Britain's Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) lead the list of home nation riders set for the 2018 Criterium du Dauphine, bidding to make it six British wins in eight years at the race.
The traditional form finder for the Tour de France boasts a typically grand startlist, with Yates and Thomas joined by the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) – the latter having been third in each of the last two editions.
While some big names, among them 2017 champion Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and two-time runner-up Richie Porte (BMC Racing), are gearing up at the Tour de Suisse instead – the Dauphine hampered by being a week further from the Tour than usual because of the football World Cup – the battle for GC honours will still be keenly contested.
With two stages mirroring the Tour de France route – including a 35km team time trial – and a finale on Mont Blanc, there is plenty to look forward to when the race begins on Sunday (June 3).
The route for the 2018 Criterium du Dauphine is, as ever, packed with summit finishes in the latter half of the race but the racing will be on from the off with eight intriguing stages in store.
First up is a 6.6km prologue, on a flat, largely straight-forward, out-and-back course in Valence.
The first road stage is composed of some seven categorised climbs on a 179km route from Valence to Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, including immediately going up the category-two Col de Leyrisse and two ascents in the finishing circuit of the category-four Cote du Barrage de Grangent.
Stage two then features four climbs – three of which are category-three, and one category-four – on the 180.5km from Montbrison to Belleville, which finishes with a long descent.
Stage three is the aforementioned team time trial, covering 35km from Pont-de-Vaux to Louhans-Chateaurenaud. It is the same distance that will be covered on the team time trial stage in Cholet at the Tour de France.
The race then finishes with four consecutive summit finishes, though stage four is more notable for the hors categorie Col du Mont Noir (17.5km at 6.9 per cent average gradient) than the final category-two climb to Lans-en-Vercors.
Stage five starts with two early tests outside of Grenoble and concludes with a summit finish to Valmorel (12.7km at seven per cent), with the whole stage just 130.5km long, while stage six is even shorter. Almost an exact copy of stage 11 of the Tour de France, the HC Montee de Bisanne and Col du Pre feature on the 110km stage before a final climb to La Rosiere.
Finally, stage seven finishes at Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc – one of four category-one climbs on the 129km route, which also features Comet de Roselend, Col des Saisies and Cote des Amerands.
With no Fuglsang or three-time champion Chris Froome, who is recovering after his Giro d’Italia triumph, there will be a new winner of the Criterium du Dauphine this year.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) are the leading British contenders, having both impressed at Tirreno-Adriatico where Thomas was third and Yates was fifth and won one stage.
Team Sky have more than one card to play too, with in-form Tour of California winner Egan Arley Bernal (Team Sky) and Tirreno-Adriatico champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) also in their ranks.
Flying the Irish flag will be Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), looking to build on his tenth place at the Tour de Romandie in April after two consecutive podium finishes at the Dauphine.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) will be the home favourite, meanwhile, and will have fond memories of the finale of the stage seven route, having won at Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc at the 2016 Tour de France. Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floors) and Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) are other French hopefuls.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) will be keen to start showing some pre-Tour form having done little aside from the small matter of winning Milan-San Remo, meanwhile – though he generally does not shine at the Dauphine.
Having already won in France this year, meanwhile, Paris-Nice champion Marc Soler (Movistar) is another one to watch.