One of the toughest courses ever unleashed on the UCI Road World Championships will take centre stage when the race for the rainbow bands head to Innsbruck.
After three years as men's road world champion, the successor to Peter Sagan will be found on the climb-laden course, which – for the men's race – includes ramps as steep as 25 per cent gradient.
Vuelta a Espana champion Simon Yates and twin brother Adam lead the British charge in that race, while in-form Annemiek van Vleuten is among the women to watch – one year on from her time trial victory.
There is plenty more up for grabs in Innsbruck between September 23 and September 30 too, starting with the men's and women's team time trials on Sunday (September 23).
Read on for our preview of the courses and the riders to watch...
Team time trials
Team Sunweb took victory in both the men's and women's team time trials last year and will be among the teams to watch again this year.
Both courses start with the same slightly downhill, mostly straight, 40km section, with the women's race 53.8km in length and men's 62.1km. Expect two very rapid races, with the powerhouses to the fore.
With world individual time trial champion Tom Dumoulin in their ranks, Team Sunweb will be tough to beat again but BMC Racing emerged victorious in the discipline at the Tour de France.
Another team packing a serious TTT punch will be Katusha-Alpecin, meanwhile, who added Alex Dowsett to a team that already featured Tony Martin. They will not have the firepower of Marcel Kittel to call upon, however.
Team Sky's abundance of talent means they are never far away either – Michal Kwiatkowski could ride as he targets victory in the men's road race, while Vasil Kiryienka and Jonathan Castroviejo are among their other options.
On the women's side, Team Sunweb – anchored by Ellen van Dijk – remain serious contenders. They won the team time trials at the Ladies Tour of Norway, Giro Rosa and Madrid Challenge to prove that.
Elsewhere, Boels-Dolmans were second last year and first two years ago, with the likes of Chantal Blaak and Anna van der Breggen in their team, and Cervelo-Bigla have been third two years running. Boels-Dolmans won at the Crescent Vargarda TTT.
Great Britain's Hannah Barnes, and younger sister Alice, could be in the Canyon-SRAM team, meanwhile – they were fourth in 2017 – and Katie Archibald is on Wiggle-High5’s shortlist.
RCUK prediction: Men's TTT – BMC Racing, Women's TTT – Team Sunweb
Elite individual time trials
After the team time trials, the next two days comprise of the junior and under-23 time trials (with track world champion Charlie Tanfield in the British team) until the women’s elite race later on Tuesday September 25.
The course for the individual races is much more technical, and features climbing too – though nothing like the scale of the road races.
For the women, the 28.5km course’s biggest test is a 1.2km at 4.3 per cent average gradient and indeed it will actually be not quite as tough as the course in Bergen where Annemiek van Vleuten won last year.
The Dutch are serious favourites for the title again this year, but the big question will be which of their riders make up the final podium and in what order.
Defending champion Van Vleuten won both time trials on her way to victory at the Boels Ladies Tour, as well as the 15km test at the Giro d’Italia Femminile.
Compatriot Ellen van Dijk is the national and European champion, however – winning the latter in Glasgow by two seconds from another in-form Dutchwoman in Anna van der Breggen.
Trixi Worrack was third, a full minute behind the Dutch duo in Glasgow, but the German veteran will be among the leading contenders from other countries, alongside her compatriot Lisa Brennauer.
For the Brits, Alice Barnes – second behind her sister Hannah at this year’s National Championships – will compete, as will two-time national champion Hayley Simmonds, who was third behind Leah Thomas (USA) and Olga Zabelinskaya (who is switching from Russia to Uzbekistan).
In the men’s race, Tom Dumoulin – the defending champion – is favourite but will face stiff competition from in-form Rohan Dennis.
The men’s course features a 54.2km route with climbs to tackle – as was the case last year – with a 4.9km kick at an average gradient of 7.1 per cent the biggest of the challenges.
Dumuolin won the 31km time trial at the Tour de France, but Dennis has been the form man against the clock this year – winning at the Vuelta a Espana last time out, and also claiming time trial wins at the Giro d’Italia (ahead of Dumoulin), Tirreno Adriatico, Abu Dhabi Tour and the Australian national championships.
With a bit of climbing to negotiate, Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) is another to watch – he was second last time out, and has shown good form again this year. Usual suspects like Jonathan Castroviejo – second at the European Championships, third at the Vuelta time trial – will also be among the riders to watch.
