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Tour of Alberta Stage 1 – Huffman Comes Out Swinging

The 2016 edition of the Tour of Alberta kicked off Thursday in the southern city of Lethbridge. Consisting of nine circuits, each with a tough climb, it was anyone’s guess on how the race would play out. Several teams banked on the stage coming down to a field sprint, while others gambled on a breakaway taking the day’s victory. Rally Cycling hedged its bets and divided its efforts between Evan Huffman for a breakaway, and Shane Kline if the peloton was still intact in the final meters.

“It was a really good day for us,” said Team Director Patrick McCarty. “There were a couple of surprises on the how it played out. We were leaning more towards the field sprint and had our sprinters keyed up, but the race was really hard and Evan was certainly one of our guys we wanted to follow the moves. The big separation worked out well, we had our two general classification guys with Evan and Danny (Pate) and our sprinter Shane. For us, it was like a resetting of the race with a smaller peloton. Evan was the only one able to make a big attack on the final climb and showed he is one of the strongest guys in the race.”

How it Went Down

The late afternoon start time didn’t slow the pace as attacks came fast and furious from the gun.  With the speed high, the peloton quickly shattered with a large group of twenty going up the road. Within the group was last year’s Tour of Alberta champion Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). With no Rally Cycling riders in the front group, Evan Huffman and Danny Pate dropped the hammer and bridged across with Shane Kline and six other riders.

With the lead group up to 29 riders, the time gap pulled out to over two minutes at the race's halfway point. The gap held steady until the second to last lap. Pate then when on the attack and gained a few seconds before the breakaway gave chase. As Pate was reeled in, Huffman countered attacked with Alex Howes (Cannondale – Drapac) and Robin Carpenter (Holowesko – Citadel). The trio drew eight riders clear to create a new lead group of eleven.

On the final climb, Huffman launched a stinging attack that put the remaining breakaway riders on the back foot. Knowing they couldn’t afford to let Huffman get away, they worked together an reeled him in over the top of the climb. With the finish line closing in, Huffman tucked into the group and rested up for the sprint. In the end, Huffman would have to settle for fourth behind Collin Joyce (Axeon - Hagens Berman), Howes and Carpenter. Although disappointed to not take the stage win, Huffman is now in an ideal position to challenge for the final general classification.

“It was a strange situation out on the road with such a large group going clear, it was more of field split than a breakaway,” said Huffman. “I didn’t want to over commit because there were a lot of teams with multiple riders, and I knew it was just a matter of time before they started attacking. With three laps to go, a few guys attacked and I covered the move. At that point, I was by myself and just tried to ride smart. I felt really good and tried to attack on the last climb. I had a gap, but it wasn’t quite enough and they pulled me back. I tried to reset for the sprint but I had given everything I had on the climb. I’m disappointed not to get a better result, but it sets us up well for the general classification.”
 Behind the Scenes: Strategy is Key

Before certain stages it is common to hear team directors say, “The race won’t be won today, but it could be lost.” Those words were spoken more than a few times prior to the start of stage 1.

Performance Manager James Carney and Team Director Patrick McCarty go over final race details.

The late start meant that most of the staff was quickly eating dinner just as the riders where rolling out.