Rally Cycling's Evan Huffman and Rob Britton probably didn't think they were going to make history when they set off for a day-long adventure in the breakaway during stage 4 at the Amgen Tour of California.
But that's exactly what happened when the duo outgunned their three breakaway companions to finish first and second, respectively, and become the first Continental team to win a stage of a WorldTour race.
"It's incredible," said Huffman, who finished second to Ben King from a breakaway in a similar stage in 2016. "Last year was a really awesome race for me here and probably a breakthrough performance even, and to come back on top it is just really satisfying."
Huffman and Britton infiltrated the five-rider move that also included Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare), Lennard Hofstede (Team Sunweb) and Mathias Le Turnier (Cofidis, Solutions Credits) that slipped away shortly after the start in Santa Barbara.
The hilly parcours included four categorized climbs in the first 100km, but the long run into Santa Clarita made this day look, at least on paper, like another day for the sprinters. Rally had other plans with two of the team's strongest riders in the move.
"We were in a little bit of a tactical battle with [UnitedHealthcare] for the KOM points; they were trying to chase us down," Huffman said. "We rode that first climb really, really hard and then basically we had to make an agreement with Gavin that we would let him take some of the points so he would work with us, otherwise he was going to sit on for 100km.
"In the end it worked out for us, obviously, winning the stage, but it was a hard day. We pretty much had to ride a flat out team time trial all the way to the finish."
The hilly nature of the route played into Rally's hands, as the team gambled that the sprinters' teams would only be able to chase so hard up the climbs as they had to keep their sprinters in the bunch. With five strong motors up the road flying up the climbs as hard as possible, the chase was put in a fatal disadvantage.
"When I saw nine minutes early on I thought we might make it," Huffman said of the escapees' maximum advantage on the field. "Then it came down to four minutes with about 40-50km to go, and I thought maybe not. Then I think when we had a minute-and-a-half with 10km, I thought we could do it."
Those swings in confidence no doubt played with the mental state of Huffman, who, as one of the top time trialists in the US and recent winner of the Tour of the Gila's challenging race against the clock, was a candidate for a top result during Friday's Big Bear Lake time trial. Huffman used up a lot of energy on Wednesday, but it obviously paid off.
"Obviously in hindsight I'm glad I went for it today," Huffman said. "If we wanted to play conservatively, Rob goes in the break tomorrow and tries to win Baldy and I just work for the time trial. But we decided today there was a chance for the break, so we should just try to take opportunities where we can.
"If we had been caught that would have been a lot of energy used for the time trial," he said. "But the time trial is still no guarantees. So in a way there's almost a better chance of winning a stage from a break than winning time trial. What if I saved everything and then got eighth? It's better to take a shot at winning the stage from a break like I did today."
For Britton, Wednesday's result was sweet relief after the team took a beating during the stage 2 climb up Mt. Hamilton.
"After stage 2 we kind of had to go back to the drawing board," Britton said. "We lost our sprinter, our GC and pretty much any hope for the KOM pretty much in one day. So today is pretty much the best possible outcome for what we hoped to accomplish with what was left of the race."
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