Tour de Yorkshire: Defending champion Van Avermaet and Pauwels to lead CCC

Defending Tour de Yorkshire champion Greg Van Avermaet will line up for the British stage race in Doncaster on May 2 alongside the winner of the 2017 edition, Serge Pauwels, making their CCC Team the one to beat on paper.

Van Avermaet hasn't enjoyed as successful a spring Classics season as he would have liked, with his second place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad his best result, versus an early 2017 campaign when he won the Omloop, the E3 Harelbeke, Gent Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. He now hopes for a change of fortune in time for a race that he'll also use to scout out the course for this year's road world championships, which also take place in Yorkshire, in September.

"It's always a nice feeling to line up at a race with the number one on your back as defending champion," said Van Avermaet on his team's website.

"I'm looking forward to returning to the race and trying to defend my title. It's not an easy race by any means, but I think we have a strong team – especially with the 2017 winner, Serge Pauwels, in it, so hopefully we can get another nice result.

"As a Classics rider, there are not many stage races where I have a realistic shot of winning the general classification, but the stages at the Tour de Yorkshire suit me," he continued. "There is no other race like the Tour de Yorkshire. The crowds are amazing, the atmosphere is really special, and the scenery is beautiful, so that makes the race really stand out.

"It will also be a good chance to see the route for this year's world championships in race conditions, so I'm looking forward to that," he said.

The Belgian will not line up for this year's Giro d'Italia, but will use the Tour de Yorkshire as part of his build-up to the Tour de France, where he'll lead the team and hope to repeat last year's spell in the leader's yellow jersey, which he held for a week – only relinquishing it on the race's second day in the mountains.

CCC took over as the main sponsor of the BMC team for this season, losing the likes of Richie Porte and world time trial champion Rohan Dennis to Trek-Segafredo and Bahrain-Merida, respectively, but retaining Van Avermaet, and making him the undisputed team leader for both the Classics and the Tour.

Van Avermaet and 2017 Tour of Yorkshire winner Pauwels are now teammates at CCC, but Pauwels was with Dimension Data when he took the title two years ago.

"My overall win at the Tour de Yorkshire is definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far," said Pauwels. "It was a really nice victory because I won the final stage and the overall classification.

"I have always loved this race. I first did it in 2016 and, since then, I've always wanted to come back, and have had reasonable success each year. I finished on the overall podium with Greg last year," added Pauwels, who took third place in 2018, "and I'm looking forward to racing in Yorkshire again this time with him as the defending champion."

Sports director Jackson Stewart believes that team has a very realistic opportunity to once again perform well on Yorkshire's roads this week.

"With the past two winners in our ranks, it's clear that the Tour de Yorkshire is a race suited to the team, so we're lining up aiming to be back on the podium," he said.

"Alongside Greg and Serge, we have a Classics-focused team with Paweł Bernas, Michael Schär, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck – all of whom have enjoyed a short break after the cobbled Classics – as well as Alessandro De Marchi, who had a solid week in the Ardennes.

"The course this year has a bit of everything, and it looks like the third and fourth stages will be the most crucial for the general classification with the short, but steep, climbs," Stewart said, referring to the stages from Bridlington to Scarborough, on Saturday, and Sunday's final stage from Halifax to Leeds.

"Stage two also offers the riders the chance to see the world championship road race course under race conditions, which will be an advantage for them later in the year," he added.

"I think we have a strong team to tackle the race this year, with the aim of winning a stage and looking to have a rider finish on the podium."

CCC Team for the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire: Paweł Bernas, Alessandro De Marchi, Serge Pauwels, Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck 

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