More than two years after he broke his femur, North American Will Barta finally feels he’s back in “one of the top levels of my life right now”. It likely couldn’t have come at a better moment.
The Movistar racer is currently tackling the Giro d’Italia for a second straight year, where he’s got a ‘free’ role of looking for breakaway success and, hopefully, his first pro win.
Barta tried hard to get into the one break to go all the way to the finish so far, on stage 4. But while that didn’t work out, he is keen to be back in the action again as soon as possible.
“It’s my second Giro and I’m in a lot better shape than last year,” the 27-year-old told Cyclingnews. “I want to go for a stage win and that’s the main goal so we’ll see how the race develops.”
The main reason why there has been a hike in his condition, Barta says, is that “this is the first winter that I haven’t had to have surgery on my leg. So that makes a big difference. Also I have a good group around me and a good trainer, good nutritionist, so everything’s been good.”
Some long-standing injuries, particularly formerly broken bones, can make their presence known when the weather turns bad like it did in the Giro on stages 4 and 5. But Barta says that’s not his case.
“There were some problems for a long time, but now everything’s fine and I don’t feel anything,” said the Boise, Idaho native.
A gifted time triallist who came within a whisker of taking a Vuelta TT way back in 2020, Barta claimed a notable 15th on the opening Giro TT. But although the course was not ideal for him, his performance was still useful as an early gauge of his form.
“It was a bit too flat and fast for me, but I did want to go out and see what I could do. I had hoped I’d get in the break on stage 4 so I could have a chance of taking the pink, but there was a big fight and I missed out there.”
Barta does what he can to help Movistar in their highest-profile goal in the Giro, trying to win stages with Fernando Gaviria, who was fifth on stage 6. But his main set of team duties are looking after the squad’s GC rider, Colombian Einer Rubio.
“What I do is varied. I’m not the biggest guy so I have a hard time battling up there with those [leadout] guys, so I’m more with Einer and maybe do some early work for Fernando. But I’m not in the finales,” he explained.
That second role proved more than necessary in stage 5’s fraught finale, where Barta was assigned with looking after Rubio. The two got through satisfactorily, but Barta said afterwards it had been a very tough finale.
“It was a stressful day with the roads being so slippery, but all good. Einer and I were just behind the guys that went down in the first crash, then we came back and there was another crash, but with three k’s to go, it was OK.
“You always know in the south of Italy when it rains it’s going to be crazy. Even when you’re young you see these videos on TV and you think, oh that’s looks crazy. So you know it’s going to happen and you just hope for the best.”
Apart from checking out the stage finishes beforehand for team duties, he’s thoroughly studied the route book to see which stages could suit him in his own mission of getting in the breaks.
“These days, you have to do your homework, so before the race, you have some stages in mind. Of course that may change as the race develops, but there’s a lot of possibilities in the Giro for stage, so you have to look ahead and kind of mark that out.
“It’s a long race, so you have to measure your efforts because if you want to join the break, maybe you have to take it easier the day before.”
Encouragingly, if his underlying condition is good thanks to his solid winter to build some foundations, then coming into the Giro Barta felt he was still in top shape.
“I’d say, we did a pretty perfect job this year, I’m in one of the best levels of my life right now. I did a good block at altitude and then a good training camp and I have to say the lead in to the race was perfect for me.
“I just feel fortunate because I’ve had some years where it was hard for me to get into good condition. So now I just want to have fun with it and see what I can do.”