Castelo de Vide, Portugal – Jhonatan Narvaez was the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's best finisher on Wednesday's opening stage of the Volta ao Alentejo after teammate Eddie Dunbar and another rider were caught inside of five kilometers to go.
In his first race for Axeon Hagens Berman, Narvaez placed 11th and in the same time as stage winner Rinaldo Nocentini (Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira). Narvaez, Dunbar and teammate Adrien Costa finished the 158-kilometer race in the lead group. Two others – Logan Owen and Ivo Oliveira – finished within 21 seconds of the race winner.
When the race split on the first of four categorized climbs over 158 kilometers, seven of eight Axeon Hagens Berman riders made the front group of about 50.
Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Koos Moerenhout called it an impressive show of strength and Dunbar said it was an encouraging sign in the team's first race of the season.
"They did very well today and in the end, while it was not the result we hoped for, or aimed for, but that was OK," Moerenhout said. "It was our first race. For me, the really important thing was the communication within the team during the race and operating as a team. That went really well. They were really into the race."
"We were the only team that had those kinds of numbers," Dunbar said. "To be in the company of so many Pro Continental teams and even one WorldTour team really shows the depth and strength of this team."
Dunbar said the profile of Wednesday's race suited him. With that in mind, he decided to take his chance after a breakaway of two riders who once led by more than 10 minutes was brought back before the final climb.
"Movistar was riding the front and controlling things, so I thought I would give it a go," he said. "I did not feel too great on the first three climbs and being that it was my first race of the year, it was hard to know how you feel.
"Today was the hardest day, so I knew if i was going to do anything results-wise, it would be today," the Irish Under 23 national time trial champion continued. "Depending on the wind direction the rest of the week, the general classification might be pretty set from here and the race might come down to time bonuses this week."
Before Dunbar's attack, Owen was part of a group of four that gained about a 40-second advantage over the pack that was led by two Spanish teams – Movistar and Caja Rural-Seguras RGA. When Owen's group was overhauled, Dunbar made his move.
With only Aldemar Reyes (Manzana Postobon) following him, Dunbar crested the final climb with a lead of 25 seconds over the reduced peloton. But the pair could not hold off the chase and was caught between kilometers five and four to go. At the finish, Eduard Prades (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) was runner-up to Nocentini and Carlos Barbero (Movistar Team) was third.
After Narvaez, Axeon Hagens Berman finishers were Adrien Costa (26th), Dunbar (27th), Neilson Powless (34th), Logan Owen (37th), Ivo Oliveira (43rd), Will Barta (61st) and Chris Lawless (145th).
(Header photo courtesy: Volta ao Alentejo.)