BILBAO, Spain (VN) — Amerian Will Barta pinches himself to realize that he is riding in the top WorldTour ranks with CCC Team and as a neo-professional, in his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta a España.
The dream scenario sees the 23-year-old fighting through the tough Spanish stages, including the Los Machucos climb on tap Friday. CCC threw the Idaho native into the deep end – over one year after crashing in the Under 23 Giro d’Italia and needing surgery on a broken leg – but he is swimming well in Spain.
Every day in the Vuelta, he is learning from experienced professionals in the team like Francisco Ventoso and trading secrets with other Americans in the group, including Sepp Kuss riding for Jumbo-Visma teammate and race leader Primoz Roglic and Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo).
Read about Will Barta’s physiological progression from the junior to the WorldTour ranks in our recent feature story.
VeloNews: Do you pinch yourself that you’re here at the Vuelta, a Grand Tour in your first year?
Will Barta: Yeah, it is one of those things. I couldn’t believe it when they gave me the opportunity. Yeah, it’s incredible. And you see all these people here. I mean, I never came to these races, but that would have been me five years ago [watching on TV]. So it’s quite exciting to be here.
VN: Halfway into it, how is the Vuelta a España going for you?
WB: It’s been really a learning experience and I’m just kind of taking it day by day and enjoying myself. So it’s been really nice race so far.
VN: What have you learned so far?
WB: I think the biggest thing is taking it day by day. I mean, you have some highs and some lows, and you had to move past it and just keep racing for three weeks. Overall, it’s not been so bad for me. It’s been fun so far.
VN: How has the first year in the WorldTour ranks gone? You’ve been in big races, including the Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice. I
WB: It’s been a big step up. And it’s been lucky that the team’s given me these opportunities to race in the big races because how else do you learn but by doing them? So, I’ve been really fortunate to take part in them.
VN: Do you have to be careful not going too deep early on?
WB: Yeah, like in the Vuelta, I was really trying to stay a bit cautious the first week especially and then I was hoping to do well in the time trial in Pau. And now it’s kind of really time to go all in.
VN: How’s your hip? You had surgery and still have some metal in it.
WB: I still have plate in there. And so after this race, I take it out this fall. So I’m looking forward to that because I feel not quite like my old self. I have to be honest. So I’m really looking forward to getting that out and getting to 100% again.
VN: Is the Vuelta a España your last race of the 2019 season?
WB: Yeah, the plan now is this is last race. Yes. I go back to the US. And yeah, I have an operation to take the hardware out. I’m hoping to take another step up next year in 2020 because to be honest, for myself, it was not the best season. I think it was hard coming off of last year with the injury. And so I’m hoping to take a big step up next year and continue to improve.