Grândola, Portugal – Krists Neilands notched a season-best eighth place finish Saturday at Volta ao Alentejo while the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team took the lead in the team classification with a day to go in the Portuguese race.
The Latvian Under 23 national road champion was part of a day-long breakaway and the virtual race leader for much of the 184.7-kilometer race. His group finished 32 seconds ahead of the peloton, which climbed him from 17th to 12th in the overall standings. Along with teammate Logan Owen, Neilands is now 28 seconds back of race leader Krister Hagen (Team Coop-ØsterHus) while Tao Geoghegan Hart is best-placed for Axeon Hagens Berman in sixth, 17 seconds behind.
"Krists rode a very smart race," Assistant Sport Director Jeff Louder said. "We talked about the possibility of a breakaway making it to the line today and he capitalized on that. He had a lot of responsibility as the virtual yellow jersey all day but he handled it well. He had to do the majority of the work in the final 20 kilometers and the breakaway made it thanks to his effort. In the end, it was an "almost" and that is painful. But I am very happy with how he rode today. "
Neilands was part of a group of 15 riders who slipped the pack only five kilometers into the race. With 13 different teams represented, the escapees rapidly built a five-minute lead after 21 km and a maximum advantage of eight minutes with still more than 130 km to race. Neilands helped his cause in the overall standings by earning nine bonus seconds on the strength of winning three intermediate sprints. He was also second over the day's only categorized climb, which came about 25 km from the finish.
While Neilands was driving the escape, his six teammates were not always faring as well in the peloton behind.
"Tao was fighting some stomach ailment and Logan crashed again," Louder said. "The pack split into three parts at one point and the guys all ended up in the last group. They really had to weld it together in what was a clutch move. But once the groups came back together, that killed the chase and the breakaway got a new lease on life."
Jarno Gmelich Meyling earned the second consecutive stage win by the team of Metec-TKH Continental Cyclingteam presented by Mantel by out-sprinting Jose Antonio De Segovia (Louletano-Hospital de Loulé) and Garikoitz Bravo (Euskadi-Murias).
In the team standings, three other teams are within a minute of Axeon Hagens Berman with only Sunday's final stage to go. It includes two categorized climbs and three intermediate sprints along a 172.3-km route from Santiago do Cacém to Évora.
"It is a nice honor to be leading the team race and it underlines how well all seven of the boys have been racing this week," Louder said. "We will do our best to keep it Sunday."