Castelo de Vide, Portugal – On the strength of his sixth-place finish, Tao Geoghegan Hart of the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team pulled on the white jersey of best young rider after Wednesday's opening stage of Volta ao Alentejo.
The 158-kilometer race, considered by some to be the most difficult stage, ended with a group sprint after traversing four categorized climbs.
"It was a shame all the climbs were so far from the finish," Geoghegan Hart said. "I felt really good on them but they all came a fair ways from the line."
Imanol Estevez (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias) took the win ahead of David De La Fuente (Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira) and his teammate, Jesus Ezquerra. In addition to Geoghegan Hart, Axeon's Krists Neilands (20th) and Greg Daniel (22nd) arrived nine seconds later and Eddie Dunbar (34th) and Logan Owen (35th) were a further six seconds back. In the overall standings, Geoghegan Hart is seventh, 10 seconds behind Estevez.
"Tao has a great position and we have good numbers on the general classification to work with in the next four days," Assistant Director Jeff Louder said. "Krists was also good after being sick this past weekend."
Owen, who was making his season debut, narrowly avoided being seriously hurt when he crashed into a parked truck.
"I attacked on the final descent and was opening a gap on the small front group with one other rider," Owen said. "We were just following the motos and seeing how fast we could take the corners based off their speed and brake lights. One moto entered a blind switchback corner really fast, skidded and almost high-sided right in front of us. By that point, it was too late for us to make the corner. "
Owen hit the truck hard with his right arm and shoulder. The 10-time cyclocross national champion was checked out at a local hospital. Fortunately, nothing was broken.
"I am feeling much better now and have enough mobility in my arm to race Thursday," Owen said. "We still have five guys within 25 seconds of the lead, including myself, so hopefully we can win some sprints and take the GC (general classification) by the end on Sunday."
Four riders escaped 40 kilometers into the race but the breakaway was down to three after the first time bonus sprint. After building a lead of more than two minutes, the trio was caught at the start of the first climb, 60 km from the finish. Over the next two climbs, the peloton splintered. Geoghegan Hart was in a small leading group over the top of the final ascent but the escapees were absorbed on the descent.
Geoghegan Hart said the best young rider jersey is nice to have. "But with it being a relatively flat remainder of the race, it will be wide open and the race will likely be decided on time bonuses," he said.
Thursday's stage is the longest of the race – 206.2 km from Monforte to Montemor-o-Novo.