The Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team aims to continue its early-season successes when it begins the three-day, four-stage Circuit des Ardennes Friday in France.
Last Sunday, Axeon Hagens Berman riders Eddie Dunbar and Neilson Powless finished second and third, respectively, at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux in Belgium. The Under 23 American development team managed by Axel Merckx won a stage with Powless, took home the "intermediate sprints" jersey with Chris Lawless and put four riders in the top 10 to capture its second team title of the year.
One of the riders contributing to that success, American Will Barta, said he hopes to keep it going. The 21-year-old from Boise, Idaho, finished fourth in the time trial and ninth overall in Belgium and earned "most combative rider" honors after Stage 2.
"Last weekend highlighted the strength of the team and how we were able to use that strength to our advantage," Barta said. "Even the guys who were not up there in the final general classification were all so strong and really had an impact on the race. For this coming weekend, I would like to have a big impact on the race and go for the win. I think we have another strong, excited team and we all want to keep the momentum from the past races going."
Joining Barta on the team's five-man roster at Circuit des Ardennes will be American Adrien Costa, who was part of the team's victory at Triptyque. Along with them will be Australian Michael Rice, who won the criterium at the San Dimas Stage Race, Ecuadorian Under 23 national time trial champion Jhonatan Narvaez and Portugal's Rui Oliveira, who won the "best young rider" title at the Joe Martin Stage Race last Sunday.
"This race will be good for the guys to see where they stand at the moment," Sport Director Koos Moerenhout said. "For Michael, it will be his first race in Europe. Of course, Jhonatan and Rui did Volta ao Alentejo, where we won the team title. Everyone's condition seems to be fine, so I expect all of them to ride together very well."
The race through northern France and southern Belgium comprises road races of 184.5 km and 181.1 km on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and two on Sunday - 76.1 km and 103 km.
"I assume there will be a bit more climbing from the Flemish Ardennes to the French Ardennes," Moerenhout said. "When I look at the profiles, the second and third days have many climbs. It is hard to say how hard they are. But it will be a challenging three days of racing."
Riders: Will Barta (USA), Adrien Costa (USA), Rui Oliveira (POR), Jhonatan Narvaez (ECU), Michael Rice (AUS). Sport Director: Koos Moerenhout (NED).
Header photo of Michael Rice at the Joe Martin Stage Race by Davey Wilson.