Rally Cycling will continue its early season European campaign this week in Portugal at the Volta ao Algarve after firing the first shots of the season last week at the one-day Spanish race Vuelta a Murcia, won by Movistar's Alejandro Valverde with a 70km solo breakaway.
This is the second consecutive year that the team has started its season in Europe and will use the events to lay the foundation for success later in the season at top-level races in North America. First-year Rally rider Colin Joyce was the top finisher in Murcia, leading a large group of riders across the line for 30th place.
In Algarve, a five-day 2.HC race in Portugal that Team Sky's Geraint Thomas has won the past two years, Rally will face world-class competition and a hilly parcours that includes an 18km time trial on stage 3.
"We expect a tough race and tough competition from some of the top riders in the world," said Rally Cycling Performance Director Jonas Carney. "The team is very motivated and our early season training has prepared them well. The consensus from the guys is that training camp was more challenging than ever. But we wanted them to be prepared for what Europe is going to dish out."
With a flat finish, Stage 1 looks to be one for team sprinter Eric Young. However, with several punchy hills along the route, the team may look to Joyce or Evan Huffman, who made the initial breakaway in Murcia, to steal the stage from another breakaway.
Stages 2 and 3 will be key for general classification riders Rob Britton, Matteo Dal-Cin and Sep Kuss. An uphill finish punctuates the second stage, while the stage 3 time trial is relatively short but tough. The fourth stage provides more opportunity for either the all-around riders or Young to again show his speed.
The final stage ends with a tough 2.8km ascent to Alto do Malháo. The final climb features an average gradient of more than 8 per cent and should provide a launch pad for Britton, Dal-Cin and Kuss to make a final assault on the general classification.
"I'm excited to test myself against some very strong riders and race aggressively," said Kuss, who is in his first full season with the team after signing in May of last year. "Sometimes it helps to be the underdog, and hopefully, we can use that to our advantage riding against the larger WorldTour teams."
Rally Cycling roster for Volta ao Algarve: Rob Britton, Matteo Dal-Cin, Adam DeVos, Evan Huffman, Colin Joyce, Sepp Kuss, Danny Pate, Eric Young