Park City, Utah - Adrien Costa, the youngest rider in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, produced what Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx called "the best performance" in the team's nine-year history Sunday.
The 18-year-old Bend, Oregon, resident rode to a remarkable runner-up overall finish in the week-long race by first chasing an attack by race winner Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis) and later dispatching his closest competitor, Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team), on the race's final descent. In doing so, he finished runner-up on the stage and gained enough time to leapfrog previous race leader Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team).
"I think this is probably the best performance we have ever had," Merckx said. "To perform like Adrien did the whole week at that level is probably our best result and accomplishment at a UCI race of this stature in the United States."
Costa - who turns 19 in less than two weeks - finished 69 seconds back of Morton in the final standings and 30 seconds ahead of Talansky. He also won both the Utah Office of Tourism King of the Mountains classification and the Subaru Best Young Rider competition.
"Going into the race, I had not idea how I was going to fare," Costa said. "I had no expectations for myself because I had a nice long break, with three weeks of barely riding at home, which I guess worked wonders. Taking into account the team we had for this race, I had no doubt that one of us would be able to accomplish something spectacular. I think this week showed our level. We were in the breakaway every day and the guys rode incredibly to keep me in position, get me bottles and to keep me out of the wind. So it was truly a team effort."
While there was no stage win for the team in the event billed as "America's Toughest Stage Race," Axeon Hagens Berman riders did produce four runner-up finishes (Colin Joyce on Stage 1, Costa on Stages 3 and 7 and Tao Geoghegan Hart on Stage 5) along with a third-place result by Costa on Stage 6 on Saturday.
"We had a bunch of second places and I will take all of them this week above a stage victory because it is really the spirit and performance of the whole team that shined through the whole race," Merckx said. "We were in almost every break and racing competitively in every stage. So it was really a concerted effort by everyone."
Geoghegan Hart, riding his last race for the team, was instrumental in being in the early breakaway to later help Costa on the run-in to the final climb. The British Under 23 national road champion went on to finish 12th overall, second-best on the team.
Irish Under 23 national time trial champion Eddie Dunbar was also in the top 20 overall, in 19th place. Joining him was USA Pro Road Tour leader Neilson Powless, Latvian Under 23 national road and time trial champion Krists Neilands, Liège-Bastogne-Liège Under 23 winner Logan Owen and Joyce, who finished in the top 10 on three stages despite a crash on Stage 3 that broke the collarbone of teammate and U.S. national road champion Greg Daniel.
In May, Costa became the first American to win the Tour de Bretagne and he placed third overall at Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour - both while racing for USA Cycling's Under 23 squad. The Tour of Utah was his first stage race competition in the U.S. this year. He is next off to compete in the Tour de l'Avenir, an eight-day mini-Tour de France contested by national teams that starts Aug. 20. After that, he will begin a stint as a stagiaire for Belgian WorldTour team Etixx-Quick Step.
(Cover photo of Costa by Davey Wilson.)