Greg Van Avermaet will lead the BMC Racing team at Saturday's Strade Bianche, hoping to finally win the Italian Classic after finishing second to Michel Kwiatkowski last year and second to Zdenek Stybar in 2015.
Van Avermaet failed to secure a result at the opening weekend in Belgium but showed his early-season form by winning a stage at the Tour of Oman.
He will have the support of Alberto Bettiol, Damiano Caruso, Stefan Küng, Michael Schär, Francisco Ventoso and Loïc Vliegen for the dirt road race in the steep hills south of Siena.
His major rivals for the first Italian one-day WorldTour race of the 2018 season include world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan).
After snow and freezing temperatures, mild and wet conditions are expected for the weekend, making the long sections of dirt roads and the many steep climbs even more selective.
Van Avermaet will have support from a mix of Classics riders and climbers. The race is expected to be decided on the final steep climb into the centre of historic Siena, with the first rider into the final corner usually going onto win in the spectacular piazza del Campo where the Palio horse race is held.
"Strade Bianche is a race that Greg traditionally likes to do, and he has been just short of the victory a couple of times, including finishing second place last year, so, he will be our leader," BMC directeur sportif Valerio Piva said.
"We know he is in good shape and he will have a good team around him. I expect Alberto Bettiol, as this is almost a home race for him, together with Damiano Caruso and Stefan Küng to be there in the final with Greg. Of course, we need to be careful and pay attention during the whole race and try to jump in the moves, but with the help of these guys, I think we can do a good race.
"We also have strong guys like Francisco Ventoso, Michael Schär and Loïc Vliegen there in support of Greg. It depends on the tactics of the race, and the weather forecast is not so good at the moment, but we will see what happens and hopefully we can produce a good result."
BMC Racing for Strade Bianche: Alberto Bettiol, Damiano Caruso, Stefan Küng, Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet, Francisco Ventoso and Loïc Vliegen.
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