Ans, Belgium – Will Barta is still waiting for his chance to contest the sprint and score the biggest win of his career.
Riding in a four-man breakaway in the final hundred meters of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs Saturday, the 21-year-old American never got the opportunity to put power to the pedals. That's because a trailing group of 21 riders entered the velodrome just as the four leaders were about to wind up for the sprint at the end of the 177.9-kilometer race in Belgium.
"They pretty much came in right as we made the final turn," Barta said. "So it was pure chaos. We were yelling at them to move out of the way and they didn't move. So it just ended up being that we finished in the order that we were riding in."
After a lengthy discussion by race officials, Barta was placed fourth. In the scramble to get to the finish between leading riders and those in the breakaway who still had a lap to go, Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal U23) took the win ahead of James Knox (Team Wiggins), with Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton Scott) in third and Barta fourth.
Axeon Hagens Berman teammate Neilson Powless finished sixth and second in the bunch sprint from the chasing group of 21.
Despite the missed opportunity, Barta said he was pleased with the result, which matched his best finish of the year. At Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux in Belgium last month, he finished fourth in the Stage 3a individual time trial.
"It was nice to get the result for myself this time," the 21-year-old from Boise, Idaho said. "I am very happy to help the others but today it was nice to save something for myself and go for it. To have it pay off was very nice."
Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Koos Moerenhout said Barta's group formed with about 25 km to go as a result of an aggressive approach to the race that Logan Owen won last year.
"We had a plan with the guys that we could not miss the break," he said. "Otherwise, teams would look to us to do the chasing. So we were present in every breakaway. Logan, Jhonatan Narvaez, Neilson, Eddie, all did very well. It was unfortunate that the chase group entered the circuit and boxed in the breakaway because it made for confusion in the sprint.
Bad luck also befell Narvaez. The overall winner of Circuit des Ardennes International last week tried a solo move out of the chasing peloton in the closing kilometers but was directed off course, Moerenhout said.
Eddy Merckx, the father of Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx, watched the race in the company of fellow Belgian Paul Van Himst, the greatest soccer player in that country's history. Axel joined Moerenhout in the team car for the race that had seen Axeon Hagens Berman riders finish on the podium the past five years.
Barta and his Axeon Hagens Berman teammates will get another opportunity on Monday at Giro Belvedere di Villa di Cordignano., a one-day race in Italy known as the "Easter Monday Classic."
View a gallery of photos from the race: http://bit.ly/2lGBXqi Header photo by Joyce Jason Ghijs.