Periodically this season, we will check in with riders on the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team who are competing for their national teams. Last Saturday, five of the team's riders finished in the top 25 at the Under 23 edition of the Tour of Flanders. Latvian Under 23 national road champion Krists Neilands was fifth. Americans Adrien Costa and Logan Owen were seventh and 11th, respectively. Under 23 Irish national road champion Eddie Dunbar was 20th and Trofeo Piva winner Tao Geoghegan Hart was 22nd, riding for Great Britain.
Neilands said the race was different than last year because race organizers eliminated nearly all of the cobblestone sections that the race is famous for showcasing. But that did not make it any easier, he said.
"Three kilometers before the finish, two guys attacked our group," Neilands said. "With two kilometers to go, I did an attack and caught them. Then, 500 meters before the finish, we caught the first guys and started the sprint. I did what I could do in the sprint and got fifth place. I am really happy about that."
Costa tried his hand earlier with a solo attack about 40 kilometers from the end of the 166.7 km race that started and finished in Oudenaarde, Belgium.
"We went up a climb and it was pretty hard, strung out, with a big crosswind,” Costa said. “We came out on this plateau and I was feeling good and moving up. So I decided to just keep it going. It was not a super hard attack, but I put my head down and thought maybe there was a chance, because it is a super technical course.”
Costa soloed for nearly 25 km before being joined by two others, followed by the small group containing Neilands.
Owen won the sprint among a group that arrived 19 seconds after race winner David Per of Slovenia. His group also contained Axeon teammates Dunbar and Geoghegan Hart.
"I was just sitting in what was left of the main peloton and waiting for the sprint in case Adrien got brought back," Owen said. "I can be happy with the result because we (Team USA) stuck to our plan – which was for Adrien to follow moves in the circuits and then I was to wait for the sprint. It was also cool seeing all the Axeon boys from the other nations mixing it up in that front group as well."
Many of the same riders will be competing in the two-day ZLM Roompot Tour, in the Netherlands. It begins Friday.