The boys of the Bissell Development Team stole the show from the WorldTour teams during Wednesday's stage of the Tour of Alberta in Lethbridge, launching German speedster Ruben Zepuntke across the line in front of Tour de France stage winner Ramunas Navardauskas in a photo finish.
The win was the biggest of Zepuntke's career, and it provided the 21-year-old some consolation after being passed over for the German U23 national team that competed at the Tour de l'Avenir Nations Cup race last week.
"In Colorado I did a good job, and they didn't invite me for l'Avenir," Zepuntke told Cyclingnews, referring to his performance last month at the USA Pro Challenge. "They cut me off from the selection, so I was pretty depressed about that. So I was really lucky to be here and to be able to show my talent."
Zepuntke is hoping his result in Lethbridge will boost his chances of making his country's squad for the U23 World Championships later this month in Ponferrada, Spain.
"I think with that victory they have to take me," he said. "Otherwise I would be very mad. So I hope."
Although Zepuntke was rightfully proud of his victory, he praised his entire team's effort throughout the rain-soaked stage in Southern Alberta. His 18-year-old teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck made the daylong breakaway of three riders that also included Orica-GreenEdge's veteran classics rider Matthew Hayman and Hincapie Sportswear's Robin Carpenter, a stage winner in Colorado.
"All of our guys did a really good job today," Zepuntke said. "Nathan did a very good job in his first year as under-23 to be in the front with such good riders. Tanner Putt brought me to the front at the end, too. I was top five going up the last King of Mountains. I thought it would be a big day for us because we were four or five guys in the first group."
Bissell had five riders in the front group of 36 that formed in the final kilometers. Aside from Zepuntke, the team had Putt, James Oram, Nicolai Brochner and Daniel Eaton for the finale. Putt launched an attack in the final five kilometers, and when the field brought him back, Eaton went next.
"I think he was caught within the last kilometer," Zepuntke said. "So I think that is telling of our development program that we had four or five riders in the first group. A big thanks to [team owner Axel Merckx] that we can ride here."
With the lead group softened up from chasing down Putt and Eaton, Zepuntke relied on a lead-out from Oram to set up his final finishing kick.
"He went from the last kilometer and made such a big effort to bring me to the front," Zepuntke said of his Kiwi teammate. "He went actually until the last 300 meters. I thought, 'Yeah, if I go now I could win.' So I had to give up five meters to James just to go in his slipstream. And then with maybe 200 meters to go I came over him. It was a very good lead-out from James. So thanks to him."
Zepuntke was also surprisingly thankful for the wet and cold conditions, which overall race leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) referred to as "horrible." Zepuntke, on the other had, said he liked the inclement weather.
"I'm a big rider, and I have maybe too much fat on my body," he joked in the post-race press conference. "I'm kind of used to it, and I like to ride in the rain because I am strong in the rain because maybe the others are not that good. I like it."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.
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