The second edition of the Roma Maxima sees the Classics riders take on the sprinters in the Italian capital, where the Coliseum and the Roman ruins of the Fori Imperiali offer a stunning backdrop to the one-day race organised by RCS Sport.
Last year Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) surprised the peloton with a gutsy breakaway in the hills and his ability to hold off the chase on the road back to the centre of Rome. The Frenchman won alone, 37 seconds ahead of Filippo Pozzato, who sprinted to the line thinking he had won and celebrated with his arms in the air, only to discover Kadri had preceded him.
Kadri will not be back to defend his victory this year and the sprinters will surely not let the race escape their grasp for a second year. Favourites and team leaders include Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida) and Enrico Gasparotto (Astana).
Matteo Montaguti will defend Ag2r-La Mondiale's honour and he showed some early-season form by finishing second at the GP di Camaiore behind Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) on Thursday. His Italian teammate Davide Appollonio could also be a name to watch if Roma Maxima ends in a sprint.
Philippe Gilbert has opted to ride Roma Maxima instead of Strade Bianche and is expected to lead the BMC team along with Samuel Sanchez and Larry Warbasse of the USA. Juraj, but not Peter, Sagan will be in the Cannondale team, along with Ivan Basso, Matej Mohoric and Daniele Ratto.
Ben Swift and Chris Sutton will be Team Sky's best chance in a sprint, with UnitedHealthCare also in action before riding Tirreno-Adriatico.
Into the Roman hills
The 195km race route starts and finishes in the same place in the heart of Rome, with a long loop south into the Roman hills. Rocca Massima and Colle Callaccio combine to create the first difficulty after 100km, with Rocca Priora and then the testing Campi di Annibale coming some 40km from the finish.
A long descent back to the centre of Rome should allow a chase to form and the sprinters to get back on, but a late section of cobbles on the long, straight Appia Antica could shake up the race before the loop of the Coliseum and the finish on the Fori Imperiali.
The winner will be crowned the emperor of Rome and receive an olive-wreath crown.
Image ©: RCS Sport