Bernal and Halvorsen lead Team Sky at Tour Down Under

British squad opts for youth in first WorldTour race of 2018

Egan Bernal will lead the general classification challenge for Team Sky at next week's Santos Tour Down Under, while his fellow new arrival Kristoffer Halvorsen will look to pick up an early success in the sprints.

Halvorsen is joined in the team by his fellow neo-professional Chris Lawless, and the seven-man line-up also features Jon Dibben, Owain Doull, Salvatore Puccio and Lukasz Wisniowski.

Bernal is making his debut for Team Sky after impressing over the past two seasons at Professional Continental level with Androni Giocattoli. The Colombian, who turns 21 next week, won the Tour de l'Avenir last season and will look to be among the best on the summit finish at Willunga Hill on stage 5 of the Tour Down Under.

"Egan has already raced in a lot of big races. He's no longer a neo-pro but he's very young still. It's going to be a really good chance to see where he is at, especially against the Australian riders who are in a home race and adapted already," said Team Sky directeur sportif Brett Lancaster. "We'll see what happens come Willunga Hill and we'll look to put him in a good position."

Halvorsen was under-23 world champion in Doha in 2016, but opted to spend an additional season at Continental level before stepping up to the top flight with Team Sky this season. The Norwegian is a powerful sprinter and will look to test himself against a field of fast men that will includes Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors).

"I've never been in Australia before so I think it will be really nice. The weather is really good and the stages are not too long, so it suits me well as a first ever World Tour race. Hopefully it will be really good," said Halvorsen.

The trio of Team Sky debutants is completed by Lawless, who raced for the Axeon-Hagens Berman last season, and won a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir.

"It's a really young and exciting team and we're keen to see how these guys develop," said Lancaster. "We'll be gunning to try and take a stage win. We've got Kristoffer as our lead sprinter. His form is a bit unknown coming straight from Norway and stepping off the plane into temperatures of close to 40 degrees."

The Tour Down Under, which takes place from January 16-21, will be Team Sky's first race since news broke of Chris Froome's adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during last year's Vuelta a España. As salbutamol is classed as a specified substance, Froome is free to race while the case is being resolved but has yet to confirm when he will make his first competitive outing of the year. Froome is currently training in South Africa.  

Team Sky for the Tour Down Under: Egan Bernal (Col), Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor), Chris Lawless (GBr), Jon Dibben (GBr), Owain Doull (GBr), Salvatore Puccio (Ita) and Lukasz Wisniowski (Pol).

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