Circuit des Ardennes International winner Jhonatan Narvaez headlines the Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's roster for the Tour of the Gila.
The reigning Under 23 national time trial champion from Ecuador is one of six riders on the American development team who will start the five-day, five-stage race Wednesday in Silver City, New Mexico.
Narvaez has three victories and four runner-up finishes to his credit this season, including the overall and "best young rider" titles from the three-day, four-stage race in France earlier this month.
Axeon Hagens Berman has won five UCI races and 17 overall across three disciplines (road, track and mountain biking).
"Jhonatan is clearly riding super well," Axeon Hagens Berman Sport Director Jeff Louder said. "He lives at 10,000 feet, so elevation is not an issue at all. This is his kind of terrain, so I expect him to have a great overall showing."
Joining Narvaez are two riders who have been racing their Specialized mountain bikes more than their S-Works Tarmac road bikes, Americans Christopher Blevins and Edward Anderson. Rounding out the line-up is Australian Michael Rice and Americans Jonny Brown and Chad Young. All three competed at the Joe Martin Stage Race earlier this spring.
Illness will keep U.S. national road and time trial champion Geoffrey Curran from starting, Louder said. None of the team's six riders have ever participated in the race that is the fourth event on USA Cycling's Pro Road Tour calendar.
"We do have quite a few other people on good form," Louder said. "Blevins has been on fire on the mountain bike circuit and Gila has always been a good race for mountain bike racers. Plus, he is another guy who lives at elevation. So I expect him to do well, too."
More than two dozen men's teams will line up for the 31st edition of the race that starts with a revised, flat finish for the opening stage that used to climb 4.8 km to the ghost town of Mogollon. Thursday is the Inner Loop road race to Fort Bayard, followed by an uphill, individual time trial on Friday. Saturday is the downtown criterium, followed by the challenging and mountainous final "Gila Monster" stage.
"While this will be a development race of a development squad," Louder said, "we go in with high expectations. But we will also take it day-by-day, race smart and see how it unfolds."
Rice, who won a stage at the San Dimas Stage Race last month, said he could have at least two opportunities to show himself.
"I think Stages 2 and 4 present themselves as a good opportunity for the sprinters," he said. "I last raced at the Circuit des Ardennes in France. Since then, I was able to spend a week in Belgium to train and recover. I think this will help carry my form from the past few races into this week."
Rice, who arrived in Silver City on Monday along with Narvaez, said he does not have a great deal of experience racing at altitude.
"But from the training I have done, I know how important it is to know my limits," he said. "My body is feeling good, and I am excited for Stage 1 to be underway."
Riders: Edward Anderson (USA), Christopher Blevins (USA), Jonny Brown (USA), Jhonatan Narvaez (ECU), Michael Rice (AUS), Chad Young (USA). Sport Director: Jeff Louder (USA).
Download our official race sheet (PDF with bios, statistics, etc.): http://bit.ly/2nWiI0f
Header photo of Jhonatan Narvaez courtesy of Circuit des Ardennes International.