Col San Martino, Italy – Tao Geoghegan Hart won a three-up sprint Sunday to capture Trofeo Piva and deliver the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team its second victory in less than a week.
The British rider who turned 21 years old on Wednesday out-sprinted Swiss Under 23 road champion Patrick Müller (BMC Development Team) and Marco Tecchio (Unieuro-Willier Trevigiani) 13 seconds ahead of a two-man chase.
Geoghegan Hart said it played to his advantage when Tecchio started leading out the sprint at the end of the 179.8-kilometer race.
"It was a bit of a longer sprint, which was good for me," he said. "I was very patient and when I was coming past Müller, he realized it was not going to happen.
"It has been awhile since I have won a bike race and it is definitely a good feeling. It may not be the biggest bike race in the world. But it is nice to dedicate this win to Axel Merckx's granddad, Lucien Acou, who passed away last month. He was a big influence on Eddy and Axel's career. Like Axel said to us at the training camp at the start of the year, we are all a little bit of "Baby Merckxs" ourselves, if that is possible."
Axeon Hagens Berman has enjoyed a run of success of late in its European campaign. On Monday, Geoghegan Hart was eighth as BMC's Müller won Giro del Belvedere. The following day, Axeon's Ruben Guerriro won G.P. Palio del Recioto as Geoghegan Hart finished seventh. Those results in Italy followed a team title won at the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal last month as Geoghegan Hart finished a team-best sixth overall.
"In Portugal, we started off in a really rough way, Axeon General Manager Axel Merckx said. "We had a few crashes and illnesses. But that's when the spirit and mentality of the team came through. The guys rallied around each other and managed to compete well and we got the team title at Alentejo.
"Overall, I always say success leads to success – and good results creates good results. The strength of this team is that everyone pulls their share of the work and it is a really great team we have this year."
In addition to Geoghegan Hart's result Sunday, Axeon's Will Barta finished 49 seconds back of the leading trio and notched a season-best result by finishing seventh.
"This is definitely a good confidence booster," the American said. "I knew that I was capable of such a result. But being able to translate that into an actual result is good. It makes you realize you belong in the front."
Barta and Geoghegan Hart were part of a move that went about 60 kilometers into the race that included seven laps of 18.65 circuit, plus a start and finish loop. With most of the major teams present in the breakaway, it looked like the group would stay clear. But Logan Owen managed to bridge across, giving Axeon three riders in the escape.
"It was great to add to the numbers game," Barta said. "But at about the same time, the group stopped working together. With two laps to go, the gap was starting to come down, so we hit the front up the main climb and when we got to the top, Tao semi-attacked. One of the guys lost the wheel and the three were away."
Geoghegan Hart said his first victory since coming out of the junior ranks was especially fulfilling considering he was sick two days into Volta ao Alentejo. He said he struggled just to finish the five-day race.
"I felt OK last week, but really I was just following and not feeling myself," he said. "But now I am feeling normal again after two weeks of pretty lackluster energy levels."