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The starting line in downtown Logan will welcome 126 cyclists Monday morning.

There, smattered in the crowd of brightly colored jerseys and random sponsor names, will be a crew designed to develop — and win — on the fly.

Axeon Hagens Berman, a premier development team created in 2009 by former professional rider Axel Merckx, once again will take aim at the top professional riders in the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

The team, annually handpicked by Merckx, has risen to the occasion during its stops at what is marketed as "America's Toughest Stage Race."

Merckx expects his crew of 20- to 22-year-old development riders to once again prove they belong in the 2017 version of the 605-mile race featuring 16 teams with riders representing 23 countries from around the globe.

"They're always very excited to be part of the race and to be able to go race and beat them," Merckx said, "because it's racing against some of the best teams in the world and you're ready to showcase your talent and to show that you're actually up to par and capable of moving up to a bigger and broader program."

Merckx makes no bones about his goal as a coach and program director.

It's his job to find young talent around the globe and help them reach their ultimate goal of turning professional and joining world-renowned teams. Merckx and his team have seen 21 riders go on to sign with World Tour teams over the last nine years.

"They want to make a career out of this, and these are opportunities for them to race and race hard, and if you don't take the opportunities, someone else will," Merckx said. "When you're a professional, you race. You have lots of choices to do races. With us, it's totally different in that level of racing."

Which makes events like the Tour of Utah all that more important for youngsters to impress. Axeon finished third overall in the team general classification in 2016 and fourth overall in 2015. The oldest rider on this year's crew, 22-year-old American Logan Owen, won a stage at the Tour of Utah in 2015.

"I think we're probably the best development team in the world," he said. "And we have a bunch of riders that can be at that [professional] level almost at this point, so it's good for us to kind of prove that we are at that level. And it gives us more motivation to show everyone that."

Merckx said he doesn't have any sky-high predictions about the race.

"I never go to any races with all the expectations," he said. "I go hoping we do well. We've won stages and we've done well in the overall, so it really depends on the level of fitness that the riders have."

Owen said he believes the team, with riders representing the U.S., Ecuador, Portugal, Australia and Great Britain, has what it takes to once again hang with teams like BMC Racing Team, which is coming off its annual Tour de France appearance. Twenty-year-old American rider Neilson Powless is the reigning U.S. U-23 national road champion.

"I'm sure we have the expectation to win maybe one or two stages and then definitely do well in the overall with a few of our other guys," Owen said. "That's a big aim for us, especially after last year's performance."

The Tour of Utah, according to Owen, is one of the most mentally taxing races. The altitude mixed with the summertime heat makes the peloton "move in slow motion" at times, he said. But he believes his team is ready for the "big grind" ahead in the seven-stage race.

Merckx and his crew typically zero in on this race, not only to prove their mettle against some of the best riders around, but because it signals the beginning of the end of another racing season for his development team.

"Those are the times where you want to perform and get a ticket if you want to move up," he said.

Twitter: @chriskamrani —

2017 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah

Stage 1 (Monday) • Logan (132 miles, start time 8:35 a.m.)

Stage 2 (Tuesday) • Brigham City to Snowbasin (94 miles, start time 9:45 a.m.)

Stage 3 (Wednesday) • Big Cottonwood Canyon (Five miles, time trial, start time 11 a.m.)

Stage 4 (Thursday) • South Jordan (125 miles, start time 8:55 a.m.)

Stage 5 (Friday) • Layton to Bountiful (115 miles, start time 9:10 a.m.)

Stage 6 (Saturday) • Heber Valley to Snowbird (61 miles, start time 1:10 p.m.)

Stage 7 (Sunday) • Salt Lake City (73 miles, start time 1 p.m.)

Teams racing in the 2017 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah

• BMC Racing Team (USA)

• Amore & Vita - Selle SMP presented by Fondriest (Albania)

• Bardiani CSF (Italy)

• Caja Rural-Seguros RGA (Spain)

• Israel Cycling Academy (Israel)

• Nippo-Vini Fantini (Italy)

• Team Novo Nordisk (USA)

• UnitedHealthCare Pro Cycling Team (USA)

• Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team (USA)

• Cyclance Pro Cycling (USA)

• Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling (USA)

• Hangar 15 Pro Cycling (USA)

• Holowesko Citadel Racing Team (USA)

• Jelly Belly Cycling (USA)

• Rally Cycling (USA)

• Silber Pro Cycling (Canada)