The Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team opens its season this weekend with a pair of races in Portugal, the home country of defending GP Liberty Seguros champion Ruben Guerreiro.
Guerreiro won the two-day stage race last year for Axeon as two others new to the team this year - American Colin Joyce and Latvian Krists Neilands - finished third and fifth overall, respectively.
"I think this race is a good one for me, especially to start the year in my own country," Guerreiro said. "The team is really motivated and I did a hard winter of training and feel ready for the long season. I will do my best for the team and I think we have strong guys to win this race again."
Saturday is a 151.6-kilometer road race beginning and ending in Vila Nova de Cacela. Sunday's 186.6-kilometer stage starts and finishes in Lagoa.
Besides Guerreiro, Joyce and Neilands - the Latvian Under 23 national road champion - Axeon's roster also includes returning Americans Will Barta and Greg Daniel and Tao Geoghegan Hart of Great Britain. They will be joined by two other newcomers: Eddie Dunbar, the Irish Under 23 national road champion and American Tyler Williams. A transfer from the BMC Development Team, Williams won Stage 2 at the Chico Stage Race in Northern California last month.
Axeon Hagens Berman General Manager Axel Merckx said he saw good indications of talent at the team's training camp in January.
"They were all riding pretty well there," Merckx said. "Race performance always depends on the competition. But I am expecting them to be competitive in the race and contending for the overall."
Next week, Axeon Hagens Berman continues its swing through Portugal with the Volta ao Alentejo, a five-day stage race that begins Wednesday. Merckx said he won't be looking for any particular rider to immediately step into a leadership role.
"I will be looking more at the overall performance of the team," he said, "and the way they are going to better themselves and race as a team. That is the most important thing, especially early in the year."
GP Liberty Seguros-Troféu Alpendre (March 12-13): Riders: Will Barta (USA), Greg Daniel (USA), Eddie Dunbar (IRE), Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR), Ruben Guerreiro (POR), Colin Joyce (USA), Krists Neilands (LAT), Tyler Williams (USA). Sport Director: Jeff Louder (USA).
Volta ao Alentejo (March 16-20): Riders: Greg Daniel (USA), Eddie Dunbar (IRE), Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR), Ruben Guerreiro (POR), Colin Joyce (USA), Krists Neilands (LAT), Logan Owen (USA), Tyler Williams (USA). Sport Director: Jeff Louder (USA).