LAYTON, Utah (VN) — One of the most promising cross-discipline youngsters in American cycling, Gage Hecht is getting acquainted with high-caliber road racing this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

The event marks Hecht’s first appearance in a 2.HC-rated event, and therefore, his first chance to ride against multiple WorldTour outfits in a pro race. He and his Aevolo squad have made the most of their invite so far. Team GC leader Luis Villalobos rode up and over Mount Nebo with most of the overall favorites, finishing fourth on the stage. Hecht jumped off the front in stage 3 to give the team a second breakaway participant in as many days.

“It’s been pretty good,” Hecht said Thursday of Aevolo’s inaugural participation in the race. “Tough stages, yesterday was really hard but everything overall been really good. We had Luis get fourth which was awesome. Michael [Hernandez] was in the break which was great. We’re having a good time.”

It probably makes it easier to have a good time even in the heat when you’re wearing a race jersey — Hecht started stage 3 in the “fan favorite” jersey, having earned the honor in an open fan vote.

“I’m kind of excited about that, fan favorite. I don’t know what I did to get in it but I’m really thankful for all the fans who voted for me,” he said.

He may not have been delivered a big result or any eye-catching antics thus far in the race, but it’s hardly a surprise that fans are excited about Hecht’s presence in Utah.

The 20-year-old has a long history of winning bicycle races. Hecht has been racing since age nine. He has been a junior national champion in both cyclocross and on the road. He is currently the reigning under-23 pan-American ‘cross champ as well as the reigning U23 national time trial champ.

It’s a common theme for several up-and-coming American talents. Hecht squares off against Aevolo teammate Lance Haidet as well as Hagens Berman Axeon’s Christopher Blevins in under-23 ‘cross races in the fall and sees them on the road in the spring and summer.

Hecht may start angling more in the direction of either road or ‘cross in the future but he’s in no rush at the moment. He plans to race a full cyclocross schedule this fall and winter. Further ahead in his career, he expects his results to help guide him towards a preferred discipline.

As a road racer, Hecht is still finding his niche. He may have a national time trial title under his belt, but he says he only recently discovered that part of his skillset.

“The time trial, I’ve gotten a lot better this year, I wasn’t really expecting that,” he said.

For now, Hecht sees himself as a long-range threat. Aggressive racing is also what he enjoys the most.

“Being able to tough through the hard stages where it’s not quite a climbers’ stage and not quite a sprinters’ stage, getting into breaks, that’s my favorite stuff, and it seems to be where I excel,” he said.

Enjoying the ride is a big part of what keeps Hecht motivated to continue his development journey. He is committed to learning the ins and outs of road racing — and has had plenty of opportunities recently with both Aevolo and the U.S. national team — but he says he is also committed to having fun racing with his friends.

“You grow a lot when you’re having a good time and not focusing so hard on getting all the minor details right at this stage of the game,” Hecht said.

After Utah, Hecht may a few more chances to put his talents to the test at the Colorado Classic. In its second year of existence, Mike Creed’s Aevolo team has scored invites to both races, a major boon for a development squad hoping to give its young riders chances to mix it up with WorldTour talent. Hecht, a native of Parker, Colorado, is particularly happy about the chance to race home turf.

Beyond that, and with the 2018 season winding down, he’s not sure where road racing will take him. He is signed with Aevolo through the end of the year, and has not yet nailed down his plans for the coming season. For now, he’s keeping his options open.

“I’d of course love to come back with these guys because it’s such a great team,” he said, “but we’ll see what happens.”