Santa Clarita, California – Will Barta's day in the breakaway Monday at the Amgen Tour of California did not go unrewarded, despite the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team rider being reeled in with a kilometer to go.
While two of his fellow escapees – Benjamin King (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team) and Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) – battled it out for the stage win, Barta rolled in with the peloton eight seconds later to earn the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider jersey.
"The team planned to get in the break today," Barta said. "In the beginning, we had three of us (Geoffrey Curran, Neilson Powless and Barta) in that first big breakaway group of 22. Then, that came back. I just tried to be patient and watch for things to go and eventually it went."
King went on to narrowly beat Huffman for the stage win and take the overall lead two stages into the eight-day race. Barta is sixth overall, 21 seconds off the lead.
"It was a really hard day," said the 20-year-old from Boise, Idaho. "This is one of the biggest races on our calendar all year. So it was nice to get the jersey."
Barta was one of four riders who slipped the pack just after the second of four categorized climbs, 96 kilometers from the end of the 148.5-km race from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita. Joined by King, Huffman and Sindre Skjoestad Lunke (Team Giant-Alpecin), the quartet rapidly built up a lead that maxed out at more than seven minutes.
Several teams shared the pacemaking to chase the escapees: first Tinkoff and Direct Energie and later Katusha Team and the BMC Racing Team. That sliced the lead of Barta's group in half. On the final categorized climb, Skjoestad Lunke was dropped and not long after that, Barta had to stop with a mechanical problem.
"We did a quick change to get Will a new bike and he made a monster effort to get back to the break," Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Jeff Louder said. "It was not a small feat. When anything like that happens in the last 30 kilometers, it is a tough ask to come back."
With Louder encouraging him from the team car, Barta fought back to rejoin King and Huffman. But a final uncategorized climb within 10 km of the finish proved to be his undoing.
"I tried to ride hard all day but just got popped on that last climb and that was it," Barta said.
Coincidentally race leader King and SRAM Best Young Rider, Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team), join Barta as past or present members of the Axeon program that has graduated 18 riders to the WorldTour in its nine years of existence.
King expressed his gratitude to Axel Merckx's development program after donning the yellow jersey.
"Will Barta is riding for the team that got me started, along with Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team) and so many other good riders in this race," King said. "It just goes to show how valuable that is for the next generation. It gives them the opportunities and the experience and the mentorship to learn how to do things correctly and also to really have a good time because it is a fun team."
Four of Barta's teammates join him in the top 20 in the overall standings. Ruben Guerreiro is 12th, Logan Owen is 17th, Tao Geoghegan Hart is 19th and Neilson Powless is 20th. All are 24 seconds off the lead.
Tuesday's stage is 167.5 km from Thousand Oaks to a summit finish up the twisting slopes of Gibraltar Road.