American Continental and development team Axeon Hagens Berman is enjoying its most successful season yet since entering the peloton nine years ago, with Colin Joyce the eighth and latest rider to taste success in 2016.
The 22-year-old, who was second in the Tour of Utah opener, was late to the day's breakaway, but when it counted he was first over the line in Lethbridge, narrowly beating Cannondale-Drapac's Alex Howes to secure the first leader's jersey of the Tour of Alberta.
"Alex Howes was coming up on my wheel pretty fast, so that was kind of scary," said Joyce of his first professional victory. "But then I saw him beat his handlebars and I thought that meant I held on."
Up against the likes of fare more experienced riders such as Howes, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai) and Antoine Duchesne (Direct Energie), who all have ridden the Tour de France, Joyce explained how he won the stage.
"Part of me actually thought it was going to be a late breakaway that stuck," he said. "So I was kind of coming around and waiting for a lull to maybe take my own shot at a break. The big one was by Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare) and then Mollema just decided to drill it. I hopped on his wheel and he kept drilling it. He took it to 800 meters and that is when I realized it was going to come down to a little sprint. So I tried to position myself as best as possible. I put my head down and suffered the last 200 meters."
Having taken the leader's jersey, team director Axel Merckx explained the team will decide on its tactics for the remaining three stages and its ambitions for the overall.
"We will try to get some sleep, and Friday is another day," Merckx said. "But our week is already a success. We will try to put Colin in a good position and see what happens day to day."
The Idaho native suffered a badly broken leg and wrist at the 2014 Volta ao Alentejo but recovered to put in a solid 2015 season that earned a contract with Merckx's team. Merckx explained how he coaxed the prodigious talent out of a slow start to the year and is now reaping the rewards.
"Colin had a bit of bad luck at the beginning of the season with a few crashes and some illnesses," Merckx said. "At one point, it seemed that he was not going to come out of it. But I told him that things can change so quickly and I think we saw that with this win. It really puts him in the spotlight and makes his season. It is great to see a guy like that accomplish so much with a great result on this level."
Merckx's team also took the stage win the last time the race finished in Lethbridge back in 2014 with now Cannondale-Drapac pro Ruben Zepuntke.
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