Tour of California: Huffman keeping his options open

After winning two stages at the Amgen Tour of California last year, Rally Cycling's Evan Huffman is back at the race taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether he'll hunt stage wins again this year or try for a general classification result.

Huffman won stages 4 and 7 last year with the help of teammate Rob Britton after Rally's GC hopes evaporated during the stage 2 GC raid that saw George Bennett, Rafal Majka, Ian Boswell and Lachlan Morton catch the rest of the peloton off-guard. This year's stage 2, which finishes with the climb up Gibraltar Road, will once again be a deciding factor for Huffman's approach.

"I think I need to go into those first two stages giving myself the option of doing a good climb up Gibraltar and then take it from there," Huffman told Cyclingnews in Long Beach on Saturday ahead of Sunday's start.

"If I lose more than two minutes, then obviously I'll readjust and then maybe the next day I'll be in the breakaway, or just focus on the time trial and go in the breakaway on the Tahoe stage. But if I'm close, even top 20 maybe, it might be worth seeing how I go in the time trial, and, if I can move up enough, then I'll focus on trying to do a GC result."

The stage 4 time trial is lengthy at 34.7km, and the parcours is relatively flat – the perfect opportunity for Huffman to demonstrate his TT prowess.

While Huffman is taking a wait-and-see approach, his teammates Britton and Brandon McNulty have more clear-cut roles to ride for overall results. Britton won the Tour of Utah last year and added another Tour of the Gila title to his palmarès last month, while 20-year-old McNulty is a former junior time trial world champion and was runner-up in the U23 TT last year.

"Rob is for sure the leader," Huffman said. "We have a one-pronged approach, unlike BMC. Rob is our leader, 100 per cent. Other than that, I think I would like to try on Gibraltar. It's probably a little bit over my head to ride for the GC at this race, but I think it's worth trying, especially with the longer, flatter TT. It suits me better than guys who can out-climb me.

"But Brandon, as well, being eligible for the white young rider's jersey, will probably ride for the GC. So Rob and Brandon have more clear-cut roles, and I'm going to try to be a little more flexible and take opportunities."

Huffman made the most of his opportunities last year, capitalising on Rally's relatively unknown status among the European WorldTour teams at the race. Huffman and Britton made the breaks, powered them to the line, and then finished them off. It might be a little more difficult to pull off this year, now that Rally is less of an unknown quantity. Huffman said he wasn't sure how the peloton will react to Rally's bright-orange jerseys going up the road this year.

"I think that they like to write us off, and it's maybe to our advantage if they do it again, but after the results we've had at this race and other races, I don't think they should," Huffman said. "But we'll see. It's kind of nice to have maybe a little more respect in the peloton, but if we're being marked out of breakaways and stuff, that would be pretty frustrating. We'll see how it goes out on the road."

Returning with Rally

After Huffman's two WorldTour stage wins last year in California, speculation was rampant that the 28-year-old, who rode for Astana in 2013 and 2014, would have another WordTour contract in the bag. Huffman put that speculation to rest, however, when he announced during his victorious Tour of Alberta run that he had signed with Rally for two more years.

"They were talking about moving up to Pro Conti this season, and it seemed like the team was growing and moving in that direction, so it's not a bad idea to keep moving in that direction with them," Huffman said.

"I didn't have a lot of interest from other teams, but I also didn't pursue other teams a lot. I'm sure I could have got on a WorldTour team if I’d wanted to, but I don't think I would have had the same leadership opportunities that I do here, and maybe would have a more chaotic race schedule. So I think it was just a good idea for me to stay here."

THE HOLY WEEK from Cyclingnews Films on Vimeo.

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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.