Who and what to look out for at the Road World Championships
The rainbow jerseys are on the line once more as the UCI Road Cycling World Championships take to the streets and rolling hills of Yorkshire, Great Britain.
However, they will face stiff competition in their bid to keep their titles for another year.
The World Championships start on Sunday 22 September with the elite road races providing a fitting finale the following weekend.
In what are set to be wide-open contests, here’s what to look out for as the world’s best riders gear up for the event.
Van der Poel vs Alaphilippe?
With big climbs few and far between in the north of England, it is difficult to predict a winner of the men's road race taking place over a distance of 285km.
Among the early favourites are Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel and France’s Julian Alaphilippe.
Mathieu van der Poel: three-in-one cyclist has big aims
Mathieu van der Poel: three-in-one cyclist has big aimsAfter winning the opening mountain bike World Cup short track race and finishing second in the Olympic distance final, Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel - who's also a road cyclist and the cyclo-cross world champion - tells Olympic Channel how he juggles three disciplines and in which discipline he has set his goal for Tokyo 2020.
Van der Poel, aka MVDP, is a jack of all cycling trades and seemingly a master of themtoo.
The two-time world cyclo-cross champion heads to Yorkshire as the Tour of Britain winner and beat Olympic champion Nuno Schurter twice in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
But the 24-year-old – who won this year's Dwars door Vlaanderen and Amstel Gold Race spring classics – insists he is not burdened by expectations.
“For me, Alaphilippe is the favourite. He is the strongest rider this year on the road overall, for sure,” van der Poel told Cycling News.
"I don’t really feel much pressure in road racing. I know everyone’s calling me a favourite, but I don’t think it matters.”
Alaphillipe wore the yellow jersey for 14 days at this year’s Tour de France but eventually finished fifth behind Egan Bernal.
According to L'Equipe, the Frenchman was "disgusted" after Marion Sicot, a rider formerly trained by his cousin and current coach Franck Alaphilippe, tested positive for EPO.
He will have to put that behind him as he bids for a first rainbow jersey on the afternoon of Sunday 29 September.
Evergreen Valverde eyes title defence
Alejandro Valverde currently holds the men’s road race rainbow jersey after winning a four-way sprint for gold in Innsbruck last year.
The Spanish veteran already had two silvers and four bronze medals to his name before 2018, but age is clearly not slowing the 39-year-old down.
He travels to Yorkshire in buoyant mood after finishing runner-up at La Vuelta to Primoz Roglic, but admits this year's route makes him less confident than he was 12 months ago.
He told Spanish newspaper AS that his La Vuelta second "definitely motivates me, it means I’m in great form."
He added, "It's better than finishing 55th. We now have enough time from the end of the Vuelta to regain strength, rest, focus and go.
“It’s a good World Championships for me, but not as good as Innsbruck. You have to be realistic and last year suited very few riders while this year the race is quite open. I have chances, but fewer than last year.”
The Dutch showdown?
Anna van der Breggen knows her competition all too well in the women’s road race.
The reigning world and Olympic champion is just one of many potential winners within the Netherlands’ team.
Three-time world champion Marianne Vos – who also has two Olympic gold medals – has been in sublime form this year.
Winning May's Tour de Yorkshire will only add to Vos' belief that she can conquer the county’s streets once more.
Defending time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten, who crashed heavily in the Rio 2016 road race, is another contender and arrives in good form after winning the Giro Rosa.
More Dutch hopefuls are former world champion Chantal Blaak and European champion Amy Pieters who is part of the Netherlands' strong squad for the first team time trial mixed relay on the opening day.
Van Vleuten will be a strong favourite to retain her time trial crown with van der Breggen providing perhaps her biggest threat.
Van Der Breggen wins gold in Women's Road Race
Van Der Breggen wins gold in Women's Road RaceAnna Van Der Breggen of the Netherlands emerges from the pack and wins the women's road race at Rio 2016.
Sagan after a fab fourth
Peter Sagan is one of cycling’s great entertainers, but he also has the titles to boot.
The 29-year-old Slovak held the rainbow jersey for three years after winning the road race from 2015 to 2017.
He also secured a record-breaking seventh green jersey at this year’s Tour de France.
The big climbs of Innsbruck were never likely to suit him, but the Yorkshire terrain should prove much more up his street.
It means, as ever, he is one of the favourites as he eyes a fourth world crown.
Peter Sagan once borrowed his sister's supermarket bike to win a race
Peter Sagan once borrowed his sister's supermarket bike to win a raceTwo-time cycling world champion Peter Sagan comes from humble beginnings, once borrowing his sister's bike to win a junior race.
Fans turn out for local hero Deignan
The crowds will be out in force to cheer on home favourite Lizzie Deignan as she bids for her second women’s road triumph.
The 30-year-old, nee Armitstead, took gold in Virginia, USA four years ago and has plenty of local knowledge having grown up on the road race route.
She told The Guardian, "I’ve ridden the route so many times just by accident, before it was even announced as the women’s road race. Hundreds. Thousands. Every time I wheeled my bike out of my parents’ garage I turned right and I was on the worlds circuit."
Giving birth to her first child a year ago has given her a new perspective and she took advice from multiple Paralympic champion Sarah Storey on returning to cycling after becoming a mum.
Storey spoke to the Olympic Channel Podcast about breastfeeding during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games where she won three golds.
Changing coaching attitudes to athlete mothers with Sarah Storey
Changing coaching attitudes to athlete mothers with Sarah StoreySarah Storey is Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian. She’s won 14 gold medals in both swimming and cycling across her ground-breaking career. During Rio 2016, she took the decision to breastfeed during competition. She thinks that it’s possible to be a breastfeeding mother and be on the top of your game. After Serena Williams’ coach advised her to stop breastfeeding, Storey also says attitudes in coaching need to change at the highest level of sport. “You have to consider the small person that the athlete mum is looking after and all the other things that come with it.” SUBSCRIBE for the best interviews and biggest talking points around the Olympics every Wednesday.
