Professional cyclist Andrew Talansky lives and trains in Napa —and
gets cardiac screenings at Queen of the Valley.
Bicycling magazine called him a “rising American star.” Twice
he’s been featured on the cover of Velo, a prominent racing magazine.
And he’s generally considered a frontrunner for placing on the podium
at this year’s Tour de France. But professional cyclist Andrew Talansky
emphasizes a different qualification: Napa resident.
The rider with the Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling team has made a home in
Napa with his wife, Kate, who grew up in the area. Now, he’s grown
to love it as well. “You can spend the whole day outdoors,”
says Talansky. “There’s a definite feel to the valley that
makes us always look forward to coming back.”
You might even catch a glimpse of him training in the hills around Napa,
because, as you’ll discover, Talansky rides a lot.
LIFE AS A PRO CYCLIST
From November through September, Talansky is laser focused on training
and racing. He rides anywhere from two to seven hours each day. Even so-called
recovery days include a short ride. “Out of a month, there might
be two or three days where I’m not riding a bike,” he says.
And when he’s not riding, he’s prepping for it. It’s
an all consuming lifestyle, he admits.
Fortunately, Napa provides a rich selection of terrain for training. “I
can ride flat roads. I can ride the mountains,” Talansky says. “I
can get to anything I need.”
His racing schedule is set through July, when he’ll compete in the
Tour de France. There are high expectations of him for that race —
none higher than those he has of himself, he notes. But Talansky says
it hasn’t changed him. “My job is to put in all the work and
training and be the best I can be in July.”
MONITORING THE ATHLETIC HEART
Considering the demanding regimen that professional athletes follow, heart
health is a primary concern. It’s so important to the perception
of safety in the sport that cycling’s regulating body, Union Cycliste
Internationale, mandates that all professional racers undergo a series
of cardiac screening tests each year before they can compete. “They
want to ensure that every rider is fit to race, and that nobody has any
heart defects that go unseen,” Talansky explains.
It’s this requirement that brought him to the office of
Andrew K. Wong, MD, an interventional cardiologist at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group. He first saw Dr. Wong in 2011 and has returned every year since.
It wasn’t the first time Dr. Wong had assisted professional cyclists
with screenings. Six years ago, he performed cardiac testing for the BMC
Racing Team. One of its riders, Cadel Evans, won the Tour de France in 2011.
For Talansky, Dr. Wong performs three tests: an electrocardiogram, an exercise
stress test and an echocardiogram. Each test has a particular aim. The
electrocardiogram (often called an ECG or EKG) looks at the electrical
system of the heart to make sure there are no issues with the heart’s rhythm.
The exercise stress test can reveal blockages in the arteries in the heart.
Using the analogy of a car, Dr. Wong explains that the arteries are like
fuel lines to the engine, supplying blood flow (fuel) to the heart (“the
The third test is an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart.
“The goal is to make sure that the heart is structurally normal,
and that the heart walls and valves are working appropriately,”
says Dr. Wong. He looks in particular for signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,
a common cause of sudden death in athletes.
The implications of the testing can be serious. If something abnormal is
discovered, it can affect a rider’s eligibility to race. Talansky
thinks the tests are a good policy, but doesn’t worry about them
much these days. For him, the tests are like any other workout plus the
opportunity to visit with Dr. Wong, an amateur cyclist himself.
“It’s always nice to be dealing with a doctor who understands
the physical aspects of what you do,” Talansky says. “His
expertise and understanding of the effect on your physiology allows him
to properly interpret the test results.” (It’s not unusual
for elite athletes to have test results that would be considered abnormal
in the general population, Wong explains.) Plus, Talansky likes returning
to the same physician each year. “He knows what’s normal for
What about non-professional athletes? Is testing a good idea for them?
It’s something to consider, Dr. Wong says, “particularly in
light of the fact that professional bicyclists — arguably some of
the fittest people in the world — are required to undergo extensive
cardiac assessments on an ongoing basis throughout their careers.”
At minimum, he thinks it’s reasonable for any intense athlete to
have some type of evaluation, and for anyone to consult with their physician
before embarking on a vigorous exercise program, especially if they’re
not in solid shape to start. He recommends that athletes honestly discuss
the intensity level of their activities with a primary care physician
and also stay attuned to their bodies, watching for signs that could indicate
a problem, such as unusual shortness of breath, chest discomfort or dizziness.
BUILDING EXCITEMENT FOR CYCLING
Talansky and Dr. Wong share a desire to raise the profile of cycling —
both the sport and the recreational activity — in Napa Valley. “It’s
a good community for cyclists; we’re trying to make it better,”
Dr. Wong says.
That would be a wonderful thing for residents and their wellness. After
all, cycling is a great way to exercise. “It’s a healthy activity
that everybody can enjoy,” Talansky says. “It’s one
of the most accessible things that you can do.”
It seems the area is headed in the right direction. The League of American
Bicyclists has named Napa a “Bicycle-Friendly Community” every
year since 2012. And Talansky says he’s already seen an increase
in local cycling the past few years.
“Whenever I see people coming down Silverado Trail or on the hills,
it puts a smile on my face.”
Photos courtesy of Cannondale 1, Jake Hamm.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.