Negrar, Italy - Ruben Guerreiro scored Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's first victory of its European campaign Tuesday when he captured the 55th edition of G.P. Palio del Recioto.
The 21-year-old from Portugal pumped both fists as he crossed the line to celebrate his win in the 143.2-kilometer Italian Under 23 race. After being part of the day's original breakaway that formed after a dozen kilometers, Guerreiro beat Michal Schlegel (Klein Constantia) after the Czechoslovakian rider led out of the final corner.
"I did not know Schlegel well, but 50 percent of me was confident for the sprint," Guerreiro said. "It was very nice to win. This victory goes to my teammates, especially Krists Neilands, and the staff. All of them are always working hard."
Neilands was one of Axeon's unsung heroes on the day. Riding with Guerreiro in a 16-man breakaway, the Latvian Under 23 national road champion did the majority of the work to keep the escape clear. But what was once a four-minute lead had been reduced to fewer than two when the group approached the day's major climb.
"Krists sacrificed very much for me," Guerreiro said. "With 40 kilometers to go, I attacked. Schlegel and I worked well together until the end. Then we were each trying to drop each other."
Guerreiro and Schlegel finished 62 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Amanuel Gebreigzabheir (Dimension Data for Qhubeka) and 1:59 ahead of a group that included Axeon Hagens Berman's Tao Geoghegan Hart, who placed seventh.
With teams limited to five-man rosters, the complexion of the race was much different, Geoghegan Hart said.
"It was very uncontrolled, so having guys up the road was perfect," he said. "My role then became to simply follow, which I did. There was no concerted chase behind, and I was very heavily marked. So I simply stayed at the head of affairs and marked the dangerous bigger groups. I was happy with my sprint at the end, to roll in in the top 10, but a lot happier to see Ruben win. That was all that was in my mind the last 30 kilometers. I knew he would pull it off."
Guerreiro's victory was his first since taking a stage and the overall of GP Liberty Seguros in his home country last March. He joins a roster of past Palio del Recioto champions that includes past world road champion Francesco Moser (1970), Giro d'Italia winner Roberto Visentini (1975) and multi-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (2000).
"This is one of the big Italian races in the spring," Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx said. "There were almost 200 riders on the start line, so it is very nice to be able to win a race like this in the U23 category. We are still on the right path - not only Ruben - but the whole team has been riding pretty strong. It was a great team effort and a great way to have a win. To see Krists sacrifice himself for Ruben all day was nice to have that effort rewarded."