Max Stedman is all set to defend his Tour of Quanzhou Bay crown.
The Canyon Eisberg climber will call on the support of Rory Townsend, Ryan Christensen and Charles Page in the three-day stage race which begins on Friday.
Meanwhile, assistant sports director Simon Holt takes the reins for the Chinese UCI 2.2 contest, which proved ground-breaking for the team last term.
Canyon Eisberg celebrated their maiden UCI victories in the race last year – winning the opening two stages and then the general classification.
Stedman, 22, admitted his form is a little unknown following his most recent outing in the World Championship under-23 road race in September.
But the University of Exeter student is determined to honour his position as defending champion. He said:
“I’m feeling as good as last year but I haven’t been training much during the past month after the World Championships.
“I have experimented with my training. I have cut a load of volume but increased the intensity a lot, so we will see how that goes! It will be nice to defend the title.”
Stedman won the Queen stage on his way to general classification glory last term.
His victory on the summit finish in Anxi followed up the one-two delivered by Harry Tanfield and Townsend, respectively, from the stage one breakaway.
Tanfield’s triumph was Canyon Eisberg’s maiden UCI win – not to mention the soon-to-be Team KATUSHA ALPECIN man’s first international success.
And he nearly completed a clean sweep for Tim Elverson’s squad when he finished second to Latvian Deins Kanepejs in the bunch sprint on stage three.
Crucially, though, Tanfield, Townsend and James Lowsley-Williams had protected Stedman sufficiently to see him crowned Tour of Quanzhou Bay champion.
The triumph represented a watershed moment for the climber, who had finished 14th overall in the Tour of Almaty a few weeks earlier.
Stedman used his new-found confidence to deliver fine performances against World Tour opposition in the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour of Britain in 2018.
Now he is back in China and determined to produce a display to be proud of as defending champion.
Stedman, Townsend and Page will be joined on the road by Christensen, who has been back in New Zealand since the World Championships in September.
He has been getting stuck into the Kiwi season – with fifth place overall in the Tour of Southland earlier this month in the colours of Kia Motors-Ascot Park Hotel.
Michael Vink, of WPC South-Joyride Apparel, won the seven-day stage race by 18 seconds from Christensen’s team-mate Hamish Bond.