Launched in 2009, the UCI WorldTour comprises 38 events that range from one-day and week-long races through to the jewels in the crown of men's professional racing: the three-week grand tours.
The season gets under way in Australia in January with the Tour Down Under and goes through to October when China hosts its only top-tier race of the year, the Tour of Guangxi.
All 18 WorldTeams are contracted to compete at all but 10 races, those added to the calendar in 2017 – Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, UAE Tour, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Dwars door Vlaanderens, Tour of Turkey, Eschborn-Frankfurt, Tour of California, London-Surrey Classic and Tour of Guangxi – though all races must offer invites to their events.
Here, Telegraph Sport introduces each of the teams that make up the top tier of men's cycling, and charts their success throughout the year.
Ag2r-La Mondiale (Fra)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: 11th
General manager: Vincent Lavenu
Title sponsor: Personal insurance
Though a stalwart of the top tier of professional cycling, the team that was founded by Vincent Lavenu back in 1992 has yet to claim a senior jersey at a grand tour, but through Carlos Betancur (2013, Giro d'Italia) and Pierre Latour (2017, Tour de France) has twice won the best young rider classification. Under its various guises the Massif Central based team has amassed 18 stages in their home race – the Tour de France – between 1998 (Jacky Durand) and 2017 (Romain Bardet). Alongside Groupama-FDJ is one of just two French teams at WorldTour level.
The home favourite – Romain Bardet
Despite having made just one podium – Critérium du Dauphiné – of the five stage races he started in 2018, strong one-day performances – second at Strade Bianche, third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a runners-up spot at the world championships – showed Romain Bardet has more to his racing repertoire than simply targeting the general classification.
However, while the Frenchman can now be considered a genuine contender for success in the hilly one-day classics, it is his performance at the biggest race of all, the Tour de France, by which the 28-year-old will be judged. With just 54km of time trials included in this year's Tour, race organisers could not have designed a route better suited to the Ag2r-La Mondiale leader, but can he deliver the first win for a Frenchman in 34 years? Probably not given the apparent inability to improve his time-trialing skills, but Bardet will more than likely represent the best home-grown challenger to Team Sky et al.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: Sixth
General manager: Alexandre Vinokourov
Title sponsor: Kazakh business consortium
Bike: Argon 18
Borne out of the chaotic collapse of Liberty Seguros-Würth – the Spanish team whose involvement in Operación Puerto led to its eventual disbandment – it was perhaps inevitable the Kazakhstan-sponsored team would become embroiled in its own doping scandals. Fronted by Alexandre Vinokourov, the controversial former rider who himself served a two-year ban for blood doping, the team has won all three grand tours with four different riders as well as two editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège while earning itself along the way numerous bans for doping infringements though, encouragingly, none since 2014.
The future star – Miguel Ángel López
While the likes of Jakob Fuglsang and Luis León Sánchez may have experience on their side, Miguel Ángel López appears Astana's best chance of challenging for grand tour honours in 2019. With third-place finishes at last year's Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España – along with the young rider classification in Italy – the youngster who turns 25 in February, will be hoping to once again soar when the roads rise up into the high mountains when his season gets under way at the Colombia 2.1 (née Colombia Oro y Paz) stage race before heading to Europe.
The man they call 'Superman' will, one imagines, be buoyed by the addition to the squad of fellow Spanish speakers Ion and Gorka Izagirre from Bahrain-Merida, with the former expected to act as his mountain domestique at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España which will be López's main targets for the season after first tackling Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Tour de Romandie.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: Seventh
General manager: Brent Copeland
Title sponsor: Kingdom of Bahrain and Taiwanese bike manufacturer
Bahrain-Merida became the first team from the Middle East to compete at WorldTour level in 2017 after the Bahraini royal family ploughed millions into the team. In its debut season, claimed stages at both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España through marquee rider Vincenzo Nibali who later rounded off the campaign with a brilliant win at Il Lombardia. The Italian added another monument –Milan-Sanremo – to his already impressive palmarès in March 2018 before Matej Mohoric won the team's only grand tour stage of the year at the Giro in May.
The grand master – Vincenzo Nibali
With one of the most well-rounded palmarès in the peloton – along with Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome he is just one of seven riders to have won all three grand tours – it will surprise nobody that Nibali remains the rider most likely to land a big win in 2019.
