Adrien Costa's ascent from top junior to world-class pro cyclist took another step in the right direction this week at the Tour of Utah, where the 18-year-old American finished second overall behind Jelly Belly-Maxxis' Lachlan Morton and ahead of Cannondale-Drapac's Andrew Talansky.
"It's incredible," Costa told Cyclingnews in the finishing straight after stage 7, when he finished second on the final stage. "It's going to take a lot to settle in. Today the goal was to just to hold the spot on the podium and to be able to improve. To drop Talansky on the climb, that's really, really amazing, so I'm really happy."
Costa also dropped Giro d'Italia and Tour de Suisse stage winner Darwin Atapuma on the descent to the finish in Park City, adding another feather to his already well-decorated cycling pedigree.
"It's been pretty incredible," he said. "I've never done an event of this HC status before, so, yeah, to be on the podium is pretty incredible."
Costa put in an impressive week in Utah, getting into a breakaway on stage 1 and then initiating a move with Morton and Talansky over the 3,000 metre climb up Mt. Nebo on stage 5, eventually finishing second behind Morton and ahead of Talansky at the finish in Payson.
He impressed again during Saturday's Queen stage, finishing third behind stage winner Talansky and runner-up Atapuma.
The performance blew away Axeon Hagens Berman director Axel Merckx, who said Costa's Utah result was amazing.
"It's been an amazing week," Merckx told Cyclingnews. "We weren't expecting something like that. We know he's good, and we all know he has a lot of talent, but we came in without expectation.
"The sky's the limit," Merckx said of Costa's potential. "He's still got a couple of things that he has to work on that will make a big difference, especially in European cycling. Here it's OK because the roads are wide and it's easier to make a difference. But he's willing to learn and he's got a few years to go."
Read more on this story:
- Costa continues to impress with Tour of Utah performance
- Etixx-Quickstep add Costa, Cortina, Schreurs as trainees
- Costa cruises to overall win at Tour de Bretagne
- Adrien Costa striving to be part of American elite
Costa will head to the Tour de l'Avenir with the USA Cycling U23 team after Utah, then he'll start a stagiaire period with Etixx-QuickStep. The experience with one of the world's top teams will no doubt be invaluable, but both Costa and Merckx said the rider, who will turn 19 later this month, isn't in a hurry to move to cycling's top tier.
"Obviously it's easy to get ahead of yourself," Costa said at the post-race press conference. "You get a result like this or something in Europe and all of the sudden you have pro teams knocking on your door. But like Lachlan [Morton] said earlier, it's important to enjoy the results as they come and to keep having fun. For me, I have the opportunity to ride with Etixx as a stagiaire this fall, which I think will give me a good taste of the next level and kind of wet my feet a little bit."
Merckx said the only danger Costa faces in his development is to move to the next level too early.
"The best thing he can do is talk to guys like [Joe] Dombrowski and ask him about it," Merckx said. "We have a solid program and we'll try to give him the best support that we can for as long as we can. I'll tell him whenever I think it's time for him to go, but for sure not this year."
While Costa has shined this week at the Tour of Utah, he didn't have an opportunity to show off one of his best skills in the race, which didn't have a time trial. Costa in the two-time world championship silver medalist in the race against the clock, and his ability to climb as well makes him a prime contender for general classification success.
"He's young and he needs more power to be able to time trial at the very top level," Merckx said. "That will come with time and resistance. The engine is very big. The heart and everything is great, but he still has to get stronger. If he keeps going like this you guys will have something good going on for the Grand Tours, I think.
"I don't know what you were doing at 18, but I sure wasn't doing something like that."