One second away: Barta’s TT heartbreak in a contract year
Will Barta was one second away from his first professional win in Tuesday’s stage of La Vuelta a España. Only the race leader Primoz Roglic could clock a faster time. Barta’s second place was, however, a career-best for the 24-year old rider from Boise, Idaho.
“I didn’t have a great night’s sleep but not a bad one either,” he says on the phone from Spain. ”Of course you do think back about the race but to be perfectly honest I don’t think I could have gotten that one second back somewhere. I wanted it, I wanted to go faster but it was just impossible. I was way too tired.”
If you look at Barta’s results throughout his career, the time trials stand out. A seventh place in Tour de Poitou-Charente and an eleventh place in the Tirreno Adriatico, ahead of known specialists like Mikkel Bjerg, Wilco Kelderman, and Matthias Brändle.
“I love the effort of a time trial. It’s a completely solo affair in which I alone am responsible for what I do. I have full control of every aspect of my race. In a peloton, there are so many more variables that I have to deal with. That to me is a learning curve. I get my best results in time trials but want to become more all-round as well.”
Barta comes from Idaho, in the northwest of the United States. He grew up competing in cross country skiing but made the switch to cycling in his early teens.
“The cross-country team I was part of was sponsored by a local bike shop. They also supported the local cycling team which I joined. Matteo Jorgenson who is now on Team Movistar was on the same team. While Boise itself is at 800 meters altitude we have mountains over 2,000 meters. Because it’s so sparsely populated there is basically only one road up the mountain which I did many, many times.”
After some great results in the junior ranks with USA Cycling, he joined Axel Merckx’s development team, then Axeon Cycling Team, now Hagens Berman Axeon. The team managed by Merckx has laid the foundation of many pro cyclists’ careers. The most recent accomplishment by an Axeon alumni was Tao Geoghegan Hart’s overall win at the Giro d’Italia on October 25th of this year. There were also stage wins by Alex Dowsett, Ruben Guerreiro, and Jonathan Narváez, all former members of Merckx’s team.
“It shows the success of the team. When I joined I came straight from the juniors. The years on Axeon were my most formative years so far. Many of my best friends are from those years including Tao. He is just a super good guy. I was racing here in Spain of course but immediately after the stage I checked Procyclingstats and was so happy for him. The strength of Axel Merckx and all of the staff is that they want to make you better. With so many young and talented guys everyone wants a big piece of the pie but Axel manages to create an atmosphere of positive competitiveness that works. He and all of the staff create a team atmosphere where we enjoy each other’s company. Friendship is the key. They also taught me to have more fun. I always put so much pressure on myself already and they taught me to loosen up a little as well.”
Barta signed with the CCC team in 2019 on a two-year contract. CCC is one of the teams hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic. Early on, after a lot of the races had been postponed or canceled, the riders had to take pay cuts and a lot of the team’s staff was let go. In May it was announced that CCC would no longer be sponsoring the team in 2021. A few of CCC’s riders have found homes for next year, but Barta is still on the hunt.
“I was already talking to some teams but this second place helps to get noticed. This might be the last little push I need to get through the door. I have been consistent all year but never had a stand-out performance like I did Tuesday. Now I have something to show. There are more eyes on me. I must admit the thought that I might be back in school doing a degree in economics crossed my mind too. It’s a difficult time to get a team but I am positive I will find a new team for 2021.”
The Vuelta is not over yet, and out of the five stages remaining, Barta sees opportunities for himself in at least three.
“I set a goal before the race to get a top three in a stage. I did that now but I also want to try it in a road stage. I want to show I am more all-around. I don’t know how today, the day after the time trial, will pan out but Thursday and Friday are good opportunities as well to try. It’s sad CCC is folding because we finally found our groove. Everyone enjoys the racing now and I hope to add to that.”
Barta lives in Nice, France, as well as Oslo, Norway during the season. After the Vuelta, Barta will return to Norway where his girlfriend lives. They met during a high school exchange program in Boise.
“Nice is on lockdown so I don’t know if I will be able to leave again once I am there. In Norway, I will most definitely pick up my skis again. It’s good training and I just love being on skis. For next year I want to become more all-round as a rider. The time trial remains my strong suit but I also want to aim for the general classification in week-long or even Grand Tours. I am still young.”