Is targeting a third Giro d'Italia in May, though can expect to face tough tests from the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Simon Yates, Egal Bernal and compatriot and former team-mate Fabio Aru. Do not be surprised if the 34-year-old navigates his way to the top step of another big one-day race such as Strade Bianche or Tour of Flanders.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: Third
General manager: Ralph Denk
Title sponsor: German manufacturers specialising in cooking surfaces and bathroom products
Formed as Team NetApp in 2010, Ralph Denk has developed his squad organically, with it growing at a steady rate competing initially at UCI Continental level before, in 2011, earning ProContinental team status. However, after signing Peter Sagan in the countdown to the 2017 season the German squad made the final step up to the WorldTour where it has flourished. While the majority of wins have come from the Slovakian, Lukas Pöstlberger, Maciej Bodnar, Rafal Majka and Sam Bennett have managed to claim stage wins in all three grand tours.
The entertainer – Peter Sagan
There are no two ways about it, Peter Sagan is pure box office. Few under the age of 60 will have seen a rider quite like the Slovakian; though those fortunate enough to have watched the indomitable Eddy Merckx during his late 1960s-early 1970s pomp did so in an era in which the concept of the specialist was as fanciful as electronic shifters. While Sagan will never win a grand tour, he's the closest this generation has to the man nicknamed 'The Cannibal'.
With a palmarès that features three world road titles, 11 stages at the Tour de France and six points jerseys at the world's biggest bike race, two monuments – Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – in addition to four stages at the Vuelta a España and three wins at Ghent-Wevelgem it is difficult to see what else Sagan can do in the sport. Unless, that is, you are Sagan and are targeting a record-breaking seventh green jersey in July after first focusing on Milan-Sanremo and even, possibly, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Should Sagan manage the latter then his place in the pantheon of all-time greats will be assured.
CCC Team (Pol)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018 (as BMC Racing): Fourth
General manager: Jim Ochowicz
Title sponsor: Polish shoe and bag manufacturer
The WorldTour will see its first ever Polish team in 2019 after BMC Racing merged with CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice following the death of its owner Andy Rihs. Despite keeping hold of a number of experienced riders and backroom staff, the new-look CCC squad is ostensibly a new team and, unfortunately for them, appears to be a vastly weakened operation to the one that finished second in the end-of-year team rankings in 2014. Has reportedly targeted 20 WorldTour victories in 2019 which is 20 more wins than their star rider managed last season.
The lone star – Greg Van Avermaet
While a number of big-name riders opted to chance their arms elsewhere – specifically Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First-Drapac), Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) – the 2016 Olympic road race champion decided to stay put which, for the team management, will have come as a huge relief.
Despite failing to win a single WorldTour race in 2018, Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to rediscover the form that he enjoyed during his unforgettable classics campaign two years ago. Though now surrounded by a weaker supporting cast, the vastly experienced Belgian is one of the few riders that, on his day, is able to go wheel-to-wheel with Peter Sagan as witnessed back in 2017 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
Deceuninck-Quick Step (Bel)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:First
General manager: Patrick Lefevere
Title sponsor: Designer and producer of windows and laminate flooring manufacturers
Though having never won a grand tour, Patrick Lefevere's team are one of the most successful squads in modern cycling. Having amassed 17 monuments since it was founded in 2003 – the team completed the set in 2018 when Bob Jungels won Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the Belgian squad are the standard bearers in the one-day classics. The self-styled 'Wolfpack' topped the UCI WorldTour rankings after winning 38 WorldTour races with 13 different riders in 2018. Lost Niki Terpstra and Fernando Gaviria to Direct Énergie and UAE-Team Emirates respectively, though Lefevere, who possesses something of a midas touch in the transfer market, added Remco Evenepoel to his squad.
The sprint king – Elia Viviani
After years of knocking on the door, Elia Viviani enjoyed his greatest season yet in 2018 following his switch from Team Sky over to Quick-Step. With four stage wins at the Giro d'Italia and three at the Vuelta a España – as well as the national road title – the amiable Italian was unquestionably the sprinter of last year, but can he pull off a repeat?
While his team-mates may be eyeing the cobbled classics, Viviani will be aiming to add a maiden monument to his palmarès in March at Milan-Sanremo before attempting to put the agony of losing out to Peter Sagan at last year's Ghent-Wevelgem behind him in another one-day race aimed at the sprinters. Is expected to return to the Giro in May and is hoping to make his first appearance at the Tour de France since 2014 where he may end up going head-to-head with former team-mate Gaviria in his quest for a maiden stage at the race.
Dimension Data (SA)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:18
General manager: Doug Ryder
Title sponsor: Information technology company
Founded in 2007 the team became the first from Africa to earn Professional Continental status for the 2013 season when German sprinter Gerald Ciolek won Milan-Sanremo. The team made further history in 2015 when it became the first African registered squad to compete at the Tour de France. Bolstered its squad during the close season with the additions of Danilo Wyss, Michael Valgren, Roman Kreuziger and Enrico Gasparotto while Mark Cavendish, one of the greatest ever sprinters who will be hoping to rediscover his form after two disappointing years, signed a one-year contract extension.
