In Elia Viviani's absence – the Quick-Step rider is on sprint duty at the Vuelta a España – Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) lines up for the Bretagne Classic Ouest-France in Plouay on Sunday with dossard #1 on his back.
And the Norwegian has to fancy his chances of a second victory, having already won the race back in 2015, followed by third place in 2016 and second place last year.
"I know the race and the route well," Kristoff said on his team's website, "and I'm ready to get the best possible result in this Classic."
Without last year's winner Viviani in the mix, and at a race that is more often than not decided in a sprint, Kristoff is one of only a small number of pure sprinters present. The others include Bora-Hansgrohe's Sam Bennett and Quick-Step's Fernando Gaviria.
Gaviria is starting only his second race since quitting the Tour de France on stage 12 en route to Alpe d'Huez, once it had become clear that he wasn't going to finish inside the time limit, while Bennett hasn't raced since not finishing the Irish national championship road race on July 1.
The other contenders are a hybrid of sprinters, Classics specialists and fast-finishing opportunists: Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), who was third here last year, Sunweb's Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and BMC's Greg Van Avermaet.
Van Avermaet must surely be considered the star of the show, if not necessarily the winner, as the popular Belgian builds again for a crack at a possibly-too-tough-for-him Worlds road race in Austria, having carried his Tour de France form through to fourth place at the Clasica San Sebastian three weeks ago, and having finished sixth overall at the BinckBank Tour last weekend.
But it's also a course that someone like South African all-rounder Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) could do well on, if it doesn't come down to a mass sprint this time.
Former winners line up in Plouay
Then there are the former winners to consider, and there are a number of them taking part this year, going right back to 2009. Only Viviani, 2014 champion Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and the now-retired Matt Goss, who won in 2010, are absent.
The 2009 event was won by Simon Gerrans from a five-man group that managed to escape the clutches of the peloton in the final five kilometres, and included a then-23-year-old Dan Martin, riding for Garmin, who finished fifth.
BMC's Gerrans is now in his final season before retirement, and would love to bow out with one more victory, and his first since 2016. This could be the place to do it if he can get away again.
Grega Bole was the winner in 2011, and his Bahrain-Merida teammate Colbrelli will be ready for the sprint if Bole can't repeat his late attack on the final climb of the Côte de Ty Marec, which the Slovenian used as the springboard for victory seven years ago.
In 2012 it was the turn of Edvald Boasson Hagen, then riding for Team Sky, to copy Bole's move on the Ty Marec, although the Norwegian, who now rides for Dimension Data, may be more likely to figure in a bunch sprint these days.
Filippo Pozzato won from what was a bunch sprint in Plouay in 2013 – and lines up again this year as part of the Wilier Triestina outfit – and after Chavanel's victory in 2014 and Kristoff's win in 2015, the 2016 edition was won by an up-and-coming Oliver Naesen, then riding for the now defunct IAM Cycling.
Despite developing into a consistent, attacking rider with AG2R La Mondiale in the two years since then, it remains the Belgian's last win but one, having also taken the national championship road race in 2017.
An undulating course
Despite a bunch sprint again being the likely outcome, it's a parcours that's constantly rising and falling with barely a metre of flat as the riders make their way through cycling-mad Brittany, which featured heavily in the opening week of this year's Tour de France.
A demented-looking figure-of-eight circuit takes the riders on a 256.9km route that heads east from the start in Plouay through the Morbihan department and through Vannes after a brief fling with the Atlantic on the shores of the Golf of Morbihan.
The Bretagne Classic then makes a second passage through Plumelec – home of the Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan one-day race, and host of a Tour de France team time trial stage finish in 2015, which started in Vannes, and was won by BMC – before heading back west with just over 100km still to race.
Once back in Plouay, and having climbed the kilometre-long Côte de Ty Marrec for the first time almost four kilometres before passing through the finish line, the riders then tackle a spectator-friendly – and the race draws a lot of spectators – 14.7km circuit that features a second ascent of the Ty Marrec before the steadily downhill final few kilometres to the finish proper.
The Ty Marec may 'only' be 10 per cent at its steepest, but after a long day in the saddle, it's been used as a launchpad to win by a number of riders in the past – many of whom, like Gerrans, Bole and Boasson Hagen, are in the field again.
Will the Bretagne Classic Ouest-France see a repeat winner? The smart money's on Kristoff, but there are five other riders who would love to take a second victory at this well-loved WorldTour one-dayer.
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