Évora, Portugal – The Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team captured the team title at Volta ao Alentejo for the second straight year Sunday while also placing four riders in the top 11 in the final standings.
The American development team earned three podium finishes in the five-day race, headlined by Logan Owen's victory on Stage 4 on Saturday. British national criterium champion Chris Lawless scored a pair of runner-up finishes, both of them to Colombia's Juan Sebastian Molano (Manzana Postobon), winner of Stage 3 and 5.
Irish Under 23 national time trial champion Eddie Dunbar was best-placed overall for Axeon Hagens Berman in fifth, while Owen was sixth. Jhonatan Narvaez, the Ecuadorian Under 23 national time trial champion was 10th, and American Adrien Costa was 11th. Dunbar wore the "best young rider" jersey for one day and finished fourth on Stage 4. He and teammates Owen, Narvaez and Costa finished second, third and fourth, respectively, in the best young rider classification.
Dunbar said he came out of the race feeling better than he did a year ago, when he finished 20th overall.
"I certainly feel stronger as a rider in terms of tactics and positioning," the 20-year-old said. "I learned a lot from last year. I worked hard over the winter and it has paid off. I am feeling good and strong. This was a real good way to start the season. As a unit, we are really strong. We earned a lot of respect in the bunch, which is always good. It is pretty impressive what we can do as a team when we use our strength at the right times and in a very smart way. It can be very decisive, which is really good."
Other members of Axeon Hagens Berman's winning team were Ivo Oliveira of Portugal and Americans Will Barta and Neilson Powless. Oliveira said his first race with the team was a special one, particularly after a bad crash on Friday nearly knocked him out of the race.
"For a moment, I thought I was going to have to stop," the 20-year-old said. "I was sitting on the ground, near the car for 10 minutes and I was afraid that my femur was fractured. But I talked to the doctor and he put me back on my bike. Unfortunately, I could not help the team so much that day. But I made it to the finish and made a good recovery for the next day."
Movistar Team's Carlos Barbero took the overall win after taking the lead on Stage 2. Rinaldo Nocentini (Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira), winner of Stage 1, was runner-up at 16 seconds and "best young rider" winner Jasper De Laat (Metec-TKH Continental Cyclingteam presented by Mantel) finished third at 25 seconds.
Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Koos Moerenhout said winning the team title in the first race of the season was a good sign.
"It shows you are not depending on one or two riders," he said. "Every day, many riders needed to be with the best guys. Every day, we battled for the win and we succeeded once. It is also proof that in depth we are doing well. The race may have been decided in bunch sprints - which is OK for us - but we have many riders who can also do well themselves when the finishes are going up."
Colombian squad Manzana Postobon Team was second in the team classification, 32 seconds back, while Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira was third, at 51 seconds. The team title was the Axeon Hagens Berman's second straight at the UCI 2.1 classification race and nearly the third straight. In 2015, Axeon Cycling finished second - by five seconds - to the Polish ActiveJet Team.
(Header photo by Jim Anderson.)