The fifth edition of the Tour de Yorkshire (May 2-5) will star last year's winner Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), home hero Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who will start in a bid to get back to his best, and fellow sprinter Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) – who, like Cavendish, is fighting to get back up to speed.
There will be a supporting cast of some 130 riders on the roads between Doncaster and Leeds, where the race finishes after four tough road stages, but here are just a handful of some of the bigger names to keep an eye on at this year's race.
After a promising outing at the Tour of Turkey, the Dimension Data rider returns to racing at the four-day Tour of Yorkshire. It's a race that has provided the 30-time Tour de France stage winner with little joy in the past, but this year's edition will determine if Cavendish's comeback can savour a rare two steps forwards or whether Turkey was just another precursor for a fresh setback.
In Cavendish's favour is the fact that Yorkshire's organisers have struggled to attract a top-level sprint field, while the 33-year-old arrives with a relatively robust Dimension Data squad. At some point, however, Cavendish will need to turn promising performances and top 10s into wins.
Luckily for him, Dimension Data have hardly set the world alight this year, so there's no talk of the Manxman missing out on a Tour de France slot, but a win on home turf has the potential to kick-start a renaissance.
The last time Kittel raced the Tour de Yorkshire was back in 2015. On that occasion, he was struggling for form and bereft of confidence. Fast forward four years, and the only difference between today's version of Kittel and the 2015 incarnation is that the current slump has already stretched into a second season.
To make matters worse, his team directors have taken the unwise move to question him publicly, and few would be shocked if the German changed teams at the end of the year.
Like Cavendish, Kittel isn't the only member of his outfit struggling for wins, but the German at the very least has a strong support cast to help him in the lead-outs. Again, as with Cavendish, the Tour of California is on the programme later this month, and while the American race will offer more in the way of pure sprint stages, Yorkshire provides enough chances for Kittel to mount a comeback.
Back in March, Kittel suggested that the root of his poor form could be a combination of both mental and physical exertions. Whatever the issue is, one feels for a rider constantly put under the microscope and compared to previous successes. With Yorkshire sitting outside of the UCI's WorldTour, Kittel at least has the environment to race without too much pressure.
The season started so brightly for the CCC Team with wins at the New Zealand Nationals, the Tour Down Under and the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. It seemed for a brief moment that Jim Ochowicz's proclamation of winning 20 races in their debut season was a real possibility.
Almost three months on from their last win, however, the wheels on the CCC bus have slowly ground to a halt. There have been some notable performances, such as second place at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and third at the E3 BinckBank Classic, but a major one-day win has alluded the team with their talisman, Van Avermaet, unable to add to his Classics palmares.
However, the Olympic road race champion arrives in the north of England as the defending champion, and, what's more, it's a rare occasion on which he has one of the strongest teams in the race around him. Serge Pauwels is a former winner in Yorkshire, while Alesandro De Marchi has the necessary skills to win a stage or more. Michael Schar can sit on the front virtually all day, while Natthan Van Hooydonck continues to learn his trade.
A repeat of last year's overall win would elevate any mounting pressure on Van Avermaet's shoulders and put the team back on track, while coming here without the tag of underdogs should inspire some aggressive racing.
The lazy pick for this list would be Chris Froome. The four-time Tour de France winner is the marquee rider at the race and leads the line for Team Ineos, but the likelihood of Froome competing for the win is slim to nil.
Instead, Owain Doull gets the nod. The Welshman finished on the podium at the Tour of Britain in 2015, when riding for Team Wiggins, and backed that up two years later with another top 10 in the same race. In fact his best GC results – Hammer Series don't count – have come on home shores.
His stage win at the Tour Down Under and second place at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne earlier in the season showed that his form was on course, and despite not building on those results during the spring, the 25-year-old is worth watching. We just hope that he's targeting Yorkshire and not using it as preparation for next month's Hammer Series. Again, they don't count.
Tom Pidcock (Team Wiggins)
The talent is clearly there – few can deny that – and it's hard to believe that former world junior time trial champion Pidcock is still only 19 years of age. After another successful season in cyclo-cross, the Yorkshire rider returns to his home race with the aim of bettering last year's 66th place.
The Wiggins squad have already picked up a handful of wins this season on the road, with Pidcock himself responsible for one. With Mark Christian also in the ranks – seventh in Yorkshire in 2017 and 12th in the Tour of Britain in 2016 – the Continental squad have options, but home fans will be looking to see some of Pidcock's cyclo-cross verve and versatility on the road.
Lilian Calmejane (Team Total Direct)
Fifteenth in 2016 when his former captain Thomas Voeckler won the race, the classy Calmejane returns a little wiser and with a palmares that continues to attract admiration. Since turning pro, the Frenchman has won stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, won GC titles at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe, the Etoile de Besseges and Coppi e Bartali, and developed into one of Europe's most promising talents.
He isn't a Julian Alaphilppe, but the terrain in Yorkshire, added to Total's consistent approach to lighting up the race, suggest that the 26-year-old could be a genuine contender for the win this time around.
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