Bahrain-Merida's Basque brothers Ion and Gorka Izagirre will lead the team on home soil at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco April 2-7. The duo will be joined by Vincenzo Nibali, who will ride in support of their overall aspirations having prioritised the Tour of Flanders in 2018.
Ion Izagirre has finished third on his last two appearances at the WorldTour stage race and is again aiming for the final podium.
"It's a special race, it's the home race! I trained well and I feel good," said Ion Izagirre, who was fourth at Paris-Nice in March. "The path I like with so many climbs that I know well: there is also the 19km time trial that is completely flat. I tried the route a month ago and I found it not very technical but very fast."
Gorka Izagirre, the elder of the two brothers at 30, was third at Paris-Nice and the Tour of Oman and also comes into the race with aspirations for the overall podium.
"It's the race that every young Basque dreams to win. Up to now, I am happy with my season and with the results I achieved in the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice. I expect a very hard race with the last two stages where everything can happen," he said.
Along with Nibali as a super domestique, Bahrain-Merida's squad for the race features the climbing collective of Franco Pellizotti, Mark Padun, Yukiya Arashiro and Herman Pernsteiner.
For sports director Gorazd Štangelj, the battle for the overall will begin in earnest from stage 1, and the former professional believes the homeground advantage will be vital in fighting for overall victory.
"The Vuelta is one of the toughest races on the international calendar and also this year’s edition presents many very challenging climbs," Štangelj said, "Starting from the first stage that could already be decisive in delineating the possible winners. Our two leaders will be Ion and Gorka Izagirre: the route adapts very well to their characteristics."
Along with Ion Izagirre's third place last year, Bahrain-Merida also won the team classification in the Basque Country. Across the six stages from April 2, the team will be aiming to better its results from 12 months ago and also add a stage win to the palmares.
Bahrain-Merida for Vuelta al Pais Vasco: Vincenzo Nibali, Ion Izagirre, Gorka Izagirre, Franco Pellizotti, Mark Padun, Yukiya Arashiro and Herman Pernsteiner