Fabio Aru will make his racing debut with Qhubeka Assos at the Tour de la Provence on Thursday, with the Italian rider and Belgium's Sander Armeé shouldering the GC hopes of the South African WorldTour team.
It will be a star-studded edition of the four-day race in the south of France, with 14 WorldTour teams on the start list and stand-out names including Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). The race includes sprint opportunities and climbing, including a finish on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux on Saturday.
“The main goals for the Tour de la Provence will be to feature well across the race; definitely trying to win a stage and consequently aiming for a strong general classification from Aru and Armeé," said Qhubeka Assos directuer sportif, Gabriele Missaglia.
“The team is competitive, although we still have to consider that for this group it’s the first race of the season and despite having worked well with targeted training we do not know our real racing condition, yet.”
Aru hasn’t raced on the road since he abandoned the Tour de France but has instead been tuning his form by combing road training with cyclo-cross racing.
"I’m really happy and I can’t wait now to start my road season with my new team. For sure I’ve worked really hard over the winter including participating in some cyclo-cross, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” said Aru.
“I’m very happy overall (with my condition) and I now just want to start my road season. I will do my best for my team and teammates, and we will see how the race unfolds."
South Africa’s Nicholas Dlamini also returns from a racing hiatus of nearly four months, with such an early season opener in Europe a change for the 25-year-old rider, who usually starts in Australia at the Tour Down Under.
“The body’s showing some good signs from the camp and I’ve been maintaining that shape so I’m excited to put it to the test ... I think we’re all super-motivated to the highest level after seeing how our team performed in Etoile de Besseges. We want to continue with that momentum and hopefully do better and get closer and closer to the podium overall," said Dlamini.
The highest finisher from Qhubeka Assos at the five-day Etoile de Besseges was Michael Gogi, who came sixth overall. Giacomo Nizzolo finished fourth on stage 1 and third on stage 2, confirming his speed in the sprint finishes. He is not part of the Qhubeka Assos line-up in France but will ride the Clasica de Almeria in Spain on Sunday.
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