"I personally am going to be with this team the next two years," Huffman said. "It's perfect timing. I had a really, really good season this year, and with the team moving up to Pro Continental it was just really good timing for me and a good opportunity, so I was really happy to stay here."
Huffman has indeed had a really, really good season this year. He started with the overall win at the Tour of the Gila, and then knocked off two stage wins at the inaugural WorldTour edition of the Tour of California in May. He won a stage at the Cascade Cycling Classic in July but then suffered at altitude at the Tour of Utah and the Colorado Classic.
The 27-year-old Californian, who rode for Astana in 2013 and 2014 before moving to SmartStop and then Rally last year, took Friday's opening stage at the Tour of the Alberta by the horns, wrestling his way into a 14-rider breakaway with teammate Sepp Kuss and then jumping away from the move at the bottom of the final 14km climb to Marmot Basin Ski Resort.
Huffman, who was third overall in Alberta last year, finished 15 seconds ahead of teammate Sepp Kuss on Friday and 28 seconds ahead of Cannondale-Drapac's Tom-Jelte Slagter, who won the same stage in 2015.
With Kuss being the better pure climber of the two Rally riders, Huffman had been working hard in the breakaway in hopes of setting up his teammate for the win. But when the opportunity presented itself at the bottom of the climb, Huffman slow rolled away from the group and then poured on the power to stay away for the win. Kuss followed him in for a Rally one-two.
"Huffman was actually doing a ton of work in the break, because I guess we just assumed that I was going to go for it, but it's not really a climber's climb, per se," Kuss said. "It was great that Evan played that card at the bottom, attacking. And once he attacked I knew he was gone because it's a perfect climb for him, and he's riding super strong. He was out of sight, and then I was just able to sit in the wheels and then get a gap in the last 500 metres."
The climb to Marmot Basin, where Huffman was fifth in 2015 is long but not particularly steep until the final kilometre, so he knew what to expect from the climb and from himself.
"I'm a little on the heavier side compared to guys like Sepp, so I'm good in time trials and breakaways," Huffman said. "When it starts getting into the double-digit gradients, it's not really my style. But like today, five or six per cent and really steady, I can go uphill pretty well.
"I was fifth here two years ago, and that was a breakthrough ride for me, so I knew I could be strong on a climb like that," he said.
With no time bonuses on the stage, Huffman now leads the overall by 15 seconds over Kuss, 28 over Slagter, 30 over Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare) and 32 over Jack Burke (Aevolo). Cannondale's Alex Howes is sixth, 38 seconds back.
The three remaining stages look sprinter friendly on paper, but time bonuses at the intermediate sprints and at the finishes could shuffle the GC where there are no more mountains. Huffman said he is "pretty confident" in his ability to maintain his lead through the remaining stages.
"Anything can still happen for sure, especially at this race, which has a history of being wet and windy and cold, which complicates things sometimes," Huffman said. "But we have a pretty strong team here. I think the advantage is that there are a lot of good sprinters here, so hopefully the finish-line time bonuses are not going to guys in the GC.
"We could get some help from Holowesko," he said. "They have John Murphy and Ty Magner who are really quick, so hopefully the time bonuses aren't a huge factor on GC and we can just play defence for the rest of the race."
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