After 45 minutes in the hot seat on the stage 13 individual time trial at the Vuelta a España, American Will Barta (CCC Team) watched nervously as the last riders on the start list muscled through the finish line. One by one, the top 10 in the overall standings ended their day slower than him, until defending Vuelta champion Primož Roglič approached the final stretch like a locomotive.
Above his COVID-19 mask, Barta's eyes flashed fear, then suspense, then a vague disappointment as he took in the fact that the Slovenian had just stripped him of a potential first ever professional victory – a first Grand Tour win no less – and a good chance at being added to USA Cycling's consideration for the Tokyo Olympic Games. All of that gone in a flash by just 1.08 seconds.
Barta's was the surprise ride of a challenging 33.7km course that was flat until the steep 1.8km climb to the finish that averaged a 14.8 per cent grade.
After a quick bike change in the designated zone, Barta drew away from the experienced Spaniard Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) after passing the two intermediate checks on the same time, taking the lead in the stage by nine seconds, only for Roglič to then unseat him by such a slim margin.
Barta had mixed feelings after the stage, saying: "I think if you had asked me yesterday if I would be happy with second place, I would have said that I would have been ecstatic about it but when, in the end, it's by just one second, it's obviously a bit disappointing.
"However, overall, I am happy with my effort and I don't think that there is anything else that I could really have done."
The CCC Team have the benefit of coaching from time trial specialist Marco Pinotti, who gave Barta plenty of advice on how to manage his effort.
"I talked quite a bit with Marco [Pinotti] coming into the time trial about the power and pacing especially at the beginning as it was pretty flat but actually, with the headwind, it was challenging because there was never a point where you could really ease off the pedals," Barta said.
"The final climb was just a wall really and so for the last kilometre or so going into that I tried to ease off slightly just to make sure I had something for that because it's a really hard climb and, in fact, the final kilometre of it was pretty excruciating."
Barta looked set to add another victory to the tally of the CCC Team, whose recent Giro d'Italia stage win with Josef Cerny was their first Grand Tour stage since win the Polish shoe maker CCC took over as sponsor from BMC.
The 24-year-old, who is still looking for a contract for 2021 as the CCC Team folds, said he will keep trying for the rest of the week.
"This time trial was the biggest goal of my race. I was really looking forward to it. It would have been super to win but, like I said, I'm happy with my performance," Barta said.
"The first couple of days after the first rest day I wasn't feeling super good but thankfully the legs came around and I was able to show my strength today. It's a nice last week and we are still motivated to race for some good results. I think there is a lot of room for the breakaways so hopefully we can find ourselves in there."
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