Saint-Sauveur, Belgium - Will Barta led the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team to a 2-3-4 finish at Monday's individual time trial at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, and was just five seconds back of stage winner Stan Dewulf (Lotto-Soudal U23).
Though the course was quite different than last year, Barta, runner-up at the 2017 USA U23 Time Trial Nationals, felt well prepared for the 9.6 km, uphill time trial that served as part one of two for the final day of racing in Belgium.
“I felt quite confident coming into the TT as it is something I have really been focusing on and targeting,” said Barta. “Last year the TT was on a much quicker course and had substantially less climbing. Today, it never really felt as if you were going fast, but just pushing the power and slogging a bit.”
Slog or no, the team piloted the Specialized Shiv time trial bikes to the finish with an impressive five riders in the top 25. Ian Garrison and GC leader Jasper Philipsen followed Barta by 2 and 3 seconds (respectively) to place 3rd and 4th, while Portuguese time trial specialist Joao Almeida rode to a strong 12th place finish. Eighteen-year-old Maikel Zijlaard was 24th and Michael Rice finished in 44th place.
“I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” said Philipsen. “I could only train a few times on my TT bike before the race and the course was pretty hard.”
It was at this stage last year that Philipsen (riding for BMC Development Team) unseated Axeon alumnus and GC leader at the time, Chris Lawless, before taking the overall victory in Chièvres.
This year, the coin has been flipped. With his fourth place finish, Philipsen retained the yellow jersey heading into Monday’s second and final stage. For their efforts, Barta and Garrison moved into 3rd and 4th place in the general classification. Dewulf sits in 2nd, 13 seconds back of Philipsen and 6 seconds ahead of Barta.
“I think it puts us in a good spot for later today, and really helps with leaving three of us right near the top of the GC,” said Barta. “We’ll have a few cards to play.”
In discussing the difference between the team’s position this year after the TT versus last year’s position of having to chase the yellow jersey in the final stage, sport director Koos Moerenhout put it best saying, “It’s always best to be in front.”
Monday afternoon’s 91 km final stage travels 57 km from Moulbaix to Saint-Sauveur where riders will complete two, 17 km loops.
(Header image of Will Barta by Joyce Jason Ghijs)