The team will be led by Colombian climber Miguel Angel Lopez, whose two stage wins and eighth-place overall at the 2017 Vuelta a Espana indicate the possibility of a big year for the 24-year-old.
“There’s no pressure because I’ll be taking the Giro day by day, but obviously I’m thinking about the general classification,” Lopez told Cyclingnews. “It’s a race that I’ve always liked. The Giro is really beautiful. I’ve always watched it on television but I’ve never been there before.”
Already this season, Lopez has won the queen stage of the Tour of the Alps to Alpe di Pampeago, finishing third overall, and he finished second at the Tour of Oman to Astana teammate Alexey Lutsenko – also a stage winner at the 2017 Vuelta – who will join Lopez at the Giro start in Jerusalem, Israel, on Friday.
The squad also boasts Italian Davide Villella, who won the mountains classification with Cannondale-Drapac at the 2017 Vuelta, before a move to the Kazakh squad for 2018. He’ll have his eyes on a mountains prize once again, with the added motivation of the Giro being his home tour.
Jan Hirt will be looking to build on his impressive performance at last year’s Giro, where a consistent ride across the three weeks with the Polish CCC Sprandi Polkowice Pro Continental team saw the Czech rider finish 12th overall. This season, having joined Astana, Hirt finished 10th overall at the Tour of the Alps in mid-April, one place ahead of new teammate Andrey Zeits, who is also Giro-bound.
Pello Bilbao, who won the opening stage of this year’s Tour of the Alps, and veteran Luis León Sanchez – the four-time Tour de France stage winner – bring a Spanish flavour to the squad. Sanchez, at 34, is having a consistent 2018 season. With top-10 finishes overall at the Tour Down Under, the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, the Ruta del Sol and the Tour of the Alps already this year, as well as victory at the one-day Vuelta a Murcia in February, Sanchez may be on the hunt for Giro stages himself, when not looking after Lopez.
Estonia’s Tanel Kangert completes the eight-man line-up, who will be shepherded around Israel and Italy by directeurs sportifs Giuseppe Martinelli, Alexandr Schefer and Dmitri Sedoun.
There is no Jakob Fuglsang – the in-form Dane who was the recent winner of the queen stage of the Tour of Romandie – who instead heads to a training camp in Tenerife, Spain, before fine-tuning his form at the Tour de Suisse, from June 9-17, ahead of a serious tilt at the Tour de France, which gets underway on Saturday July 7.