It may not be long since the Tour of Guangxi brought down the curtain on the 2018 UCI road season on Sunday, but the 2019 season already begins on Tuesday with the Tour of Hainan.
China has the honour of hosting both the last and first races of the seasons, and the nine-day men's stage race on the island province of Hainan in southern China – part of the UCI Asia Tour – boasts a number of Pro Continental teams on the start list.
Last year's winner, Jacopo Mosca, is back with his Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia teammates, including sprinter Jakub Mareczko, who won five stages in a row of the nine on offer last year, before Mosca took over on the climbs to take a stage and the overall victory.
Despite officially kicking off the 2019 season, this is still the 2018 edition of the Tour of Hainan, and riders will remain with their 2018 teams until the end of the calendar year.
And Mareczko's fast finishing for Wilier hasn't gone unnoticed – he also took second place to Quick-Step's Elia Viviani on stage 2 of this year's Giro d'Italia – and the Italian will move up to the WorldTour-level CCC Team in 2019. The 24-year-old will certainly be one to watch in the bigger races next year.
Other Pro Continental teams lining up for the first stage in Danzhou on Tuesday include Wilier's fellow Italian outfit Bardiani-CSF – fielding their sprinter and 2012 Giro stage winner Andrea Guardini – and French team Delko Marseille Provence KTM, who will rely on the experienced Julien El Fares and former Latvian road race champion Gatis Smukulis, as well as on Australian Brenton Jones for the sprints.
The Israel Cycling Academy have former Canadian road race champion Guillaume Boivin in their ranks to lead the way, while this year's Tour de Langkawi winner and current Russian time trial champion, Artem Ovechkin, could prove dangerous, riding for Malaysian Continental squad Terrengganu Cycling Team.
The opening four days of the race will suit the sprinters and breakaway specialists, so don't be surprised to see Wilier's Mareczko trying to add to his haul of stage wins from last year.
It's not until stage 5, between Wanning and Lingshui, that the race hits the climbs, and the race remains in hilly terrain for the next three stages, which is where Mosca made his presence felt last year, and may well do so again, before a return to the flat for the final stage from Changjiang back to Danzhou.
Also starting on Tuesday, albeit a few hours later than the Tour of Hainan, is the 2.2-ranked Vuelta a Guatemala, running over 10 days, closely followed on Friday by the start of the 10-day Tour du Faso in Burkina Faso.
The 2018 racing season may be done and dusted, but the 2019 season is already here, although we do have to wait until mid-January for the first UCI WorldTour event, when the Tour Down Under starts in Adelaide, Australia.
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