American outfit Axeon Hagens Berman confirmed Monday that it will race as a Pro Continental team in 2018 after getting approval from the UCI.
“The large, competitive races are obviously very important for us to be a part of in the United States moving forward,” said team director Axel Merckx. “The program is as strong as ever, and the move will give us the opportunity to participate in additional races throughout the season.”
The Amgen Tour of California is one of the key races that Axeon was left out of in 2017. The WorldTour event could only allow two Continental teams, and organizers picked Jelly Belly and Rally Pro Cycling. Rally is also seeking a Pro Continental nod in 2018.
Over the last three years, Axeon riders have won a number of prominent races. Logan Owen won stage 3 of the 2015 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, as well as the under-23 version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège the following season. Also in 2016, Greg Daniel won U.S. nationals along with two stages at Tour de Beauce. Adrien Costa and Neilson Powless each won a stage at the 2016 Tour de l’Avenir.
This past season was marred by tragedy. Axeon rider Chad Young died after crashing in Tour of the Gila, and team press officer Sean Weide died in May. The team still managed to win 12 major races in 2017; Jhonathan Narvaez won stage 5 at Tour of the Gila and Ecuadorian nationals.
The team will continue its mission as an under-23 development outfit as it steps up to cycling’s second tier.
A number of WorldTour pros have graduated from Axeon’s program: Ben King (Dimension Data); Ian Boswell and Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin in 2018); Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing); Taylor Phinney, Lawson Craddock, Joe Dombrowski, and Nate Brown (Cannondale-Drapac).
For 2018, four Axeon riders are headed to WorldTour teams: Christopher Lawless, moving to Team Sky; Owen racing for EF Education First-Drapac (formerly Cannondale-Drapac); Narvaez transferring to Quick-Step; and Powless, riding for LottoNL-Jumbo.