British hopes rest on Alex Dowsett, who finished fifth at the European Championships, and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who finished third on a tough 34.7km time trial at the Amgen Tour of California.
New Zealand’s Patrick Bevin, who was second on that stage and also finished second behind Roglic on the Itzulia time trial stage could be a dark horse, meanwhile – he races on the back of his fourth place finish (having briefly led the race) and consistent stage placings at the Tour of Britain.
RCUK prediction: Men's ITT – Rohan Dennis (Australia), Women's ITT – Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands)
Elite road races – Women
British interest in the junior and under-23 races include Elynor Backstedt and Pfeiffer Georgi in the junior women’s road race and a fiercely strong men’s under-23 squad consisting of Team Sky stagiaires Mark Donovan and Ethan Hayter, Lotto-Soudal’s WorldTour rider James Shaw, Bahrain-Merida-bound Stevie Williams and Canyon-Eisberg’s Tour of Britain top-20 finisher Max Stedman.
But the final weekend, of course, is where the spotlight will shine brightest on Innsbruck for the women’s and men’s elite road races.
The 162.3km women’s race takes place on the Saturday (September 29) while the men will roll out for a 265km race the following day. And there is plenty of climbing in store.
For the women, a 2.6km-long kick up a 10.5 percent ascent punctuates the first part of the race, while the toughest climbing is a 7.9km ascent on the final circuit with a 5.7 per cent average gradient that is much steeper in the final few kilometres. The final circuit is raced three times.
As with the time trials, it is the Dutch who stand out and Annemiek van Vleuten in particular. Veteran Van Vleuten, 35, has won the Giro d’Italia Femminile, La Course by Le Tour de France and the Boels Ladies Tour among other races this year.
Her 12 wins have taken her to 50 pro victories in her career, and this could represent her last serious chance to add the rainbow bands of world champion to her time trial win last year.
The Dutch have more than one card to play, however, with the other most notable one being Anna van der Breggen, the Olympic champion.
Van der Breggen skipped the Giro Femminile to focus on the Worlds, but has still claimed some major wins this year, including Strade Bianche, the Tour of Flanders, La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
La Course could be a key indicator of form for this one, given the climbs awaiting, and in that race Van Vleuten beat her countrywoman on the line to snatch a dramatic victory.
South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman was third that day and finished second at the Giro Rosa, while Australia’s Amanda Spratt has enjoyed consistent results across some of the biggest races of the calendar.
RCUK prediction: 1) Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands), 2) Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), 3) Ashleigh Moolman (South Africa)
Elite road races – Men
The eagerly awaited finishing circuit of the men’s road race will feature seven times, bookended by a solitary ascent of a 2.6km climb at Gnadenwald with an average gradient of 10.5 per cent and the final climb, Gramartboden, which is 2.8km at 11.5 per cent.
The course is 259.4km in total, finishing with a fast descent off the Gramartboden, so the climbers with their wits about them going downhill start as favourites. Step forward the likes of 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland).
Kwiato won on a similarly climb-heavy course in Ponferrada, attacking on the final climb and staying away on the descent. The Tirreno-Adriatico champion was in outstanding form as a domestique at the Tour de France but this will be all about him.
Also in contention will be the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), the Giro di Lombardia winner in 2015 and 2017, who used the Vuelta a Espana to refind his fitness after crashing out of the Tour de France.
In-form Julian Alaphilippe (France) is another obvious name that springs to mind, not least because he is in red-hot form – winning two stages and the KoM jersey at the Tour de France, conquering the Clasica San Sebastian and then also winning the Tour of Britain. Alaphilippe will count another contender, Romain Bardet, among his team-mates.
Anybody who saw Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) flying off the front of the bunch on the descent of the Col d’Aubisque will know he should not be written off either.
Other climbers to watch include Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), who was second at both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, and Alejandro Valverde (Spain) – a regular podium finisher at the Worlds, but never a winner (yet).
British hopes are spearheaded by Adam and Simon Yates, with the latter fresh from his Vuelta a Espana triumph and the former having come to the fore in the final week to support his twin brother’s victory.
Adam is the more renowned one-day racer, having won the Clasica San Sebastian and finished second at Milano-Torino last year. His descending is his weakness, however – his crash on the final descent on stage 16 of the 2017 Tour de France costing him a stage win.
RCUK prediction: 1) Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), 2) Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), 3) Julian Alaphilippe (France)