The Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's lineup for the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah includes U.S. national road champion Greg Daniel, three riders who are Under 23 national champions, USA Pro Road Tour leader Neilson Powless and Logan Owen, who won a stage of the race last year.
In all, the team's eight riders who will start the race Monday in Zion Canyon Village account for 20 of a team-record 25 victories this season. It is a squad that Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx said is well-prepared to face the event billed as "America's Toughest Stage Race."
"We have gone to high altitude to get used to it so the guys don't suffer too much from it in the first few days," Merckx said. "This is a challenging race and the course is always hard, so it is natural selection. Automatically, the best riders are at the front."
Daniel's three wins include a stage and the overall title at the Tour de Beauce, while Powless owns a team-high five wins and earned "best young rider" honors at the Amgen Tour of California. Adrien Costa counts among his three victories the overall title at the Tour de Bretagne and he is the first American winner in the French race's 50-year history. British Under 23 national road champion Tao Geoghegan Hart also has three victories, as does Latvian Under 23 national road and time trial champion Krists Neilands. Irish Under 23 national time trial champion Eddie Dunbar has two and Owen soloed to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège Under 23 in April.
"We have a couple riders who can do very well," Merckx said. "We have a strong team and this is a bit of a re-start for the second half of the season. It is also good preparation for the guys going to the Tour de l'Avenir or whatever comes next for them. Or it can be an opportunity to showcase themselves to get a pro contract out of it."
Daniel - winner of the "king of the mountains" classification in Utah last year - said he is excited to race for the first time in the United States wearing the stars-and-stripes.
"It is a huge honor to represent the U.S. national champion's jersey in such a big American race," the Denver resident said. "I know already that I will have butterflies before every stage. I hope to ride with integrity and try to represent my U.S. national title as well. As for my personal ambitions, winning a stage would be amazing. I won the king of the mountain jersey last year and I don't know if I can do it again. But to come back and get a good result, either as a stage win or to hold the jersey for a day, would be very special."
Geoghegan Hart joins Daniel as the only Axeon Hagens Berman riders who will make their third starts in Utah. In seven stages, the riders from 16 teams will cover 1,134 kilometers and climb 16,101 meters.
"I think this race is undoubtedly a big week in the legs, especially with the altitude to factor into every day's already-large workload," Geoghegan Hart said. "That said, there is nothing to be scared of as the difficult stages definitely suit us as a team - of which there are plenty - if not every day.
"My training has been good," Geoghegan Hart added. "It always takes a little patience with the altitude, especially when you factor jet lag into that equation. But overall I am happy with the last few weeks, building back from my mid-season break post nationals, and getting in shape for a super busy summer of racing. Mainly, I am excited to race again and see all of the team."
Download our race information sheet (PDF with roster, bios, statistics): http://bit.ly/2abPvD6
Riders: Adrien Costa (USA), Greg Daniel (USA), Eddie Dunbar (IRE), Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR), Colin Joyce (USA), Krists Neilands (LAT), Logan Owen (USA), Neilson Powless (USA). Sport Directors: Axel Merckx (BEL), Jeff Louder (USA).
Header photo by Davey Wilson.