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Will Barta has had a tough introduction to life in the WorldTour.
The 24-year-old American rode through his rookie season battling injuries and infections, then this year, as his health took an upward turn, the wheels came off from beneath him – first, coronavirus stopped the season, then, his CCC Team hit the ropes with the loss of its title sponsor.
With the resumed 2020 season now just weeks away, Barta is keen to battle back against the wave of bad luck. And just as CCC Team stuck with him through a debut season Barta himself describes as “not good enough,” the Boise native hopes to ride out the contract crisis with his manager Jim Ochowicz.
“The team has done a lot for me,” Barta told VeloNews. “They’ve shown a lot of faith. Coming out of the under-23 season in 2018 I broke my leg so I didn’t race at all. And then I had some infections with it and more surgery last year. I mean, I wasn’t performing at a very high level at all. I had a few glimmers of it in time trials, but it wasn’t the level that I expected, and it wasn’t the level they should expect of me because to be honest, it wasn’t good enough.
“They’ve shown faith in me,” he said. “I’m hoping that it all works out with them because I’d like to repay the faith. Things started coming good for me this year and I want to give them that – so I’m not speaking to other teams right now.”
Ochowicz has a history of saving his squad with final-hour sponsor deals, having salvaged the former BMC Racing team through the partnership with Polish shoemakers CCC. Barta keeps his manager’s experience front of mind as his American boss goes about his work.
“The sponsor situation sounds a lot more optimistic than I originally had guessed it would. Just looking at the news, you would think it’s an impossible time to sponsor,” Barta said. “But it sounds like Jim’s doing a really good job and there’s definitely possibilities, and other staff are saying it’s looking positive.
“I don’t think anything solid has happened. I mean, there’s talks, but nothing’s really clear for the future yet. That’s Jim’s arena and he’s working on that. And, I mean, as you can tell in the past, he’s had good success with that, and I think he will continue to.”
Speaking to VeloNews last week from a DIY altitude camp in Park City, Utah, Barta was planning to fly to Europe July 12 to meet with his CCC teammates before he restarts his sophomore season. With a residency card in his pocket, it’s looking all-clear for him to negotiate through the travel restrictions that recently caused Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Ian Garrison to come unstuck at Atlanta Airport.
Barta has a point to prove when racing returns in August. After stuttering through his debut season as he battled with the after-effects of the broken leg sustained at the 2018 Baby Giro, Barta’s 2020 began with an upward swing. Having felt off the back through 2019, early-season rides at Tour de Provence and Tour des Alpes Maritimes showed him delivering on the promise that allowed him to make the step up to the WorldTour from Hagens Berman Axeon.
“I felt like myself again earlier this year,” Barta said. “Last year, I just really felt like almost in a fog when I was racing, it was like every little acceleration was really, really tough for me. This year, having the metal out and then the infection gone really made a difference.”
When Barta begins racing again next month, it will have been four and a half months since his last competition. The pause has proven far from ideal for anyone, but the 24-year-old is keen to pick the positives out of a bad situation.
“I mean, for sure, it’s frustrating. Yeah, it just feels a bit like one thing after the other with the injury, then the season stopping, and the team news,” he said. “But in a way, having no races has given me more time to prepare, you know, back with my ‘old’ body. So I think in some ways, it’s been beneficial. But, I mean, we’ll never know until the races start.
“I think I’ve prepared well for this summer, and I’ll keep preparing well, and hopefully the races will go well and I can show that I’m at the level I can be and just continue that upward swing from the winter.”
Barta is aware that the next few months will prove pivotal both for the future of his team and perhaps his career in the pro peloton. He bleakly acknowledged that such an unprecedented season does not make for a transfer market that plays into the hands of young and relatively unproven riders.
“I mean, it’s OK for someone like Froome, but not someone like me,” he said. “Obviously I’d like to keep going in cycling and stay in the WorldTour and yeah, I mean, I don’t want bad luck to be the end of it. So obviously I think some good performances are needed, whether that’s results or really being a solid teammate. I’ll fight for it.”