The Bahrain-Merida team will make it official race debut at the Tour Down Under in Australia in mid-January, while team leader Vincenzo Nibali will race with the new squad for the first time in South America at the Vuelta Ciclista a la Provincia de San Juan between January 24-29.
The team ended its first get together on Friday in Croatia, with riders finally heading off on holiday or home to begin training for the 2017 season. The team is confident it will secure a WorldTour licence for the 2017 season after signing, Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Ion Izagirre, Enrico Gasparotto, Sonny Colbrelli, Giovanni Visconti and Kanstantin Siutsou.
Team manager Brent Copeland revealed he has so far signed 26 riders, with the final roster include two further signings but not Chris Horner, who had offered his services to the team after the demise of the Lupus Racing team in the USA. The 45 year-old former Vuelta a Espana winner hopes to continue racing but it will not be with Bahrain-Merida.
"We were close to signing Atapuma but unfortunately he didn't come (the Colombian opted to join the Chinese funded TJ Sport project that will take over from Lampre-Merida). We were contacted by Chris Horner but when you build a new team it's difficult to make everyone happy," Copeland told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Rodriguez and Bahrain-Merida have still to clarify if and when the veteran Spaniard will race in 2017. Nibali has hinted he is keen to ride the hundredth edition of the Giro d'Italia but Bahrain-Merida has still to confirm its major goals for 2017.
The only race confirmed on Nibali's race calendar is his debut in the team's colours at the Vuelta Ciclista a la Provincia de San Juan, which is set to replace the Tour de San Luis after its demise this season. Giovanni Visconti – who will be a key support rider alongside Nibali in stage races and Grand Tours, will lead Bahrain-Merida on the team's official debut at the Tour Down Under (January 17-22) and the preceding People's Choice Classic criterium on January 15.
"The Giro d'Italia would be special, it's a hard route, it's the 100th edition and there's a stage finish in Vincenzo's home town of Messina," Nibali's coach Paolo Slongo, who has also moved to the new team from Astana, explained.
"We're evaluating if Vincenzo should ride the Ardennes Classics or not. If he didn't ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he could ride the Tour of Croatia (April 18-23)."
Nibali will have the support of loyal teammate Valerio Agnoli and former Tinkoff rider Manuele Boaro on his debut in Argentina, while Tsgabu Grmay and former mountain bike world champion Ondrej Cink will join Visconti in the squad for the Tour Down Under.
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