Evan Huffman growing into leadership role with Rally

Evan Huffman is adapting to his role as a team GC leader with Rally after a rocky start to his pro career with Astana.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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SAN JOSE, California (VN) — During his five-year career in pro cycling, Evan Huffman has hunted for stage wins, carried water bottles for GC leaders, and blazed a pathway to the finish line for sprinters.

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This season Huffman is trying on a new role. He is leading the general classification ambitions for his team at major domestic races. Huffman is at this week’s Amgen Tour of California as a co-leader at Rally Pro Cycling alongside the team’s longtime GC rider Rob Britton.

During Monday’s stage 2, Huffman finished a distant 37th place, nearly 10 minutes down. The result means Huffman will likely target Friday’s individual time trial in Big Bear Lake, as well as stage victories along the road.

The new leadership role has not come naturally for Huffman, who describes himself as quiet and reserved. Team leaders must communicate orders to their riders and persuade them to drain their energy reserves in support of the team. Huffman says his social skill are not yet adept for the role.

“It’s just different being a guy in charge — I’m a quiet guy and am more comfortable being a follower than being a leader,” Huffman says. “I’m working on it for sure because it’s a role I should step into someday.”

Rally management believes someday is today for Huffman to become its leader. Huffman is a skilled time trial rider who can also survive long, steady climbs. He still suffers on steeper ascents, or when the pace becomes uneven and punchy. Yet his power output is strong enough to survive that style of racing. Last month Huffman led Rally to a dominating win at New Mexico’s Tour of the Gila. The team won four of five stages and placed five riders in the final top-10. Director Jonas Carney said the team needs Huffman to become comfortable as a leader in more races, since physically he is now one of the strongest riders in the domestic peloton.

“It’s true Evan is quiet and it’s not the most natural thing for him to be giving orders but people adjust to those situations. We’ve told Evan that it’s time,” Carney said. “He has a huge engine and knows how to read a race. It’s a natural progression.”

At 27, Huffman’s short career has already endured the highs and lows of a rider 10 years his senior. A product of the California Giant/Specialized development team, Huffman made his professional debut with WorldTour team Astana in 2013 after bike brand Specialized helped place him on the Kazakh team. The team was a bad fit. Huffman was often thrown into races where he didn’t really belong, such as Paris-Roubaix. He was often lonely and homesick, and never gelled with teammates. After two years the Kazakh team did not renew his contract.

So Huffman headed back to the domestic peloton in 2015 and slowly began to grab results. He nearly won a stage at last year’s Amgen Tour of California and then won a stage of the Tour of Alberta and finished third in the overall.

Huffman’s progression continued in early 2017. When organizers of Gila removed the steep Mogollon climb, the new course, which included a long time trial and a series of long, steady climbs, became perfect for Huffman’s skill set. Huffman won the time trial handily, and then set to work defending his lead. Giving orders felt strange, he says.

“The last few stages were a real mental challenge for me being in the jersey — I’m asking these really good riders to sacrifice themselves for me,” Huffman said. “These are guys who could go win a stage and now they’re not going to because they’re being a worker bee.”

Carney said team veterans Britton and Danny Pate helped Huffman control the pack.  During the race’s fifth stage, which finished up the Gila Monster climb, Rally rode the front for the majority of the day, ticking a steady pace up the climb. Rather than try to drop the rival riders, Britton said the team rode the effort like a long, steady time trial. The power output worked toward Huffman’s physical strengths. The plan worked, and Huffman staved off attacks from his closest rivals.

Britton said he expects Huffman to Huffman to eventually become comfortable with the new role.

“I don’t think leading comes naturally to a lot of people, myself included,” he said. “Evan is obviously physically capable of doing it. It’s just about being in that position more often and making the right decisions.”

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