Will Barta is back in one piece — and a bit lighter after a few chunks of metal were taken out of his hip and collarbone in the off-season — and he’s keen to prove his worth in what will be his sophomore WorldTour season in 2020.
Even with some issues, the highly touted 23-year-old still notched some impressive results in his rookie season with CCC Team, including a top-10 with seventh in a time trial at the Tour de Romandie and a top-20 with 17th in a time trial at the Vuelta a España in his grand tour debut.
All that came as Barta rode his first season on the WorldTour while still recovering and dealing with some nagging issues from a broken femur suffered during the 2018 Baby Giro in Italy.
“I had a surgery this fall to take out some metal that was bothering me, both out of my collarbone and my hip,” Barta told VeloNews. “It’s been a year and a half with issues with my leg. Now I feel much, much better on the bike, so I believe it’s going to be a much better year for me in 2020.”
Now fully recovered, Barta is determined to fulfill his potential in his second season in the WorldTour. It’s been a long road over the 18 months for the highly touted all-rounder.
Barta was flying high in the 2018 Giro Ciclista d’Italia — the prestigious U23 stage race won by Joe Dombrowski in 2012 — sitting eighth overall after riding to third in a key mountain stage, when he crashed in stage 9. The heavy fall left him busted up, and while he lay in a hospital bed in Italy recovering from surgery, he wondered if his WorldTour dream would come true.
It was an impressive accomplishment, and after an off-season surgery has finally put the long recovery in the rear-view mirror, Barta is more excited than ever about what lies ahead.
“It was a year of under-performing. I felt like I was racing at 85 percent of my potential, so it’s hard to say where I think I can be,” Barta told VeloNews. “The staff and coaches were very supportive of me and everything I was going through.”
Barta is no stranger to racing in Europe. During the final two seasons with Hagens Berman Axeon, he was based in Nice, France — where he still maintains his European base — so transitioning to the WorldTour didn’t come as a complete shock.
In Europe, he’s a top professional athlete. Back home in the U.S., people aren’t quite sure what to make of him.
“If I say I am cyclist, people don’t understand what I do. They think it’s cool what I do, but I don’t think they understand the level and what it really is to be a pro cyclist,” he said. “It’s almost like living in two worlds. I go to a race here and I am signing autographs. And people back home, people think I go to Europe on vacation and ride bikes around.”
The WorldTour is anything but a vacation, as Barta soon found out. He quietly learned the ropes, and finished every European stage race he started, including a very grueling edition of the Vuelta.
“It was a big step from the U23 racing,” he said. “I still had some issues with my leg that I had broken in 2018. It was a good year of learning and discovering the WorldTour ranks.”
Like any young pro, his dream is to race the Tour de France. He admits he’s still probably another few years away from racing in July, but hopes to race another grand tour in 2020.
The arrival of Ilnur Zakarin, Jan Hirt and Fausto Masnada will give CCC Team more heft during the stage race calendar, something that motivates Barta. Last year, he said he was often floating through races without a clear goal. In 2020, the team will bring more depth across the entire calendar, meaning everyone will have more responsibility.
“I am looking forward to having a strong GC rider on the team,” he said. “Last year, it was good and bad not to have a big leader. I could learn at the races and see how far I could go, but it’s also good to have a focus every day. With the form I am in now, I think I can be helpful to a rider like Zakarin.”
In the short-term, Barta hopes to keep improving on his natural time trial ability, and gradually improve across all facets of racing.
“I got the metal out of my leg, so that will help with my racing next season,” he said. “I’d like to get some top-10s, and try to improve on the road. In the long-term, I’d like to develop into a GC rider. I will keep working on that and see what happens. I am really motivated to get back to my level in 2020 and see how far I can go in the sport.”
— Nicolas Van Looy contributed to this report