The great Dane – Michael Valgren
The largely unheralded Michael Valgren made a big splash during last year's spring classics campaign. The Dane who won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in impressive style before adding Amstel Gold to his relatively short palmarès quickly became one of the hottest riders around after spending four seasons riding below the radar at WorldTour level. Little wonder, then, that when his contract at Astana expired Dimension Data, who needed to inject some much-needed steel to their squad, were quick to sign the 26-year-old (27 in February).
The former Danish national champion may not generate the headlines of a Mark Cavendish, but after the Manxman failed to finish the last two editions of the Tour de France – both times without winning a single stage – perhaps the arrival of Valgren is a signpost of the future direction of the squad who have now finished bottom of the UCI WorldTour rankings for three successive seasons.
Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale (US)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:16th
General manager: Jonathan Vaughters
Title sponsor: International education company and Australian-American management firm
Though formed in 2003 – originally as a development squad – it was five years until Jonathan Vaughters' team made its grand tour debut at the Giro d'Italia. A fourth-placed finish from Bradley Wiggins at the 2009 Tour de France – later upgraded to third after the UCI attempted to expunge Lance Armstrong from the history books – represented a huge breakthrough for the American team. Has won stages in all three grand tours – as well as a runners-up place for Rigoberto Urán at the 2017 Tour – and a surprise Paris-Roubaix victory with Johan Vansummeren (2011) – but in all reality, probably lacks the depth of squad or outright leader to challenge for the big three-week races.
The outsider – Michael Woods
Despite having brought in a number of untried and untested riders during the close season, it may be one of their eldest operators who the team end up looking towards in 2019 as they hope to improve on the two WorldTour wins – both at Vuelta a España – they managed last term. While once the smart money will have gone on Tejay van Garderen, who joined from BMC Racing over the winter, or the equally inconsistent Urán, it may be the Canadian former middle-distance runner Michael Woods who is left carrying the pink EF Education flag.
Having followed a circuitous route to the top level of world cycling, the 32-year-old who did not make his WorldTour debut until 2016 won a stage at last year's Vuelta a España before carrying his form over to the world championships where he finished third behind Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet. The Canadian's ability to defy gravity, particularly when the gradients go deep into double digits, may see Woods target both the Ardennes and end-of-season Italian classics.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: 14th
General manager: Marc Madiot
Title sponsor: French national lottery
Founded by Marc Madiot back 1997, Groupama-FDJ remains one of the most well-established teams in the WorldTour having competed at the top level of cycling for over two decades. Though yet to win a grand tour, the French team that is still managed by Madiot has collected stage victories in all three grand tours, as well as points and young rider jerseys, thanks to Baden Cooke (Tour de France, 2003), Nacer Bouhanni (Giro d'Italia, 2014) and Thibaut Pinot (Tour de France, 2014). Very quiet in the transfer window and appear content focusing on two home-grown talents Arnaud Démare and Pinot over the next season.
The slow burner – Thibaut Pinot
For so long he promised so much, though ultimately the Frenchman failed to deliver. If, that is, winning stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España can be considered a failure? Either way, Thibaut Pinot had not lived up to the expectations thrust onto him by the French public, media and, perhaps also, himself. After battling with his demons – Pinot famously admitted to getting the fear while descending – and learning from past mistakes, 2018 felt like a breakthrough year.
Finishing off his season with two stage wins at Vuelta a España and, arguably, the biggest victory of his career at Il Lombardia, will have given the 28-year-old (29 in May) a huge confidence boost going into his winter break. After becoming only the second Frenchman to have won a monument in the 21st century – the other being team-mate Démare who won at Milan-Sanremo in 2016 – could work one of two ways: pile even more pressure onto his shoulders or give him the freedom he appears to crave for. For his sake, let's hope it is the latter.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: 10th
General manager: Richard Plugge
Title sponsors: Business software provider and supermarket chain
Just one team – Spanish squad Movistar – has been around longer than the newly-named Jumbo-Visma Dutch outfit who in 2019 will compete at the top level, under its various guises, for its 35th season. After having lost its way for a few years, the arrival and emergence of a handful of riders, most notably George Bennett, Dylan Groenewegen and Primoz Roglic, appears to have given the squad a new lease of life. Brought in a good balance of established WorldTour stars along with cyclo-cross and Pro Continental riders that should bolster its squad.
