Rohan Dennis will lead a strong Bahrain-Merida line-up for the 2019 Tour of California, which gets under way in Sacramento this weekend, and the time trial world champion hopes that the lack of any race against the clock won't upset his hopes of a high overall placing.
Sprint duo Phil Bauhaus and Marcel Sieberg will be expected to combine for the bunch gallops on the flatter stages, where Sieberg will likely act as lead-out man for his younger German compatriot, and otherwise assist with keeping the race together for Dennis's GC aspirations.
When chances present themselves, Ivan Cortina and Heinrich Haussler will be able to look for stage victories, but will otherwise look to stick close to Dennis. Haussler arrives in the US from a consistent spring Classics campaign in Europe where he rode strongly at Paris-Roubaix, in particular, but only came away with 14th place after suffering two untimely punctures on the cobbles of 'The Hell of the North'.
Austrian climber Hermann Pernsteiner, meanwhile, completes the line-up, and will be expected to be by Dennis's side in the mountains during the seven-day race.
Dennis last rode the Tour of California in 2016, finishing second overall to QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe. He also finished second overall – to Bradley Wiggins – on the previous occasion that he rode, in 2014.
"I love the Tour of California, and I've really missed it over the last two seasons," Dennis said in a recent interview published on the race organisation's website, having chosen to skip the Giro d'Italia this year in favour of a serious tilt at the Tour de France in July.
"It's a hard race, but not stressful, so in my eyes it's a great way to find your legs and still be able to enjoy it," he said of the race where he's also won two stages: the individual time trial in 2016, and a road stage to the top of Mount Diablo in 2014.
"Every time I've been to California, I've always aimed for the top step, and this year is no different. The only difference this year is that I don't have a time trial to help me with that," said Dennis.
"Without a TT this year, the stages with uphill finishes will be a priority for the GC," added Bahrain-Merida sports director Tristan Hoffman on the team's website.
"Our clear goals are the top five on the GC with Rohan and stage podiums with Phil, Ivan, or with any of our strong riders from the squad," he continued.
"There are two main sprint stages and two others with the possibility of a select-group sprint. Depending on the GC time gaps after the mountain finish on the penultimate stage, the fight for the GC will most likely go down to the last stage [in Pasadena]," said Hoffman.
Bahrain-Merida for the 2019 Tour of California: Marcel Sieberg, Ivan Cortina, Rohan Dennis, Phil Bauhaus, Heinrich Haussler, Hermann Pernsteiner