Axeon’s Adrien Costa Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Axeon Hagens Berman’s Adrien Costa is a man to watch, especially after his recent overall win in the French Under 23 Tour de Bretagne. Ed Hood caught up with Adrien after his second World silver medal last year and now after his win in Brittany.
With two successive silver medals in the World Junior Time Trial Championships, the second one coming last year in Richmond, we always expected much from 18 year-old US rider, Adrien Costa. But when he won the tough U23 stage race, the Tour de Bretagne he surprised even us — we just had to ‘have a word.’
PEZ: Tell us about your Stage Four win at the Tour de Bretagne.
Adrien Costa: That win in Bretagne was definitely the biggest of my career thus far, and really emotional. The first few days of the race were a little bit frustrating, with some long days where I had a little bad luck and was unable to do anything fun. I patiently had the “queen stage” in the back of my mind all week. To be able to execute like that in the final circuits and get my first win of the season and in the “pros” was really something special.
PEZ: Tell us about defending the lead to the bitter end.
There’s no doubt that defending the lead all the way was a massive team effort. Honestly, after my stage win, everything that came after was more of a bonus. So I didn’t put too much pressure on myself for the GC, being only a first-year U23. I think that helped me to stay calm, save my energy, and use my head in the last three days. The team around me motivated me as well. Every day the guys gave their all to mark the moves early and then keep the breakaway on a short leash. So in the end, we were able to make the underdog dream come true.
PEZ: How big a deal was the win with the local fans/Media?
I think the local fans and media appreciate the fact that I am able to speak French, as my family is from France. So that helps a lot to connect with them and recount the passion and emotion of the stages.
PEZ: How did you get the ride with Axeon Hagens Berman?
I have wanted to be a part of Axel Merckx’s team since my first road race ever, the Nationals in Bend, Oregon, when I was 12. Once I started getting some results in the juniors, we came in contact and right away I knew it was the perfect fit for me.
PEZ: What did you do over the winter?
After the Worlds in Richmond I took a nice break off the bike, with some backpacking. I also took some classes, and just in general hung out with friends and family and enjoyed some down time. I was lucky enough to do a training camp in mid-December with Etixx – Quick-Step to kick back into the training, and after spending the holidays at home and enjoying some good skiing, I was off to team camp with Axeon. Directly after that, I flew over to Nice, France, with my teammate Will Barta where we were living for three months. We got in some good training in the sunshine and enjoyed all the cultural, culinary, and recreational experiences that life on the Cote d’Azur has to offer. The winter really flew by and it felt like I was able to do a lot of diverse things which helped me tackle the season with renewed motivation, freshness and ambition.
PEZ: You were seventh in the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen, tell us about that.
I was really happy to be able to start that race and experience one of these renowned classics, even though it is just in the U23 category. Going in, I was just hoping for a hard race and a good learning experience. In the end, I was feeling really strong, so in the finish laps I had a go at it solo. I was caught by a small chase group of four, and after we dropped two of the guys on the penultimate climb, I really started dreaming of a podium. I had to pinch myself a few times, leading the “Ronde van Vlaanderen” with a few kilometers to go. Unfortunately we were caught within the last kilometer and I made some tactical errors on the run-in. But it was an invaluable experience and lots of fun.
PEZ: And how was the ZLM Tour in The Netherlands?
Straight-up crazy. Kind of jaw-dropping, honestly. We had a good team time trial, finishing fourth. But the next two stages really gave me my first glimpse into what bike racing “in the trenches” is all about. All day, through rain, wind, and narrow roads, it was a battle to be in front for the echelons, to always make the splits, and to stay upright. Admittedly, it was not the most stress-free or enjoyable race, but it taught me incredible amounts about the technical elements of bike racing that you can only learn by doing races like that.
PEZ: You were fourth in the Monts et Chateaux stage race time trial and fifth on GC – those we’re good performances too. . .
The Tryptique was a fun race, and it as my first real race of the season. I went into it fresh-faced, ambitious, excited, and slightly nervous! I was a little frustrated the first couple stages because it felt like I could have done more results-wise than I did. But I think that will come with more experience and patience. I was pretty happy with my time trial though, on a course that was not super well-suited to my characteristics against some stiff competitors. So overall, it was a great way to start the season.
PEZ: You’ve made the jump from junior to U23 without a problem.
It’s still a massive learning experience – and even reflecting back on Tryptique right now, I realize I have already learned so much. Being fit and strong is only half the battle. But the experiences you get when racing teach you the tactical and technical fine points that have to be learned the hard way.
PEZ: How are you settling into the Euro lifestyle?
I am loving it! As I said earlier I spent a fantastic three months in Nice this winter and I am hoping to one day call Europe home. Having family in France and having spent lots of time in Europe when I was younger makes the whole thing a lot easier. So I think I am settling in well. I think it is important to remember to have fun, switch it up, experience new things as much as possible and enjoy the adventure!
PEZ: You’re only 18 – you’ll have to be careful not to over cook your program?
I am lucky enough to have a fantastic support system around me that does not put any pressure on me for race starts or results. We are careful to not overdo it. For example, we thought it would be best to skip the Amgen Tour of California this year and let me get valuable learning experiences in Europe. The communication between Axeon Hagens Berman, the USA Cycling U23 national team, my agent, and my coach has been spot on. So I know I am in great hands. As long as I am having fun and staying motivated there’s nothing to worry about!
PEZ: Was Axel with the team in Europe – have you met Eddy yet?
Unfortunately I have yet to meet Eddy, but I am in Europe for more than a month still. So I am holding out hope! It would be such a massive honor to meet this legend of the sport. I don’t think there is anyone – other than Axel – with more experience in not only the racing side of the sport, but also the development and lifestyle management aspects.
PEZ: Have you completely finished school now?
I finished high school a year early, did a semester at UC Santa Cruz in the fall on 2014. Since my family moved up to Bend, Oregon, last fall, I have started classes at Oregon State. Right now, I am taking full-time classes online and hope to be able to take classes again in person this off season.
PEZ: What’s the program, now?
This week, we are driving down to France for the Rhone-Alpes-Isere-Tour. After that I will take a little break from racing before lining up for the U23 Peace Race and the Tour des Pays de Savoie, then heading home for a very short bit before the USA nationals.
PEZ: 2016 is about?
This year is still about learning, getting as much experience as possible, and continuing to give my all for personal results or helping guys on the team achieve their objectives. It is still a long season, anything can happen. So I see every race as an opportunity. As a first-year U23, it is important to not put any pressure on yourself – nor to limit yourself to any specific type of race. I am just always racing hard and having fun. As I like to put it, it is about learning to race with your heart and head, passion and brains!
The final stage 7 of the Tour de Bretagne:
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,100 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.