The dark horse – Primoz Roglic
Along with Michael Woods, Primoz Roglic is another rider to have come to cycling late after making the leap over from ski-jumping. Now in his fourth year at WorldTour level, the 29-year-old remains an outsider for many, though with two Tour de France stages (2017, 2018) and one at the Giro d'Italia (2016) appears to have made right decision.
Finished fourth at last year's Tour following a disappointing time trial the day after a breathtaking stage win on the road to Laruns, but hopes to improve on that result at this year's Giro. Is expected to carry the team's general classification hopes in Italy before heading back to France in July to ride in support of team-mate Steven Kruijswijk.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: 17th
General manager: Jose Azevedo
Title sponsors: Russian business conglomerate and German shampoo manufacturer
The Swiss registered team was launched in Moscow in late 2008 with funding coming from a number of Russian businesses including Gazprom. Stage wins in all three grand tours along with four monuments – Il Lombardia (Joaquim Rodríguez 2012 and 2013), Milan-Sanremo (Alexander Kristoff 2014) and Tour of Flanders (Kristoff 2015) – saw the team perform well in the UCI team rankings. However, the retirement of Rodríguez, who topped the individual rankings three times while riding for Katusha, led to them falling out of the top 10 in two seasons that followed the Spaniard's departure. Signed a handful of riders during the close window, though success of the team appears to be largely balanced, rather worryingly, on one riders' shoulders.
The comeback king – Marcel Kittel
With just two wins in 2018 – both at Tirreno-Adriatico – the big German will be desperately hoping to get his career back on track this year doing what he has done throughout his career: winning sprint stages. However, the 30-year-old (31 in May) may struggle to regain the form that saw him win five Tour de France stages in his final year with Quick-Step in 2017 ahead of his transfer over to Katusha-Alpecin.
May find it difficult to win multiple stages at the grand tours in the manner he has done since his breakthrough season in 2013, particularly given the pool of sprinting talent the German will be going up against – Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria and Caleb Ewan to name just four – but may benefit from the addition of Erik Zabel, the former sprinter, who has joined Katusha-Alpecin as sprint coach.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: 15th
General manager: John Lelangue
Title sponsor: Belgian national lottery and adhesives manufacturer
Alongside Deceuninck-Quick Step, Lotto-Soudal is one of the giants of Belgian cycling who have been around for what now feels like forever – the team was formed in 1985. Over the years have managed to win four out of the five monuments – only Milan-Sanremo is missing from their collective palmarès – along with stages in all three grand tours. Added six names to its payroll during the close season making the sprinter-weighted squad one of the biggest of the WorldTour with 29 riders.
The young pretender – Caleb Ewan
After enduring a season of disappointment during which he fell out with Mitchelton-Scott when team management, reportedly, told him he would start last year's Tour de France before later omitting him from the squad, Caleb Ewan will be hoping to kickstart his career in 2019 following his transfer to Lotto-Soudal. Still just 24, the Australian sprinter who burst onto the scene in 2015, in theory has his best years ahead of him and under the guidance of the team that for nine years led André Greipel to multiple stage victories at the Giro d'Italia and Tour should be just fine.
The emergence of sprinters such as Dylan Groenewegen and Fernando Gaviria along with the improved fortunes of Elia Viviani and the possible return to form of veterans like Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, though, means the pool of talent is as strong as ever. However, one imagines the 'Pocket Rocket' will be more than up to the task of testing himself against the world's best and will be already focusing his sights on Brussels where he hopes to make his Tour debut on July 6.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:Fifth
General manager: Shayne Bannan
Title sponsor: Australia winery and Swiss bike manufacturer
Following its launch, the Australian team got off to the perfect start in January 2012 when Simon Gerrans won the general classification on home soil at the Tour Down Under before, a couple of months later, winning Milan-Sanremo. Have subsequently won three more monuments – Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Gerrans, 2014), Paris-Roubaix (Mat Hayman, 2016) and Il Lombardia (Esteban Chaves, 2016) – leaving the relatively young team just one short of the full set (Tour of Flanders). After developing British twins Simon and Adam Yates, the squad's focus switched to general classification with both winning the young rider classification at the Tour de France. Last year Simon won the Vuelta a España to seal the team's first ever grand tour.
The double act – Simon and Adam Yates
From the Coppis through to the Sagans, the sight of siblings lining up for the same cycling team is far from a new phenomena. However, it is rare for a pair to be so equally matched that both can be considered genuine general classification contenders for the biggest stage races. In Adam and Simon Yates that is exactly what Mitchelton-Scott has within their arsenal as the team prepares for its eighth season.
