hours, but you have to figure out how to work with your teammates again and execute throughout the race. It is a great race to get things moving into the season while having some shots at the stages and the overall.”
About the author
James Raia has reported on cycling for more than 30 years and is co-author of Tour de France For Dummies. In addition to writing about cycling and other sports, he contributes business and lifestyle content to several publications, and has been the editor and publisher of the automotive website theweeklydriver.com since 2004. James lives with his wife Gretchen and two cats in Sacramento, California.