Britain’s premier annual stage race kicks off this Sunday (2 September), and the field is one of the strongest in recent memories.

Although there are some notable absentees from the race, including Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Adam Blythe and the rest of the Aqua Blue Sport squad, and the Tour of Britain’s most prolific stage winner Mark Cavendish, there are enough star names in the peloton to make it an interesting race worth tuning in for.

Both Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome will lining up for Team Sky in support of Dutchman Wout Poel’s GC bid, while Primoz Roglic is set to lead the line for LottoNL-Jumbo.

Others to watch out for include Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), rising British star Hugh Carthy (EF-Drapac) and the reigning British national champion Connor Swift (Madison-Genesis).

Stage hunters set for the eight-day race include some of the best in the business. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) will be looking to add to his five stage wins at the Tour of Britain, but will have to overcome the likes of Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) if he’s to be successful.

But where will the race be won? Which are the stages to watch? And who are the riders to look out for? Read on for our full race preview. And if you want to know when to tune into the action, check out our comprehensive TV guide.

The route

The race’s first ever team time trial (TTT) and a summit finish atop the Lake District’s Whinlatter Pass are the headlines of the 2018 Tour of Britain, with race director Mike Bennett hoping to keep the peloton on their toes with an “innovative and unpredictable route”.

Six of the eight days have flat finishes, but that doesn’t mean this year’s Tour will be a sprinters’ paradise. The race organisers have included a number of stings in the tail (particularly on stages one and three), while the undulating nature of the parcours (apart from the 5.5km crit-style loop on the final stage) will suit the Classics riders in the pack.

Tour of Britain 2018 route

Even the TTT might ruffle the feathers of the strong time trial teams, with it effectively a 14km hill climb that features a 300m gain in elevation and a final five kilometers at an average gradient of four per cent.

It is stage six that is the jewel in the crown though. Starting in Barrow-in-Furness, the 169km route features four category one climbs, including the western ascent of Whinlatter twice. And it is here that the outcome of the general classification will probably be decided, with the final two stages favouring bunch finishes.

General classification contenders

Wout Poels (Team Sky)

Wout Poels’ best finish at the Tour of Britain was second in 2015, but with two Tour de France winners in his arsenal, he is a strong favourite for this year’s edition.

Wout Poels Tour of Britain

Although he hasn’t raced at all since the Tour de France - where he performed his usual domestique role for Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome - the sheer firepower he has at his disposal will probably see him there or thereabouts at the end of the race.

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

If Poels doesn’t perform though, a certain Chris Froome has been nominated as Team Sky’s back-up leader.

Chris Froome Tour of Britain 2018

He last raced at the Tour of Britain in 2009, when he could only manage 50th place. A lot has changed in the intervening nine years though, and the six-time Grand Tour winner is probably the best super domestique you could ask for in professional cycling right now.

Although his form seemed to falter in the last week of the Tour, the four-time winner still managed to cling on to third spot on the podium. Expect him to lead Team Sky's domination of the race, and receive a slightly better welcome than the one that greeted him across the Channel this summer.

Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo)

This year’s Tour of Britain has turned into a bit of a Tour de France reunion, with Primoz Roglic also lining up in Wales this Sunday.

The Slovenian will hope to better his debut at last year’s Tour of Britain, where he abandoned the race on the final stage. And given that he is focusing solely on the road race at the World Championships, expect the eight-day stage race to be used as a form finder ahead of the end of season bash.

Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing)

This year's Tour of Britain is surprisingly Tejay Van Garderen's debut at the race. The American is usually occupied at this time of year at the Vuelta, but with Richie Porte currently the team's main GC contender out in Spain, it has fallen on Van Garderen to lead the US team in what is likely to be one of his last races for the outfit.

Tejay Van Garderen

Although he's had a relatively average season by his standards (a second place at May's Tour of California is the highlight), his team are the reigning world champions in the team time trial discipline and could build an insurmountable lead on the race's stage five. 

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors)

If there’s anyone in the peloton who’s going through a purple patch, it’s the new poster boy of French cycling, Julian Alaphilippe.

Everything he's touched has turned to gold this season. The Classics specialist followed up victory in the Tour de France’s King of the Mountains competition with a win at the Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian last time out and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was eyeing the general classification at the Tour of Britain.

The lumpy parcours and stings in the tails of stages suit his riding, and he can be ensured on to provide fireworks.

Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale)

Although you might not have heard of Preston-born Carthy, he’s definitely one to have on your radar for at least a top ten finish.

The 24-year-old has had a great season for American outfit EF-Drapac, finishing third overall and first in the mountain classification at the Colorado Classic stage race in August.

Other riders to watch

There are a whole host of other riders at this year’s Tour of Britain who are worth looking out for, with many searching for form ahead of the World Championships at the end of the month, hoping to end their season with a bang, or looking to impress potential suitors before the end of the racing calendar.

Reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is probably the best of the rest, although the Welshman is unlikely to be at the sharp end of things following his exploits in France. Expect huge celebrations for his success along the route though - particularly on stage one’s Welsh roads.

Sprinters looking to go into the off-season with one final hurrah include those mentioned above – Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) – but there is plenty of British talent in the field that will give the best in the business a run for their money.

As well as the usual suspects like Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin), national champion Connor Swift (Madison-Genesis) is one to keep an eye on, while the 19-year-old Tom Pidcock (Wiggins) looks to be a star in the making.

Finally, the Tour of Britain will be one of the last times you’ll be able to see Sylvian Chavanel (Direct Energie) racing, with the Frenchman retiring at the end of the season. Chapeau Chava!