The Tour Down Under marks the start of the 2018 UCI WorldTour calendar, with defending champion Richie Porte (BMC Racing) once again among the contenders for the ochre jersey when the race starts on Tuesday January 16.
The season’s traditional curtain-raiser in Adelaide provides a first glimpse at how the WorldTour’s leading teams are shaping up, while from a British perspective this year’s race will see Chris Lawless (Team Sky) and Scott Davies (Dimension Data) make their debuts in cycling’s top tier.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), fresh from his People’s Choice Classic victory (the traditional criterium race which serves as a prelude to the Tour Down Under) is also among the draws for the six-day race.
As ever, the race presents opportunities for the peloton's sprinters to test their early-season form, with Sagan likely to face stiff competition from Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal).
But the ochre jersey will more than likely be decided on Willunga Hill – the queen stage, stage five, on Saturday – where Richie Porte has been victorious in the last four years.
So who’s in contention, where else could the race be won, and how can you watch the action unfold?
The 20th Tour Down Under returns to its roots for stage one, with the race starting at Port Adelaide – the same place it began for the inaugural edition in 1999.
The race hasn't started there since, but the peloton will soon head to familiar territory through the Barossa wine region to the Lyndoch finishing circuit - scratched from the race last year due to extreme heat – for an anticipated bunch sprint.
Stage two, from Unley to Stirling, is a stage for the punchier sprinters and rouleurs, while stage three, from Glenelg to Victor Harbor should see the fast men going wheel-to-wheel once again.
Stage four is the unknown as far as the 2018 race is concerned – departing Norwood for Uraidla, the latter featuring as a stage finish for the first time.
The short climb of Norton Summit could see a gap open up inside the final 10km, which – in a race often decided by the smallest of margins overall – could well prove decisive.
Willunga Hill is the showpiece of the fifth stage, and indeed the race, as Richie Porte bids for his fifth consecutive victory on the summit, and the winner will be crowned the following day in Adelaide after a flat, circuitous finale.
BMC Racing have clearly decided the best way to win the season’s first race is to stock up on riders who have done exactly that in the past.
In fact, the acquisition of veteran Aussie Simon Gerrans means the winners of the last four Tours Down Under will all roll out in BMC's red-and-black kit in Adelaide.
Defending champion Richie Porte and 2015 winner Rohan Dennis are also on the winner’s list as the race heads into its 20th edition, but it is Porte who will enjoy the full leadership role at BMC Racing.
You may have noticed those three riders have another thing in common other than their trade team – they are, of course, all Australian, which is a key indicator of who usually arrives in best form.
This year, however, BMC racing’s stockpiling of the Australian leaders means the overall field could be more open: Bahrain-Merida trio Domenico Pozzovivo and the Izagirre brothers, Gorka and Ion, will need to be watched carefully.
Team Sky say rising Colombian star Egan Arley Bernal will lead their charge on his debut for the British team, while former British champion Peter Kennaugh (Bora-hansgrohe) has joined his new side with the promise of more opportunities in longer stage races.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) is another rider capable of turning it on when the race reaches Willunga Hill too, as are LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett and Robert Gesink.
For the hosts, Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin), Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) and Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) have all showed well in this race before, while Simon Clarke leads EF Education First-Drapac.
With stages one, three and six tailor-made for pro cycling's sprinters, and stage two another chance if they can get around the punchy final circuit in the bunch, the Tour Down Under will provide plenty of opportunities for the fast men to get off the mark.
Andre Greipel leads Lotto-Soudal, Caleb Ewan is top dog for Mitchelton-Scott and Nikias Arndt rides for Team Sunweb.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) showed his form by winning the People’s Choice Classic, while Elia Viviani is set to ride for QuickStep Floors for the first time.
Former world under-23 road race champion Kristoffer Halvorsen will have to wait for his WorldTour debut, however - the Team Sky man broke his hand in his late spill at the People’s Choice Classic.
Five Brits will take to the startline in Adelaide in all, three of whom are racing for Team Sky.
Owain Doull and Jonathan Dibben will start their second seasons with Team Sky at the Tour Down Under, alongside new boy Chris Lawless.
Former Team Sky man Peter Kennaugh will ride for Bora-hansgrohe for the first time, while Scott Davies will make his WorldTour debut with Dimension Data.
Irishman Sam Bennett is also in the Bora-hansgrohe line-up, while British fans will recognise Antipodean former British domestic pros Tom Scully (EF-Drapac), Alex Frame (Trek Factory Racing), Zak Dempster and Steele von Hoff (UniSA-Australia).
Tour Down Under 2018: TV schedule
UK-based fans burning the midnight oil, shift workers and cricket lovers who still haven't got their sleep patterns sorted after the Ashes can all watch the action unfold live - providing you have the new FreeSports channel.
If you have Sky, Freeview, Freesat, BT or TalkTalkTV you’re in luck, but if Virgin Media provide your television you might as well stay in bed - there will be no live TV coverage for you.
Internet streams and live tracking will, of course, be available - including via the TDU Tracker and Velon apps - but otherwise four of the six stages (one, three, five and six) are live on FreeSports.
Tour Down Under 2018 on FreeSports
Tuesday January 16 – stage one: LIVE 1am-3am
Wednesday January 17 – stage two: no live coverage
Thursday January 18 – stage three: LIVE 12.30am-3am
Friday January 19 – stage four: no live coverage
Saturday January 20 – stage five: LIVE 12.40am-5am
Sunday January 21 – stage six: LIVE 3am-5am