Back to Deignan who says childbirth has given her new perspective.
She added, "Cycling is less important than it’s ever been but I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been. I go out and I love riding my bike now."
With husband Philip now their daughter's primary carer after his retirement from cycling, Deignan has been able to get back into shape and won June's Women's Tour in England and Wales just two months after returning to action.
But she comes into these Worlds under very different circumstances to 2015 when she won as the favourite.
"I am going in with an opportunity to win if I have my best legs on the day. I won’t be the one attacking and making the race.
"I will be holding my cards close to my chest and very much playing a tactical race, which is not what I am used to. But I am really excited about it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.” - Lizzie Deignan speaking to The Guardian
Home hopes hit by Thomas time trial withdrawal
Last year’s Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas had been intending to line up in both the time trial and road race.
But the two-time Olympic track gold medallist announced on Saturday that he will only compete in the road race.
He said, "I’ve tried to get back into shape after my post-Tour break, but unfortunately I don’t feel in good enough shape to perform to my best.
"So the decision was made with my coach and Matt Brammeier at British Cycling to skip the TT and commit to the team for the road race.”
Thomas is still feeling the effects after finishing second in his defence of Le Tour, but he has said he will do his best for the British team which also contains the likes of Rio track gold medallist Owain Doull and Adam Yates.
The other contenders
Fresh from his first Grand Tour win in La Vuelta, Primoz Roglic will be one of the main challengers for the time trial.
The Slovenian was the 2007 world junior champion in ski jumping but switched to cycling in 2012.
It has turned out to be a smart move and the 29-year-old will hope to go one better than his silver medal at Bergen 2017 behind Olympic time trial silver medallist Tom Dumoulin who is currently sidelined with a knee injury.
The men's road race course is on the long side which will suit Matteo Trentin.
The Italian sprinter won last year's European Championships on a similar layout in Glasgow, beating Mathieu van der Poel for gold, and had a stage win in the recent Tour of Britain where he finished second overall to the Dutchman.
Italy's effort will be based around giving Trentin the best possible chance of gold and he is already familiar with the route.
He told Cycling News, "For sure, it's the Worlds and it's going to be hard, but I've checked out the course. We went after Amstel Gold, and we saw the circuit and we saw the last 70km of the big loop. It's pretty hard, and I think that the weather is going to play an important role.
"It's going to be stressful from the start. That's going to make it different because we'll have the first 180km, but it won't be, like, big, wide roads. It will be small roads, left and right, and it won't be relaxing at all."
While Italy are pinning their hopes on one man, Belgium could be in the position of having too many potential road race winners.
Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert are the obvious contenders but young Remco Evenepoel - who won the European time trial title in Alkmaar last month - is also a medal hopeful depending on how the race develops.
A multiple Classic winner and stage winner at the Tour de France, van Avermaet would dearly like to add a medal at the Worlds to his collection.
Van Avermaet wins gold in Men's Road Race
Van Avermaet wins gold in Men's Road RaceGreg Van Avermaet triumphs during the final kilometer and wins Belgium's first gold medal of Rio 2016 in the men's cycling road race.
On the women's side, two Americans will be hoping to get in amongst the Dutch battallion.
Coryn Rivera was a team player in last year's road race with the steep climbs of Innsbruck not to her taste.
But she has impressed this year with sprint wins in the Tour of Flanders and the Women's Tour of Britain and has a chance of becoming the first American woman to win the road race since Beth Heiden in 1980.
Helping her will be Chloe Dygert-Owen who is a five-time track world champion and won Olympic silver in the team pursuit at Rio 2016.
The 22-year-old, who is coached by three-time Olympic time trial champion Kristin Armstrong, was fourth in Bergen two years ago before missing much of last season with concussion following a crash at the Tour of California.
But she won the time trial on the road and the team pursuit on the track at August's Pan American Games in Lima and is very much on the time trial shortlist in Yorkshire.
Marta Bastianelli is Italy's best hope in the road race having outsprinted Marianne Vos recently in Sweden.
The 32-year-old, who won road race gold back in 2007 in Stuttgart, took the Omloop van het Hageland in March before beating van Vleuten to the Tour of Flanders title in April.
With support from Rio bronze medallist Elisa Longo Borghini and young sensation Letitzia Paternoster, she is sure to be there or thereabouts.
Germany also poses a double threat courtesy of Lisa Klein and Lisa Brennauer who will both be going for gold in the time trial mixed relay.
Klein has had a strong season so far and took bronze at last month's European Championships behind Amy Pieters.
Meanwhile, Brennauer looks to be hitting form just at the right time judging by her victory in the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta last weekend.
Full Road World Championships race schedule (all times BST, GMT+1)
Team Time Trial Mixed Relay (Harrogate - 28km - 13:10)
Women Juniors Individual Time Trial (Harrogate - 14km - 10:10)
Men Juniors Individual Time Trial (Harrogate - 28km - 13:10)
Men U23’s Individual Time Trial (Ripon-Harrogate - 30km - 10:10)
Women Elite Individual Time Trial (Ripon-Harrogate - 30km - 14:40)
Men Elite Individual Time Trial (Northallerton-Harrogate - 54km - 13:10)
Men Juniors Road Race (Richmond-Harrogate - 148km - 12:10)
Women Juniors Road Race (Doncaster-Harrogate - 86km - 08:40)
Men U23 Road Race (Doncaster-Harrogate - 187km - 14:10)
Women Elite Road Race (Bradford-Harrogate - 149km - 11:40)
Men Elite Road Race (Leeds-Harrogate - 285km - 08:40)