Rob Britton (Team SmartStop) finished 10th in the general classification at the 2015 Tour of California. Britton's finish made him the top domestic rider in the 10th edition of the race. Britton encountered a few bumps through the week, but his recent win at Tour of the Gila, and subsequent finish in California, has put him at the top of the list of domestic stage racers.
"That was my goal, to be the top stage race domestically in North America this year," Britton said. "I guess this year that is pretty much where I stand."
Britton and teammate Bobby Sweeting made the breakaway during California's first stage in Sacramento, giving Britton enough time bonuses to make him an early contender for the yellow jersey. Britton sat in third place, 43 second out of the lead after stage 3, but he encountered bad luck going into Santa Clarita on stage 5 when he got caught behind a crash.
His luck did not improve when the stage 6 time trial was changed from Big Bear Lake to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita.
"The short time trial hurt us a bit in the GC. I think we could have been a couple of more spots up," Britton said. "Personally I played it about as well as I could. And the guys did an amazing job taking care of me all week. I literally had the armchair ride every day."
Britton has worked closely with coach Chris Baldwin to get to this point. Illness in December nearly derailed Britton's plans and required that he work even harder heading into the spring. Britton is focused on a handful of North American stage races including Tour de Beauce, Tour of Utah, and the USA Pro Challenge. In addition, Britton could be selected for the Toronto Pan Am games this summer based on his Tour of California experience.
Britton's emergence as a GC player may open new doors, but he takes a practical approach when asked about riding in the WorldTour.
"It would be great to go up there but I'm also realistic," Britton said. "I'm 30 years old. I'm not 22-years- old, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and that's what they look for even if the progression is there every year. It is a tall order."
Britton's development has closely tracked the success of Team SmartStop the last two years. Both Britton and his team continue to improve each race, with no limit yet in sight.
"Top 10 overall, first non WorldTour team, it's pretty dang good," said Team SmartStop director Mike Creed. "It's not a win, I don't know how infinitely marketable that is or if that means anything to sponsors, but it's a sign of Rob's class."