Alcácer do Sal, Portugal – Logan Owen scored the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's first road victory of the year in Europe with his win Saturday on the penultimate stage of the Volta ao Alentejo.
The 21-year-old from Bremerton, Washington, out-sprinted race leader Carlos Barbero (Movistar Team) and Jasper De Laat (Metec-TKH Continental Cyclingteam presented by Mantel) to earn his first win since his victory last April in Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs.
Owen's accomplishment came one day after teammate Chris Lawless finished runner-up on Stage 3 and two days after Axeon Hagens Berman placed two riders in the top 10, earned the "best young rider" jersey and the lead in the team classification.
"It is one thing to win a bike race," Owen said. "But to win it at the level that this race is now – a 2.1 classification – and against a WorldTour rider like Barbero – is something extra special. To be able to overpower him in the finish meant a lot."
After the day's breakaway was caught within two kilometers of the finish, Axeon Hagens Berman set up for a technical, uphill run-in to the line.
"Initially, we thought it would be a good finish for Chris, but Adrien (Costa) actually looked it up last night on Strava and Google Earth view and said it looked like a pretty hard finish up a hill for about a kilometer," Owen said. "The guys rode the front to make sure the break came back and then they put me on Barbero's wheel as we came into a roundabout. When it started going uphill, I kept fighting for his wheel because I knew it was a good finish for him. He had a teammate lead him out to 200 meters and I just followed. Initially, I tried to go right because the wind was coming from the left. But he shut the door on me. So I had to go on the other side and kick again."
Three other Axeon Hagens Berman riders finished in the top 15 in the 175.2-kilometer race. Irish Under 23 time trial champion Eddie Dunbar was fourth, Costa was ninth and Ecuadorian Under 23 time trial champion Jhonatan Narvaez was 12th.
Dunbar is best placed for Axeon Hagens Berman in the overall standings in fifth, 27 seconds back. Owen climbed from 27th to ninth overall and is 29 seconds back, along with Narvaez (10th) and Costa (11th). Sunday's final stage covers 168.9 km from Ferreira do Alentejo to Évora.
Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Koos Moerenhout said the team worked hard in the final 10 km to contribute to the chasing efforts by several teams to bring back the day's breakaway. In addition to the aforementioned riders, he pointed to Will Barta and Neilson Powless – who was in an early breakaway – and Ivo Oliveira, who is recovering from a bad crash on Friday's stage.
"All week, the guys have been riding very well and very attentively," Moerenhout said. "Almost every time a group goes up the road, we have a guy in it. Ivo, in particular, did a great job after his crash. Luckily he is fine."
Axeon Hagens Berman continues to lead the team standings. Colombian squad Manzana Postobon is 32 seconds behind and Sporting Clube de Portugal/Tavira is third, a further three seconds back.
(Header photo by Jim Anderson.)