Adrien Costa will not return to Axeon in 2018

Twenty-year-old Adrien Costa, the first American to win the prestigious Tour de Bretagne in France, will not return to racing with Hagens Berman Axeon in 2018, according to an announcement from the team. Costa took an official hiatus from the U23 development program last July and hasn't raced since teammate Chad Young died from injuries in a crash at the Tour of the Gila in April.

Costa had planned to return to racing this season, but after taking time away from cycling to travel, work and consider his educational options, he has decided to "stay away from racing," according to the team's announcement.

“I’m just not ready to come back yet,” Costa said in a statement released by the team. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn’t want to hold a spot on the team when that meant denying someone else of the opportunity."

Hagens Berman Axeon announced that Costa's former spot on the team will go to 21-year-old Sean Bennett from CCB Foundation-Sicleri Cycling Team.

Costa has been considered one of the brightest young prospects in American cycling since he was a junior, when he won multiple national championships and road races in Europe. He was second in the junior time trial World Championship in 2014 and then second again in the junior time trial at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond.  

In his first year with Axeon and with the U23 national team in 2016, Costa won Bretagne, then the mountains classification at Rhône-Alpes Isère. He won an individual time trial at Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and then claimed second overall Behind Lachlan Morton at the Tour of Utah, finishing ahead of Cannondale's Andrew Talansky and BMC's Darwin Atapuma. Costa ended the season with third overall at Tour de l'Avenir, and then started a brief trainee period with Quick-Step Floors, racing only four days with the Belgian WorldTour team after crashing in the Tour of Britain.

Costa started a promising 2017 season with Axeon, taking 11th overall at Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal and getting fifth at Giro del Belvedere in Italy. Costa did not finish the G.P. Palio del Recioto on April 18, and he has not returned to racing since.

"Since I stopped racing in April 2017, I've learned a lot about myself and realized how big, and unbalanced, of a part of me was cycling," Costa said in the statement released by the team on Monday. “I knew that if I was going to race again, it'd be in a much different, more relaxed way. I wasn't able anymore to have the single-minded, razor-sharp focus for training and racing that I once woke up with daily. I knew I had to lean on other things in life to provide me more balance and more happiness overall.

"After some time back in the US, I've been travelling and working in France, allowing myself to explore my other interests while also getting back to the basic joy of riding a bike for pleasure," Costa said. "When it came to thinking about racing, however, I could tell my heart was not 100 per cent in it. And cycling is such a hard sport that there's no faking it when that's the case."

Costa said the team deserved better than a "half-assed version" of himself, and so decided to give up his spot on the team rather than collecting a paycheck for racing "mediocrely in just a few events in 2018." Instead, Costa said, he'll attend Oregon State University to finish his studies in Outdoor Leadership and Tourism - and possibly a minor in psychology.

"I will always love being outside, hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and cycling - road and mountain - and I don't want that pure passion and love for it to get spoiled," he said, taking time to thank team owner Axel Merckx and the team staff Costa worked with over the past two seasons.

"Truly, I do not feel deserving of their generosity, their understanding, and their flexibility in this period, and for that I'm forever grateful and hope to someday be able to give back to this amazing program," he said. "I look forward to still spending some time on my bike, catching up with friends new and old, and keeping it fun. Who knows that the future will hold; as I've come to learn, anything is possible."

While Costa is leaving the door open for a return to competition, Bennett's future with the team is in full swing. According to the team's announcement, Merckx has been watching the 21-year-old Californian since last year.

“I’ve had Sean on my radar for some time,” Merckx said. “When I got a message from Neilson [Powless] after l’Avenir about how good and strong Sean was riding, I wanted to get him on the team. But we didn’t have a spot left.

“After I spoke with Adrian, Sean was first guy I thought about,” Merckx said. “I knew he had already committed to CCB, but I got in contact with Tim Mitchell to see if we could work something out. We had a good discussion and luckily for us, Tim was kind enough to release Sean of his contract and allow him to come to us immediately.”

Bennett also has a history with Bretagne, having won the mountains classification there with the US national team last year.

"I’m really looking forward to this year; it's the next step in turning my passion into something more," Bennett said. “Getting that email from Axel meant the next chapter in my life had begun. It has given me the opportunity to pursue this thing I love so much. It’s an unexplainable feeling to be able to live my dream."

Bennett is the eighth new rider on the team's 16-rider 2018 roster. This season will be the first for Axel Merckx's development program on the Pro Continental level. 

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