‘Bear’ing down on the competition
Tanner Putt’s been nicknamed the “polar bear’ for a while. However, the name really stuck when the Park City native won a stage at the 2016 Tour of Alberta. It was 40 degrees and raining and Putt rode off the front all day in just a jersey and shorts.
“I think I comes from my thick build and ability to deal with the cold weather well,” says Putt. “I grew up cross country ski racing and didn’t use much winter gear for it and wouldn’t wear gloves. I’ve been the same in cycling–I don’t need as much winter gear to ride.”
When Putt describes it, it sounds pretty straightforward. But for most of us, we shake our heads in amazement. How does this 25-year-old adapt so well to conditions suited only for the toughest of the tough.
“I’ve always ways loved the bad weather and racing in it,” says Putt. “But I’d have to say my love for embracing the cold weather came from skiing.”
Putt was born in Breckenridge, Colorado, but considers Park City, Utah his home. It’s where he spent the majority of his life and it’s where he learned to cross country ski in the hopes that someday he’d make it to the Olympics. However, shin problems would quash his dream as a skier, so he turned his focus to cycling, the sport he used as cross-training.
It didn’t take long for Putt to move up the ranks and before he knew it, he was racing with the US National Team in Europe. He’d go on to win a stage at the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional and consistently place within the top ten in UCI races.
This year, as in years past, Putt is excelling in the European spring classic-style races. In 2015, he finished 8th at Le Samyn and took 15th a few weeks ago. At the recent Johan Museeuw Classics, Putt scooped up 11th among some of the strongest classics riders in the world. Characterized by cobbles, inevitable rain and plenty of chaos, these races aren’t the typical kind of environment one would expect an American rider to favor. Where does he get his drive?
“When I was young I’d get inspired from watching races like Roubaix and the riders winning those, but most of my motivation and initiative came from my family,” says Putt. “I grew up with three brothers and we were all very competitive with each other in everything we did, which I think was good. Being the second oldest I always looked up to my older brother, Andrew. I skied because he did and I rode because he did, but we always tried to beat the other one and he definitely toughened me up. I also look up to my dad. Now after racing bikes professionally for about six years, I still haven’t met anyone with better work ethic than him and I think that’s really important in being a good bike racer and teammate.”
Putt’s father grew up on a farm in Michigan and knows what it takes to endure the elements. He’s instilled the same work ethic in his kids, and it shows in those grueling Belgian roads.
“He’s always been a pretty tough guy,” says Putt. “He’d always tell me, “everyone has the same weather and while people worry about it, use it as an advantage. Everyone faces the same conditions, and it’s the ones who realize that and don’t waste energy worrying about the cold and rain who are ultimately successful. Use that energy on getting the job done well. There are worse things in the world than being cold on a bike.”