Will Barta’s debut for EF Education-Nippo has been pushed back after the American crashed following an incident with a dog during a training session in Norway.
Barta based his off-season in Europe and was out on a training ride in December when a dog ran out in front of him and forced him to take immediate action. The fall left him with a left proximal femur fracture.
“I was riding on a quiet road where the forest came right up to the road. I had just started riding again after stopping and so I was going quite slow,” Barta said.
“A little dachshund ran out of the forest directly in front of me. I hit the brakes quite hard trying to avoid the dog and unfortunately slipped. It was a really slow crash and I thought I would just jump right up, but I think I was really unlucky and could not get up.”
This is the second leg break of Barta’s career, the first was on the right side during his final season in the U23 ranks, and although the recovery has gone well, his racing season has been moved back to some time in the spring.
“So far the recovery process has been going really well I feel. I have been making progress every day and that has been really nice to see. I have been able to be on the trainer and even do some light squats already so I feel that I am well on my way to a good recovery. While I feel really disappointed with the injury, I feel lucky in the fact that I do not miss more of the season hopefully.”
The 2020 campaign was pivotal in Barta’s career. In April he found that CCC – the sponsor of his then team – were leaving the sport at the end of the year. His options looked limited due to the European lockdown and the lack of racing until August the but the American found form just when it mattered most and produced a consistent ride in the Vuelta a Espana. His one-second loss to Primoz Roglic on stage 13 was a bittersweet moment and easily the best WorldTour result of his career, while it also helped secure his place at EF Education-Nippo.
“I had been talking to some teams before the Vuelta and they were saying ‘we have to see, we have to see’ and nothing was done. It was a really important race for my future and it definitely helped to get things over the line,” he told Cyclingnews during a recent phone interview.
“It was a good performance and one that I’m proud of. It’s a bit disappointing to lose by one second in the time trial but it’s hard for me to look back and think that I’d done anything wrong. I executed it well and it showed the level that I have. I’m still young so there are a lot of possibilities ahead. I had already been talking to EF, and it was a team that I was really interested in joining but that result just showed my level.”
“I was also happy with the GC at the Vuelta. There were things that I messed up but 22nd was about right for me. I had more of a free role as the race developed and that was the first time that had happened since I joined the WorldTour. It was good to see what I could accomplish.”
The recent leg break will take time to heal but Barta’s experience in recovering from a serious injury and the patience that he displayed in such a nail-biting contract year will give him added resolve for the future. His first comeback from a leg break came during his first season in the WorldTour in 2019 and that campaign was hugely affected by a leg infection that sapped him of his strength and stamina. He admits that last year’s lockdown was somewhat of a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to regain form and fitness but it took mental fortitude along with physical ability to help secure a contract in such difficult circumstances.
“2019 was a bit difficult for me. I broke my leg in 2018 and a year later I had an infection due to the metal plate. I never thought that in 2019 I could reach a good level and it was quite frustrating, to be honest. When I figured out those issues I actually think that the lockdown in 2020 was good for me because it gave me the time to really get back to a good level,” he said.
“Last year was still stressful. We found out in April that the sponsor was going away and when you don’t have that many races in your legs and you don’t know when the season might end you just really want to prove yourself in every race. The transfer season felt really long too because there were some teams that didn’t know their budget, so August, September, and October were really stressful,” he added.
During the second half of 2020, when racing did eventually resume Barta was required to put his own needs as a rider to one side until very late, with domestique duties paramount within CCC.
“I just tried to focus on the racing and that’s all you could really do in that scenario. It was a challenge. I know that I’m not at the level to be winning races like the Dauphine for example, but you want to support your teammates as much as possible but at the same time you’ve got the fear that the season could be cancelled at any moment. I definitely did my job to the best of my ability but it wasn’t the typical soft-pedal to the finish for me because I knew that everything was being examined. You’re almost racing for 40th just to show a little something,” he said.
Despite the latest setback, Barta has a one-year contract to show for his efforts from last year and when he does return to racing later this spring he has his eyes set on another three-week stage race.
“I’d like to do another Grand Tour. I’d be really happy to be back at the Vuelta and I like the one-week stage races. I’d like a stereotypical GC or climber based schedule but we’ll see what comes.”