In a show of strength by Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, Eddie Dunbar and Neilson Powless finished second and third overall, respectively, as Chris Lawless placed third on the final stage and won the intermediate sprints competition and the team took home the team title on Sunday at the Belgian stage race.
The plethora of podium performances capped a double-stage day that earlier saw Powless and Dunbar go 1-2, respectively, in the individual time trial while teammate Will Barta finished fourth. Barta (ninth overall) and Lawless (sixth overall) joined Dunbar and Powless as four Axeon Hagens Berman riders finished in the top 10 in the three-day, four-stage European Tour event.
Directeur Sportif Koos Moerenhout said the team title was especially rewarding. It is the team’s second of the year, adding to the one captured at Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal in early March.
“It is not always easy on a team like ours where you have so many guys on the team riding so well,” Moerenhout said. “You have to balance it out because sometimes one or more riders can go for it. But we definitely need to help each other. That sometimes means you have good legs and cannot do the thing you would like to do. But this team worked well together and had a great fighting spirit.”
Joining the aforementioned riders on the winning squad were Adrien Costa and Ivo Oliveira. Both figured prominently in a final show of aggression intended to steal the race out from under Belgian Jasper Philipsen (BMC Development Team), who won the overall after taking the lead after the time trial.
“We Definitely Put The Pressure On”
With Dunbar and Powless both sitting 13 seconds off the lead heading into the final stage, Axeon Hagens Berman took advantage of some challenging terrain at the start 97-km road race. Oliveira attacked with two others. Costa bridged up with two more and eventually Barta, Dunbar and a third rider joined them to make it a nine-man escape.
With 40 km to go, the group’s lead peaked at 45 seconds in what had become a showdown between six chasing riders from the BMC Development and four Axeon Hagens Berman riders in the lead group.
“We knew the first part of the stage was the hardest, with two climbs,” Moerenhout said. “It worked out well putting Ivo and Adrien up the road because we would need them in the second half when it was not so hard. The guys did a terrific job with Ivo and Adrien going flat out and Eddie picking up five bonus seconds.”
“We definitely put the pressure on BMC,” Dunbar said. “The yellow jersey got dropped on one of the climbs only 30 km into the race. So our plan nearly worked. If the other teams had not started helping BMC chase, we might have made it. We definitely gave it our best shot.”
After the race came back together with two kilometres to go, Estonian Aksel Nõmmela (Leopard Pro Cycling) took the win ahead of Leon Rohde (Development Team Sunweb) and Lawless. Dunbar finished 11 seconds behind Philipsen in the overall standings while Powless was a further two seconds back.
1-2-4 Time Trial Finish
In Sunday’s morning time trial, Powless edged out Dunbar by less than a second. Barta was fourth, two seconds back, and Oliveira just missed out on the top 10, in 11th, 14 seconds back.
Powless’ win in the 10.3-km race against the clock was his first of the year and the fifth victory on the road of the season for Axel Merckx’s Under 23 development squad. The 20-year-old from Roseville, California, powered his Specialized Shiv time trial bike to a time fractions of a second better than Dunbar, the Irish Under 23 national time trial champion.
“The win was good, but I don’t think my form is quite at its best yet,” Powless said. “I am putting out good numbers, but it is not quite as comfortable as I would like it to be. That’s good, though, because there is quit a bit of racing to go in this spring block and I do not want to be on peak form too early.”
Lawless, who had held the lead since finishing runner-up on Friday’s opening stage, conceded the jersey in the penultimate stage by finishing 17th, 27 seconds back of Powless.
“I think I started out a little bit hard,” the British national criterium said. “And while I am a bit unhappy to lose the jersey, I am quite pleased with how the time trial went, considering the last time I did this one (in 2014), I finished 97th. So that is quite the improvement.”
Lawless’s third place in the final stage gave him four podium finishes in 10 starts on the year – two at Volta ao Alentejo and two this weekend at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux.