The Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's lineup for the Amgen Tour of California again features opportunists who will race to their strengths, General Manager Axel Merckx said Wednesday.
"We always hope to be aggressive in the breakaways and score a couple top 10 finishes if possible," he said. "We are really excited that we are able to come to California with some great results already under our belt. But we are respectful and eager to learn and also to show one or two things that we have that can maybe influence the race a little bit."
Now in the program's ninth year and making its fifth straight appearance in the Amgen Tour of California, the Under 23 American continental team represents the next generation of professional cyclists. Through the team's first eight seasons, 18 riders have advanced to the WorldTour ranks.
"Most important for us in California is to be present, to be part of the race, and to be active - not just following," Merckx said.
The team's multi-national roster for California includes four different riders - Tao Geoghegan Hart of Great Britain, Ruben Guerreiro of Portugal and Americans Logan Owen and Neilson Powless - who have won three races in Europe and four in the United States this spring.
Five Axeon Hagens Berman riders are making repeat appearances in the eight-day race: American Greg Daniel, Geoghegan Hart, Guerreiro, Owen and American Geoffrey Curran. The other three - American Will Barta, Krists Neilands of Latvia and Powless - are competing for the first time.
The 1,253.8-kilometer race begins Sunday in San Diego and travels north to finish in Sacramento.
Guerreiro won G.P. Palio del Recioto in Italy in late March, Geoghegan Hart won Trofeo Piva in Italy in early April and Owen won the Under 23 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in Belgium later that same month. Powless has four wins to his credit: the individual time trial at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and the overall of the Joe Martin Stage Race, both last month, and the Copper Town Square Circuit Race and UC Merced Road Race in February and March. The Roseville, California, native also leads the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour standings.
What the Axeon Hagens Berman riders are saying about the Amgen Tour of California:
Will Barta, helped win the team title at GP Liberty Seguros: "I am really looking forward to taking part in my first Amgen Tour of California, which is my first race of that level. I hope to play my role well for the team at the best of my ability through the week."
Geoffrey Curran, fourth overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic: "I am looking forward to Stage 2 from Pasadena to Santa Clarita. I have ridden parts of the stage before and think it will be a particularly dynamic one. My grandmother's family grew up almost next door to the stage start and much of my family still lives there. So it will be nice for them to see what I do at a more hands-on level."
Greg Daniel, runner-up on Stage 4 at the 2014 Amgen Tour of California: "Over the past two editions of this race, I have had fairly good luck in the breakaways but have yet to get that elusive win. This year, I would love to showcase my aggressive style yet again, but go one place higher than I did two years ago and get that stage win."
Tao Geoghegan Hart, winner of Trofeo Piva: "California is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the year for the team. It is a race I am very excited to return to for a third time. It consistently has amazing crowds, scenery and routes throughout the state."
Ruben Guerreiro, winner of G.P. Palio del Recioto: "I am really excited to come back to the Amgen Tour of California. Last year, I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot. This year, I will fight for one good result in a stage and a good place on the general classification while helping the team."
Krists Neilands, Latvian Under 23 national road champion: "This will be my first Tour of California, I want to show my best and do my best for the team. Of course I would like to see a stage win or a podium for the team. I am really proud about this chance to start such a big race and am really excited for next week. This race includes some of the best cyclists in the world, so that is awesome."
Logan Owen, winner of Under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège: "Last year was my first year racing the Amgen Tour of California and it was an amazing experience racing with the best of the best. This year I am hoping to do well on a few stages while also helping our GC (general classification) guys as much as possible on the harder, hillier days."
Neilson Powless, leader of the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour: "Our team is looking really strong with most of the riders on the squad already having results which speak for themselves. After taking our recent success into account, I believe we have a team strong enough to get some good results and possibly a strong GC showing."
(Photo from the Redlands Bicycle Classic by Davey Wilson.)