Rising Welsh climbing star Stephen Williams will step up to the WorldTour with Bahrain-Merida, after agreeing to join the team as a stagiaire for the rest of the season before turning pro next year.

Williams, 22, won this year’s Ronde de l’Isard – the first Brit to do so – and also bagged a stage win and a day in the maglia rosa on his way to fifth overall at the under-23 Giro d’Italia.

Now, after two seasons racing with the Dutch Continental-level SEG Racing Academy, Williams will join Vincenzo Nibali’s team in cycling’s top tier.

And Williams admitted the chance to ride with Nibali was one of the big pulls in joining Bahrain-Merida.

“I'm so happy to be joining Bahrain-Merida, this is the perfect team for me to learn and develop as a young climber," he said. "I'm really excited and can't wait to start racing with the team.

“I'm over the moon to be turning pro and moving to the highest level of cycling. This will give me the opportunity to race the biggest races in the world.

“I've looked up to Vincenzo Nibali for a number of years now, and to be able to race alongside him for the next few years is something special for me.”

Vincenzo Nibali, Bahrain-Merida, 2018, pic - Sirotti

Williams first came to prominence riding with JLT-Condor in 2016, when he was third at the New Zealand Cycle Classic.

He joined SEG Racing Academy last year but it was this season when results kicked on and he attracted the attention of several teams.

SEG cycling director Martijn Berkhout said: “There was a lot of interest for Stevie but Bahrain-Merida offered a development plan that perfectly matched his needs in order to progress and improve in the professional ranks.

“We know he is in good hands with Bahrain-Merida, a great team that knows how to work with some of the biggest talents.”