Rob Britton has been knocking on the door of a big UCI stage wins for several seasons, first with SmartStop and now with Rally Cycling. The 32-year-old has been close in the past, taking third at the USA Pro Challenge in 2015 and challenging riders with loftier pedigrees for nearly a decade.
Britton didn't just finally open that door this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, he knocked it off its hinges, taking the overall win ahead of Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare) and Serghei Tvetocv (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) with a dominant display of climbing prowess and tactical sense.
Britton took the lead from teammate Sepp Kuss during the uphill time trial on stage 3, then he and his team defended the slim lead through four difficult days in a race that bills itself as America's toughest.
"It means a lot to me, and I think for the team it shows that we're more than capable of being Pro Continental," Britton said, referring to the US Continental team's plan to jump to second-division status next year.
"I think we were there in other years, but this year has just been phenomenal," Britton said. "I think we've had success at just about every race we've gone to. Personally, I've been knocking on the door for along, long time, and I've been passed over for a few things. So this is pretty sweet."
Britton started his season in Europe with a rough run of bad luck, then returned to the States to finish second in the uphill time trial at Joe Martin. He won the climber's jersey at the Tour of the Gila, and then was set for success at the WorldTour Amgen Tour of California.
He helped teammate Evan Huffman win two stages from breakaways in the WorldTour race, then reset for the second half of the season starting with Utah, where he said his team's tight-knit atmosphere helped drive home his win.
"By and large this group of guys has been together for every race more or less this year," he said. "We changed one guy for this race out of the eight. Otherwise I've raced with the same seven guys this year. So we know each other really well. We've all ridden for each other at some point or another all year.
"So we're very, very tight knit. I have a lot of confidence in them, and they have a lot of confidence in me. I've been doing this for awhile, and I know that there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. But it's something that I kind of thrive on. I'm just very grateful to have such a fantastic team, because without them I wouldn't be where I am."
Britton said keeping the core group of riders from last year together and making a few new additions pushed the team to the next level.
"I think the biggest difference is that last year there was huge change to the roster at Rally," he said. "This year we made a few changes, but they were key changes, and those changes reflected on all the races this year. Guys like Sepp Kuss, Matteo Dal-Cin, who wasn't here this race.
"Everybody just clicked from day one," Britton said. "The biggest difference is the work ethic and kind of the sell-out mentality of the guys is phenomenal. And that's pretty special to have everyone on board to go all in for one goal."
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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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