It's been just under a year since the first race of the new-fangled Hammer Series was held in Limburg, Netherlands. The Velon and Infront-fronted race series returns this weekend in Norway - the first of an expanded series which will see races held in Limburg next week, as well as Croatia and Hong Kong in the autumn.
Last June's inaugural race welcomed a star-studded line-up, with Giro d'Italia champion Tom Dumoulin featuring alongside Philippe Gilbert, André Greipel, Fernando Gaviria and Tim Wellens, among others. This race's start list is perhaps a little less glamourous but the race benefits from coming at the end of a Norwegian racing block starting with the Tour of Norway and the Tour des Fjords.
But, before talking about which riders and teams will be taking the start, let's get reacquainted with how it all works.
Friday's stage one is the 80.6km 'climb', held in Sandnes. This consists of 9.5 laps of an 8.4km circuit, which features climbs of 800 metres at 6.8 per cent, and one kilometre at 5.8 per cent, both towards the end of the lap.
Each lap sees the first 10 riders across the line awarded points (15 down to just one for 10th place), with laps three, six and 10 awarding double points. Riders have to make it to the last lap in order for their points to count.
On Saturday, it's the 92km 'sprint', held in Stavanger. Ten laps of a 9.2km course await the peloton, with an 800-metre hill averaging 4.9 per cent the only major challenge of largely untechnical course. The points system is the same here as it is in the 'climb' stage.
The final stage is the 48.7km 'chase', coming on Sunday in Stavanger. This is a team time trial with a twist. The leading team (determined by points scored thus far) heads off first for three laps of the flat 16.2km course. The team lying second overall starts off 30 seconds later, the third-placed team 28 seconds after that, and so on.
The first team to get four riders over the finish line wins the race. Remember, this race is all about the team - there are no individual rankings at the end.
Ten WorldTour teams will line up in Norway, along with four Pro Continental teams. And, as with the race format, the team makeup also differs from traditional bike races. Teams can bring up to seven riders, but each day their squads are limited to five.
This brings a tactical element to the race, with sprinters able to rest up on day one to stay fresh for the sprint stage, or time trial specialists taking a day off before the final day's team time trial.
Team Sky won Hammer Sportzone Limburg last year, overhauling Sunweb in the chase, and they bring a strong squad to Norway. Versatile Brit, Owain Doull can compete on the climbs and in the sprints, while Norwegian neo-pro Kristoffer Halvorsen is sprint contender. All-rounder Gianni Moscon is Sky's strongest rider and should feature heavily over the weekend.
Quick Step Floors' squad looks strong, as always. Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Niki Terpstra is the star name but neo-pro sprinter Fabio Jakobsen already has three wins this season, including Scheldeprijs. Dries Devenyns hasn't raced since March due to a hernia but goes well in the hills.
European champion Alexander Kristoff is the big-name sprinter on the start list, meaning UAE Team Emirates should be in contention. The Norwegian will be looking to bounce back from a poor Tour of California as he builds for the Tour de France. Sven Erik Bystrøm and Simone Petilli will be the team's hopes on the climb stage.
Mitchelton-Scott are led by Tour Down Under champion Daryl Impey and puncheur Michael Albasini. The Australian team are usually well-drilled in the TTT, giving them threats on every day of the race.
BMC Racing come armed with puncheur Dylan Teuns and climber Damiano Caruso, plus time trialists Tom Bohli and Stefan Küng. They do lack a sprint contender though, and bringing just five riders means it's the full three days for everyone.
Climbers, Simon Geschke and Phil Bauhaus head up Team Sunweb, while classics specialist Edward Theuns can put in a handy sprint. EF Education First-Drapac are led by classics fighters Sep Vanmarcke and Matti Breschel.
A couple of other teams have one or two riders who can rack up points on the first two days, including Lotto Soudal with sprinter Moreno Hofland, Aqua Blue Sport with sprinter Adam Blythe and climber Stefan Denifl and LottoNL-Jumbo with climber Antwan Tolhoek. Caja Rural-Seguros RGA could look to Alex Aranburu on the climb stage.
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