Aqua Blue Sport: Nordhaug retires and Howard leaves to focus on track

Irish squad loses two riders ahead of 2018 season

Lars Petter Nordhaug and Leigh Howard will not be part of the Aqua Blue Sport roster in 2018, the team announced on Monday. Nordhaug has decided to retire from professional cycling with immediate effect, while Howard has opted to switch his focus to track racing in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Nordhaug was a notable signing for Aqua Blue Sport ahead of the 2017 season as the Irish squad made the step up to Pro Continental level, but his campaign was blighted by Cytomegalovirus. On Monday, the Norwegian confirmed that he has brought the curtain down on his professional career.

"2017 was a difficult year for me with the recurrence of a CMV virus which impacted my performance during the season. At 33 years of age, I am proud to be able to look back on a long career as a professional cyclist, and to have played some small part in the success of Aqua Blue Sport in its first year," Nordhaug said. "After some reflection I have decided that the best course of action for me and for Aqua Blue Sport is to depart the team."

Nordhaug emerged from the same Maxbo-Bianchi stable that developed Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff, and he moved up to WorldTour level in 2010 with Team Sky. The biggest victory of Nordhaug's career came at the Grand Prix de Montréal in 2012.

After a two-year stint with Belkin, which included a Norwegian national title, he returned to Sky in 2015, winning the Tour de Yorkshire that season. Nordhaug missed out on Aqua Blue Sport's Grand Tour debut at this year's Vuelta a España and made his final appearance for the team at Paris-Tours.

"I firmly believe in this project and am not willing to risk the consequences of not being able to perform to my best in 2018," Nordhaug said. "I would like to sincerely thank team owner Rick Delaney and all the Aqua Blue Sport backroom team for their support and understanding, and wish my teammates the best for the future."

Still only 28 years of age, Howard has been in the professional peloton since 2010, when he signed for HTC, and he joined Aqua Blue last winter after spells at GreenEdge and IAM Cycling.

The Australian enjoyed considerable success on the track in the early part of his career, winning the omnium world title in 2009, and winning back-to-back Madison titles with Cameron Meyer in 2010 and 2011. Howard has decided to leave the European peloton to focus on the track. Howard will also race on the race with the new Australian Continental Australian Cycling Academy team.

"I am not leaving the sport indefinitely, but I have decided to step away from professional road racing in Europe and concentrate on track cycling, with eyes on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This has been a difficult decision to make, however I feel that at this point of my career I need to put my focus into something I am truly passionate about," Howard said.

Aqua Blue Sport owner Rick Delaney expressed regret at Nordhaug and Howard's departure but paid tribute to their part in the team's first season at Pro Continental level. "The many strengths that Lars and Leigh brought to Aqua Blue Sport will be missed but we are excited by the passion and potential of the new additions to our roster, and look ahead to 2018 with confidence and anticipation," he said.

Aqua Blue Sport scored two wins at WorldTour level in 2017, with Stefan Denifl winning a stage at the Vuelta a España and Larry Warbasse claiming a stage victory at the Tour de Suisse. Signings for 2018 include Shane Archbold, who arrives from Bora-Hansgrohe, and Eddie Dunbar, who won the under-23 Tour of Flanders this year.

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