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Bahrain-McLaren riding wave of early-season morale

The Bahraini team, rebranded from Bahrain-Merida at the start of 2020, has been in the thick of the early-season racing, dominating the Saudi Tour.

Bahrain-McLaren has wasted no time at the start of their inaugural season under their new identity.

The Bahraini team, rebranded from Bahrain-Merida at the start of the year, has been in the thick of the early-season racing, dominating the Saudi Tour and picking up the overall with Phil Bahuas, and seeing grand tour riders Wout Poels and Mikel Landa placing in the top six at Tours of Valenciana and Andalucia, respectively.

“We’ve got off to a really good start with a few wins now, lots of podiums, so we’re knocking on the door or winning most events at the minute,” team boss Rod Ellingworth told VeloNews after stage two of the UAE Tour. “The morale is really good and there’s a positive drive in the team.”

Bahrain-McLaren team underwent a full facelift in the offseason, with grand tour veteran Vincenzo Nibali departing for Trek Segafredo, and a core of ex-Sky/Ineos faces coming in.

Ellingworth has taken the driver’s seat at Bahrain-McLaren having been at the heart of Ineos’s domination of the Tour de France (as Team Sky), and marquee riders Mikel Landa, Wout Poels, and Mark Cavendish—all who have ridden under the Brit’s wing at Sky—have come to join him. British motorsport team McLaren came on board as co-sponsors, with the cycling team planning to capitalize on its space-age technology and facilities. Bahrain-McLaren may have formed out of Bahrain-Merida, but it looks altogether different in 2020.

Mark Cavendish, Marcel Sieberg, Heinrich Haussler, and Phil Bauhaus of Team Bahrain-Mclaren during the Saudi Tour 2020, Stage 5. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Having a new sponsor, team principal, and general classification contender all at once could bring a whole raft of challenges for the team culture and performance, but it’s been a case of so-far-so-good in the opening month of the season.

“I’m really happy with how things are at the minute,” said Ellingworth. ”I think if you look back at October, and think this is what it would be like in the first month of racing then I’d say ‘I’ll take this’. It’s worked out perfectly so far.”

The UAE Tour stage 2 steep finish, atop Hatta Dam, had seen the team’s leader Poels finish with all those in the hunt for the overall. Things are all square among the GC riders before the two mountaintop showdowns of the race atop Jebel Hafeet, Tuesday and Thursday.

“The feeling is good in the legs and I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said the Dutch climber. “Tomorrow [stage 3’s climb to Jebel Hafeet] suits me better. And I really want to do a good GC here, so am feeling good for it.”

Poels spent five years with Team Sky, riding in support of its fleet of grand tour winners. He’ll be riding for former Sky teammate Landa when the pair head to France in summer, but he’s fine with continuing to act in a supporting role in the biggest races.

“I’m looking forward to riding with Mikel [Landa] again. He’s a super rider and it’s really nice to be around a big rider like that,” Poels said. “I will do all I can for him. I’m just really enjoying being in a new team, with new teammates and new environment, especially when the team really believe in you.”

Speaking with the riders and staff as they cooled down after another baking, hot day in the UAE, the overall felling was of optimism. Cavendish may have been dropped before the final sprinters’ showdown atop the Dam, but he was all smiles as he re-fueled and talked with teammates outside the Bahrain-McLaren van.

“The early momentum is good already. The spirit is there,” said Ellingworth. “I’m looking forward to see how we go through the year.”

While Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step dominated podiums and headlines alike in 2019, Bahrain-McLaren is shaping up to be joining them later in 2020.