Katusha-Alpecin today announced signing 21-year-old Stefan Cras for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
The talented Belgian climber rode for the BMC Development Team this year and with the Lotto Soudal U23 team in 2015 and 2016, most recently finishing fifth in the Tour de l'Avenir. Earlier this year Cras finished in the top five at Ronde de l'Isard (third), Tour Alsace (fourth) and the Peace Race (fifth).
"This is really what I want," Cras said in a statement released with the team's announcement.
"I feel that Team Katusha-Alpecin is a team that suits me perfectly. The conversations I already had with [team manager] José Azevedo have convinced me," Cras said. "In the end I am, and I will be, a stage race rider. After three U23 years, 2018 is also the perfect moment to make the step to the highest level of cycling. I feel that I am ready for it. This season I had a lot of racing days and I still feel very good. I look forward to join the team."
Azevedo said Katusha-Alpecin had been following Cras' progression over the past two years.
"I am delighted to have him with us in 2018 and 2019," Azevedo said. "He is a not only a very talented climber, he is good as well against the clock. We want to make a great GC rider of him."
Cras is one of several new signings for the Swiss-registered team, which also added Italian neo pro Matteo Fabbro, 22.
American Ian Boswell, 26, comes to the team after four years with Team Sky, while Nathan Haas, 28, from Dimension Data, Alex Dowsett, 28, from Movistar, and Marcel Kittel, 29, from Quick-Step Floors, round out the team's roster of under-30 signings.
"We are working on our future," Azevedo said. "Last year we brought young talents and classics riders Mads Würtz Schmidt and Jenthe Biermans to the team. Now it's time for some young climbers. Ilnur Zakarin is our leader for the Grand Tours. With our latest transfers we are working on good support for Zak and the team's future."
Cras still has a few races to focus on in the resent however, as he'll take on Wednesday's Grand Prix de Wallonie with the Belgian national team before heading to Italy for the U23 Giro di Lombardia.
Vakoc ready to lead Quick-Step in GP de Wallonie
Petr Vakoc will make the quick trip from Canada to Belgian to take part on Wednesday’s Gran Prix de Wallonie, where finished second to Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) last year.
Vakoc will be one of several cards Quick-Step Floors will have at their disposal on Wednesday when the race rolls out of Chaudfontaine for the 212km trek to Namur. Gianluca Brambilla and Pieter Serry made the trip with Vakoc from Canada to Belgium, where they’ll be joined on the line by Fernando Gaviria, Iljo Keisse, Davide Martinelli and trainees Alvaro Hodeg and Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz.
Seven hills dot the often-wind-battered course, including the Côte de Saint-Hubert, Côte de Saint-Remacle, Côte de Werbomont, Côte d’Ermeton, Côte de Lustin, Tienne aux Pierres and Côte de la Citadelle de Namur, which overlooks the Meuse river. The final climb averages six per cent gradient over 2km, but reaches as much as eight per cent and includes a cobblestone section.
Quick-Step Floors for GP de Wallonie: Gianluca Brambilla, Fernando Gaviria Rendon, Alvaro Jose Hodeg Chagui, Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz, Iljo Keisse, Davide Martinelli, Pieter Serry, Petr Vakoc
Naesen on target for World Championships
Belgian champion Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) will take confidence gained form his performances last weekend in Canada at the GPs de Quebec and Montreal into Friday's Championship of Flanders and then on to Bergen, Norway, next week for the UCI Road World Championships. The 26-year-old Belgian finished 16th and 17th in the pair of one-day WorldTour races after dropping out of the Bretagne Classic with illness.
"The Grands Prix Cyclistes Québec and Montréal reassured me about my condition," Naesen said. "I was sick before Brittany Classic but now I realize that I was able to regain my fitness very quickly. I think I will be able to be in form right in time for the World Championships in Bergen. On Friday I will participate in the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen. I am happy to return to racing in Belgium and on a circuit course, which is a format that I like. This is not necessarily my sort of parcours, but we will have a strong team for the race."
Jan Bakelants, fourth in Montreal and fourth in Quebec, will lead the French team's effort Wednesday at the Grand Prix de Wallonie, joining Stijn Vandenbergh, Julien Bérard, François Bidard, Mickaël Chérel, Benoit Cosnefroy, Quentin Jauregui, and Nans Peters on the line in Chaudfontaine
AG2R La Mondiale for the Championships of Flanders: Rudy Barbier, Julien Bérard, Mickaël Chérel, Benoit Cosnefroy, Quentin Jauregui, Oliver Naesen, Nans Peters, Stijn Vandenbergh
AG2R La Mondiale for Gran Prix de Wallonie: Jan Bakelants Julien Bérard, François Bidard, Mickaël Chérel, Benoit Cosnefroy, Quentin Jauregui, Nans Peters, Stijn Vandenbergh
BMC looking for big Belgian weekend
BMC Racing is headed into this weekend's double-header one-day races in Belgium with a well-rounded roster of riders who will be freed up to look for their own opportunities on the mostly flat parcours. If the expected bunch sprints materialise, however, the team has Jempy Drucker to give it a go with the fast men.
"I know these races very well," Drucker said. "They are typical Belgian races, and I really like the style of them. I'm feeling good right now, and I am definitely motivated to go into these races and compete for a good result."
Sports directors Klaas Lodewyck said the team goes into Friday's Championship of Flanders with multiple cards to play.
"Everyone will be able to look for opportunities to jump in the right moves," Lodewyck said. "This is a typical Belgian kermesse race, and if it comes down to bunch sprint we know that Jempy Drucker can be competitive, plus we have our young sprinter, Bram Welten, so hopefully we can do something in the final."
Director Valerio Piva said the weather could be the biggest factor in Saturday's primes Classic.
"I think for us Drucker will again be a protected rider, and while he might not be the favorite going into a potential bunch sprint, we know that he is strong and that he can be up there," Piva said. "We also have young guys like Floris Gerts and Bram Welten, plus the experience of Francisco Ventoso, and everyone will have the opportunity to try something and to go in any breakaways. Why not try to finish out in front and make a good result,"
BMC Racing for Championship of Flanders: Jempy Drucker, Martin Elmiger, Floris Gerts, Patrick Müller, Francisco Ventoso, Loïc Vliegen, Bram Welten
BMC Racing for Primus Classic: Jempy Drucker, Martin Elmiger, Floris Gerts, Ben Hermans, Patrick Müller, Francisco Ventoso, Loïc Vliegen, Bram Welten