American Adrien Costa won't be on hand to defend his 2016 title when the Tour de Bretagne rolls out of Rennes on Tuesday, choosing instead to alter his race calendar and compete in the U23 time trial at the Pan American Road Championships in the Dominican Republic next week.
"It was a decision him and I made together," USA Cycling U23 Manager Nate Wilson said in a statement released by Costa's trade team, Axeon Hagens Berman. "He could go there and do well, but it's not the best thing for him at the moment."
Wilson elaborated on the decision in an email to Cyclingnews, saying Costa is not sick or injured, he's just changing his program "a little bit."
Racing with USA Cycling last year at the UCI 2.2 Europe Tour race, Costa, 19, took the lead on the stage 4 summit finish and then held it through the final three days.
Despite lacking the defending champion on the US team this year, Wilson said the squad is bringing a strong line up with multiple riders who could win the overall.
"Some may look at this as a challenge," Wilson said. "But as long as we play it right, it is only a strength. The key, for me, is to create an environment where one rider is just as happy to see their teammate win, as they are to see themselves. If we can use our strength collectively, we will be successful."
The USA Cycling roster will feature Axeon's Will Barta, Logan Owen, Neilson Powless and Ian Garrison, along with Sean Bennett (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and Gavin Hoover (iCademy).
"Powless will be a natural leader," Wilson said. "But we've also got Barta and Owen, who have both shown multiple times that they can be contenders on this level."
Powless is coming off a win Tuesday at the G.P. Palio del Recioto in Italy. Barta was fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 race on Saturday, and Owen is fully recovered from illness and injuries that slowed him after he won a stage at Volta ao Alentejo. Garrison, who will also represent USA Cycling at the Pan Am championships, was runner-up in the U23 Gent-Wevelgem in March.
Wilson said having multiple options is a big advantage in a race like Bretagne, where turbulent weather often leads to an unpredictable race.
"Stages 3, 6 and 7 look to be the most pivotal in terms of terrain challenges," Wilson said. "However, in Bretagne, the wind blows. That means that any one stage can be decisive.
"Having a chaotic and unpredictable race also circles back to the benefit of having multiple riders that can handle leadership duties," Wilson said. "We don't have to be stressed if our singular leader misses a breakaway, because we can put another strong rider into the move."