Simon Holt is adamant he has never taken a stronger team to the Rás Tailteann.
And Canyon Eisberg’s assistant sports director has backed his young guns to handle the pressure of the gruelling eight-day UCI 2.2 contest in Ireland.
Dexter Gardias, Rory Townsend, Max Stedman, Matt Nowell and Louis Rose-Davies will roll out of Drogheda on Sunday (12.30pm).
The five-man squad has an average age of 22, with Gardias the veteran of the group at 27 and Rose-Davies the baby at just 19.
However, the line-up still boasts plenty of big-race experience, with multiple Tour of Britain, Tour de Yorkshire and Rás appearances between them.
And Holt is excited by their prospects, with lots of opportunities on offer to his troops. He said:
“The Rás is a really good race and it should be a good week. I did it once as a rider and this my the third time taking a team across there.
“I think this is the strongest squad we have sent to it. It might be the youngest but I think it is also the most experienced.
“We have got quite a complete team and there is quite a lot we could get out of the race. It is very exciting.
“With fast finishers like Rory and Matt, hopefully we can go for some stage wins and with that maybe look towards the points jersey.
“And then overall, we will probably be looking at Max. But we also have Dex, who knows the race well, so we can possibly use a bit of a two-pronged attack there.
“As for Louis, let’s see how he gets on. Like Max and Matt, he is eligible for the under-23 jersey, so there are lots of chances.
“Louis is a canny bike rider, for sure. It will be interesting to see how he goes as a first-year senior. It will be a good race for his development.
“But I think he will take it in his stride. He has the pedigree to suggest he will just get stuck into the racing.”
Gardias will be competing in his fourth Rás and third under the direction of Holt, who first led a squad while working with Tim Elverson at Pedal Heaven in 2016.
Stedman wants to put a disappointing debut in the race last season behind him, while Nowell, Rose-Davies and Townsend will make their bow.
The latter, who holds an Irish racing licence and has family ties in Ireland, has recently returned to action following a broken collarbone. Holt added:
“They are good, hard roads at the Rás. It is a complete route, we go up quite a few mountains and we have some fast finishes, too.
“Rory has done the Tour of Britain and Dex has done quite a few of these, too. But for the other three, it will be the longest race they have ever done.
“It will be a big learning curve. They will have ups and downs throughout the week but keeping on top of their recovery is the most important thing, especially for someone like Louis.
“Rory may have to ride himself into the race a little bit following his injury. But he is a fundamental part of the team, gelling things together on the road.
“And he is not going to stop for the want of trying, that’s for sure.”
The 2018 Rás will cover a total distance of 1,169km across eight stages, starting in Drogheda and finishing in Skerries on Sunday, May 27.
There are 33 categorised climbs, including seven on stage four and eight on stage seven, which will go a long way to determining the overall winner.
Former Pedal Heaven rider James Gullen, who was part of Holt’s Rás squad in 2016, won the race in JLT Condor colours last season.
For more information on the race, which boasts the likes of John Degenkolb and Sam Bennett among its past stage winners, click here.