Lotto Soudal have announced their eight-man squad for next month's Giro d'Italia, with new signing Caleb Ewan leading the line for the bunch sprints and new Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts seemingly a great bet to take the opening individual time trial in Bologna.
The Belgian WorldTour team named their line-up one rider at a time, every hour, on their social media channels on Monday, to create an element of suspense. The squad boasts four former Giro stage winners in Ewan, Thomas De Gendt, Adam Hansen and Roger Kluge, and so has no shortage of experience when tackling the world's second-biggest stage race.
Former Tour de France stage winner Jelle Vanendert also brings a wealth of experience to the table, and will hope to get his chance in the mountains. The 34-year-old will be taking part in his 10th Grand Tour, and his third Giro, although the Belgian's nevertheless got some way to go to catch Hansen, who starts his 28th Grand Tour at this year's Giro.
Last year, the 37-year-old broke his streak of 20 Grand Tours in a row when he rode the Giro but not the 2018 Tour, ending a run that had begun in August 2011. The Australian took a solo stage win in Pescara at the 2013 Giro, and will line up at the Italian three-week race for the 11th time on May 11 – but may take a little warming up having not ridden a Grand Tour in almost a year.
Hansen's exploits, meanwhile, appear to have rubbed off on teammate De Gendt, who's set to ride all three Grand Tours this season. He last rode the Giro in 2014, but has ridden both the Tour and the Vuelta a España every year since then.
De Gendt's similar ability to Hansen to pull all day at the front of the bunch will be of huge benefit to sprinter Ewan on the flatter stages, and De Gendt may also get an opportunity or two to slip away in a break, which has somewhat become the 32-year-old's signature move.
The Belgian has won stages at all three Grand Tours, with his 2012 Giro win being the first of those when he attacked to win alone on the Passo dello Stelvio. Expect plenty of aggressive riding from him when he's not busy making life difficult for rival teams at the head of the peloton.
Ewan is arguably the team's star turn for this year's race. It's the Australian's third Giro, and his fourth Grand Tour, and he's also due to line up for his first Tour de France this July, having been continually overlooked for La Grande Boucle by his former team, Mitchelton-Scott,
He took a stage win at the 2017 Giro, out-sprinting Fernando Gaviria, Sam Bennett and the man he's effectively replaced at Lotto Soudal, Andre Greipel, and Ewan arrives at this year's race fresh off two stage wins at the recent Tour of Turkey.
Backing him up in the melee of the bunch sprints will be trusted lieutenant Kluge – who moved with Ewan from Mitchelton, and took his own Giro stage win in 2016 – and Jasper De Buyst, who's coming back to his best after crashing out of Paris-Nice, but who rode the Tour of Turkey in Ewan's service.
Ewan will also be able to count on all-rounder Tosh Van der Sande for the fast finishes – especially on days where there's a hillier approach. But will some of the Giro's smaller climbs prove too much for Campenaerts? Fresh from setting a new Hour Record of 55.089km in Mexico – beating Bradley Wiggins' old record of 54.526km – the Belgian will try to take that form into the individual time trials in Italy.
The opening 8.2km stage against the clock in Bologna features a 2km climb up to the finish, with an average gradient of just under 10 per cent, but it could nevertheless allow the 27-year-old to snatch the race's first pink jersey.
The second time-trial test comes as soon as stage 9, and is pretty much uphill all the way – albeit only gradually for the first half of the 34.7km course – from Riccione to San Marino. But, providing he makes it all the way through what will be his third attempt at completing a Giro, Campenaerts will get a third opportunity on the final, flatter – but by no means flat – time trial stage in Verona, over 15.6km, which closes out this year's race.
It's a strong Lotto Soudal squad, therefore, that heads away from Bologna in less than two weeks' time, with opportunities aplenty for stage wins, which are most likely to come from Ewan, and possibly Campenaerts, with De Gendt another rider who's quite likely to be in the hunt.
Lotto Soudal for the 2019 Giro d'Italia: Victor Campenaerts, Jasper De Buyst, Thomas De Gendt, Caleb Ewan, Adam Hansen, Roger Kluge, Tosh Van der Sande, Jelle Vanendert
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