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IZNÁJAR, Spain (VN) — Stephen Bassett is a pro and he wants to win bike races.
Yet getting into the frame of having a shot to win is more than half the battle in the elite European peloton.
“It’s continuing my long string of second places in important races,” Bassett said. “It’s a pretty big step in the process that I’ve been trying to pop off here in Europe for three years, so the team is working really hard, and I am working really hard, so I am glad to be able to put one together.”
Also read: Bassett second in Ruta del Sol opener
The 26-year-old from Tennessee has been banging on the door for a big win for awhile, with second at the U.S. nationals both as junior and elite men’s as well as second Wednesday.
Of course, he’s won a few along the way as well, including the overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race in 2019, where he beat back WorldTour pro Joe Piccoli, now on Israel Premier Tech.
Since joining Rally (now Human Powered Health) in 2020, he’s been a key part of the team’s European program. He already packs nine days of racing in his legs by mid-February.
It almost came together for him Wednesday in the rollercoaster profile to open the five-day Ruta del Sol.
— Human Powered Health (@HumanPwrdHealth) February 16, 2022
With much harder stages looming later this week, the breakaways sensed an opening against the GC favorites.
“We knew there was there’s potential with the GC teams not super-motivated, they don’t need to win the first stage, so we knew there was a chance to do it,” Bassett said. “We went at almost kilometer zero, and we were pretty attentive within the team.”
Bassett latched on to a group of eight, which committed and quickly opened a gap of nearly 15 minutes. When the top WorldTour teams finally awoke from their collective slumber, it was almost too late.
The gap stabilized at about four minutes with 30km, everyone in the break knew they’d have a very good chance to spar for the spoils.
“The gap came down pretty rapidly from 15 to six minutes, and it seemed some of the stage-hunter teams got a little discouraged by not seeing it not come down more,” he said. “It was a very organized break. That’s the modern thing, you feather it for 100km, then you start driving. So pretty according to plan.
“It was pretty cooperative, then attacking on the last climb, but there was a lot of headwind, so there really wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to drive away there, so it was coming down to the sprint.”
Eventual winner Rune Herregodts (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) had a teammate in the break to help pace him onto the final climb, and he and Bassett went to the line.
He and the Belgian checked shoulders slightly, and Bassett could only watch as he came through.
“I was going left and he went through, came out of the pedal, luckily no harm, no foul,” Bassett said. “He was definitely the strongest guy today.”
The result bodes well for the team, which sees a busy February with Gran Camiño in northern Spain up next.
“More of the same, we’ve kind of established ourselves as a breakaway team,” he said. “That’s our niche. We know we have a really fast bike. We have a really good dynamic and we know how to do that. The window of opportunity is so narrow at this high level of racing that that is kind of our sliver we have to fight for.”