Strong UnitedHealthcare GC squad for Herald Sun Tour - News shorts

Jonny Clarke and Lachlan Norris with UnitedHealthcare for Herald Sun Tour

Having come Down Under for the Herald Sun Tour with a squad better suited to the sprints, UnitedHealthcare are chasing the general classification in 2017 with Colombian Janier Acevedo to be joined by Victorian duo Jonny Clarke and recent signing Lachlan Norris. Clarke and Norris have both finished top-ten overall at the race before while Acevado will make his debut at the Sun Tour this week.

"It was time in my career for a change and to join such a strong team with big goals has helped me to set some good objectives for the season. Going into nationals as an individual gave me freedom to enjoy the racing, without the pressure and I hope to capitalise on that form, with the team at the next few races," said 30-year-old Norris who was top-ten in the road race and time trial at the Australian nationals earlier in the month.

"I'm very much looking forward to this years tour, I think it will present more opportunities for me," added Norris. "I believe we will have a strong team and expect to do well, between our fast guys and Janier, Jonny and myself in the mountains."

With Travis McCabe, Tanner Putt and Greg Henderson also headed down under, director sportif Hendrik Redant is aiming high with his squad in 2017.

"We had high ambitions last year and we were able to back this up with the good results we achieved," he said in reference to John Murphy's stage win. "Seeing the much harder race course for the 2017-edition, we knew we would have to take an even stronger team to this race to achieve good results.

"But as we have been making this team stronger for 2017, we strongly believe that we should be capable at giving an awesome fight for victory."

Rounding out the team for the February 1-5 race is American Adrian Hegyvary.

UAE Abu Dhabi sign Moroccan champion Aït El Abdia

Newly created WorldTour team UAE Abu Dhabi have announced a late signing to its 2017 roster with the addition of Moroccan champion Anass Aït El Abdia. The 23-year-old was 22nd at the World Championships in Qatar last year having spent the season with the UCI's World Cycling Centre team.

Aït El Abdia also rode the Rio Olympics road race for his country last year where he was 47th.

"We're happy to welcome Anass in our team as young rider with the potential talent for improving his skills," said the team's general manager Giuseppe Saronni. "His cycling course is well certified by having spent two years in the UCI World Cycling Center, a path which is similar to the one of a former rider of the team, who's Tsgabu Grmay: it would be great if Ait el Abdia could follow this course of improvement.

"Anass is well determined and the team's staff in charge of the evaluations and the performances reported that his value are good enough to allow him to aim to an interesting level of competitiveness."

Aït El Abdia is the second Moroccan to race at WorldTour level, following in the footsteps of Tarik Chaoufi at Euskaltel Euskadi in 2013.

Dimension Data and Ben King head to Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana

American Ben King makes his Dimension Data debut this week at the Spanish Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana stage race. King hasn't raced since the Vuelta a Espana last September and explained he is ready for season 2017 with his new team and teammates.

"After a long and satisfying off-season and preseason, I am really excited to get back to racing and starting off with my new team. I'm looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of racing in Valencia and taking some opportunities during the race. It is our first race, so just to get to working together is important, it sets the tone and puts in place the foundation of how we work together. For sure we will use the race to iron out some kinks but already there is such a good atmosphere in the team that we might surprise ourselves."

Joining King at the five day stage race is Serge Pauwels, Igor Anton, Kristian Sbaragli Daniel Teklehaimanot, Merhawi Kudus, Adrien Niyonshuti and Johann van Zyl.

While the team came close to opening its 2017 season account with Nathan Haas in Australia, the team will be hoping for its first win of the year in Spain, or the Dubai Tour this week via Mark Cavendish. 

Latour ready for Etoile de Besseges test

AG2R-La Mondiale's Pierre Latour has recovered from a broken finger and is ready to start his 2017 season on home soil at the Etoile de Besseges this week. The 23-year-old won a stage at the Vuelta a Espana last year and is aiming to better his 2016 season this year.

"I'm accustomed to starting my season at the Etoile de Bessèges (7th in 2015 and 2016)," Latour said in a team release. "You have to stay very alert in the first stages where everyone is nervous and where the wind can often cause echelons. This event is also the first time in the season we have a chance to test ourselves in a time trial. I was feeling good during our most recent training camp. I am anxious to see if my good sensations are confirmed in the race. The Etoile de Bessèges is an excellent event to get used to the rhythm of competition again. With Sam (Dumoulin), Quentin (Jaurégui), and Rudy (Barbier), we can do some great things!"

German Nico Denz is the only non-French rider on the team which includes a mix of youth and experience, including Hupert Dupont who makes his 13th appearance at the race this year. The team is completed by Rudy Barbier, Samuel Dumoulin, Quentin Jauregui, Nans Peters, and Julien Duval.

AG2R-La Mondiale have twice won the race overall, with Laurent Brochard in 2004 and Anthony Ravard in 2011.

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