The EF Education First-Drapac squad will be on home turf for the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya this week. With their service course in Girona and several riders calling the region home during the season, they will have ample knowledge of the WorldTour event's routes.
Canadian Michael Woods is hoping to get a win for himself or a teammate, and to use the challenging route to hone his form for the Ardennes Classics later in April.
"Normally when I race in Europe I have no clue where I am, and I have to rely completely on my director for course info," Woods said in a team press release.
"Catalunya has begun to feel like a home race, and it is so nice to know when there is a sharp corner coming up, or a key feature, without simply having to trust in my director a kilometre behind in the car."
Woods will have three Americans at his side - Nate Brown, Joe Dombrowski and Alex Howes. Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Urán was originally scheduled to race but fell ill and is replaced by Daniel Martinez. Pierre Rolland and Hugh Carthy complete the roster of seasoned riders who, in addition to ramping up for the Classics, will be proving themselves for the Grand Tours.
Urán has shown himself to be on strong form, with 10th place overall in Tirreno-Adriatico - he was fifth until a poor final time trial - and third place in Colombia Oro y Paz already on his 2018 results sheet. The Volta a Catalunya will be a more crucial test for the coming Classics and Grand Tours.
"How riders fare here is a good indicator as to how they are going to progress throughout the season," Woods said. "A win at this race doesn't necessarily mean you are going to win a Grand Tour, but coming out of a race like this without positive momentum means you are going to have to go back to the drawing board prior to the grandies."
Woods explained that the terrain is similar to the final week of a Grand Tour but without a worn-down, established peloton that behaves itself in a predicable manner.
"There is no civility in Catalunya. It's aggressive racing from the gun to the tape."
As such, Woods' goal is to build his form but also to take some chances. "I'm just hoping to try to play an aggressive role in the race, and help contribute to getting a teammate, or myself, across the line first."
Sport director Juan Manuel Garate added: "Catalunya is on our way to the Ardennes Classics, of course, but it's also a goal in itself. With two uphill finishes and no time trials, it looks like a race for the climbers, and we have a team full of them. We want to win one stage and be on the final podium."
The Volta a Catalunya begins on Monday March 19 and ends on Sunday March 25.
EF Education First-Drapac for the 2018 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya: Nate Brown, Hugh Carthy, Joe Dombrowski, Alex Howes, Pierre Rolland, Rigoberto Uran, Mike Woods.
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