While Adam is expected to focus his efforts on the Tour, where he finished a disappointing 45th in 2018 following his fourth-placed finish on his previous outing in 2016, Simon will return to Italy where he has unfinished business at the Giro d'Italia. Though following different programmes, the twins in all reality will offer the Aussie squad their best chance of winning any of the three grand tours, while in reserve they have the 29-year-old Colombian Esteban Chaves.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:Eighth
General manager: Eusebio Unzué
Title sponsor: Spanish mobile telephone company
Since it was formed way back in 1980 under the banner of Reynolds, the team that has won 13 grand tours with six different riders – Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain, Abraham Olano, Óscar Pereiro, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana – remains the longest-standing team at the top level of professional cycling. With just one monument winner on their books in almost 40 years – Valverde who has four editions of Liège-Bastogne-Liège on his palmarès– it will surprise few to discover that the Spanish team is focused predominantly on the stage races. And with Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, the promising young Marc Soler and the evergreen Valverde on their books few would bet against the direction of Eusebio Unzué's team changing anytime soon.
The forgotten man – Mikel Landa
A penny for the thoughts of Mikel Landa who, after two years of riding in the shadow of Chris Froome at Team Sky, jumped from the frying pan and into the fire with his move to Movistar before last year named as part of a trident - alongside Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde – that targeted the Tour de France. In the end, the Basque finished the best placed of the trio, though one has to wonder how far the 29-year-old could go with the full weight of the team behind him.
Despite his obvious talents, may be forced into targeting the mountains classification at the Giro d'Italia this year before heading to France where he will, more than likely, ride in support of Quintana. As the years tick by, one starts to get the nagging feeling that Landa may have missed the boat and unless he pulls off something quite remarkable in 2019, could end up being another of the sport's forgotten men.
Team Sky (GB)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: Second
General manager: Sir Dave Brailsford
Title sponsor: Satellite broadcaster
Formed off the back of Team GB's phenomenal success on the track at the Beijing Olympics, Team Sky launched amid much fanfare in January 2010 before making a winning debut in a pre-Tour Down Under criterium in Adelaide. Despite taking the leader's pink jersey through Bradley Wiggins on its first grand tour outing at the Giro d'Italia, struggled to make its mark in the big three-week races. Two years later, though, everything changed when Wiggins became the first Briton to win a grand tour at the Tour de France. The following year Chris Froome won the first of his four yellow jerseys before later adding the Vuelta a España and Giro d'Italia to his palmarès. Following a series of controversies and Sky Plc’s decision to pull the plug on its cycling sponsorship faces a season of uncertainty, though will remain the team to beat in the big stage races.
The patron – Chris Froome
Though far from being the eldest in the WorldTour – that honour goes to the 41-year-old Svein Tuft – Chris Froome, who turns 34 in May, is now entering a key phase in his career. With six grand tours on his palmarès, the Kenya-born Briton is just one of seven to have won all three grand tours and remains the only rider in the history of the sport to have won four Tours de France. Just Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have more with five titles each.
But can the Team Sky rider join the greats of the sport in July? History would suggest so. Arriving at the race off the back of his historic win at the Giro d'Italia, Froome last year missed out in July while team-mate Geraint Thomas made his own small slice of cycling history while becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour. However, this year Froome will be fully focused on the Tour when, barring disaster, one imagines he join that illustrious group of riders with five yellow jerseys.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018: Ninth
General manager: Iwan Spekenbrink
Title sponsor: Dutch tour operator
Founded in 2005, the German-registered team has developed over the years, growing organically as each season passes. The team that was once a breeding ground for sprinters and classics specialists has over the last few years morphed into one able to challenge for grand tour honours, though that is in the main down to one one rider: Tom Dumoulin. Lost stalwart Laurens ten Dam to CCC during the close window, though the addition of seven riders, including the vastly experienced Nicolas Roche and Jan Bakelants along with a number of youngsters, would suggest the team are preparing for the long-game.
The flying Dutchman – Tom Dumoulin
Following his Giro d'Italia victory in 2017, Tom Dumoulin openly admitted to struggling at coming to terms with the life changes he faced after becoming the first Dutchman to win a grand tour for 37 years. However, runners-up spots in back-to-back grand tours, along stage wins at both the Giro and Tour de France, went some way towards to getting his season back on course.
Appears poised to focus his season around the Giro rather than the Tour, though is expected to compete at both. The additions of the vastly experienced Nicholas Roche and Jan Bakelants may give the rider nicknamed the 'Butterfly of Maastricht' the added steel needed to challenge as team-mates such as Michael Matthews go stage hunting.
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:13th
General manager: Luca Guercilena
Title sponsor: US bicycle manufacturer and Italian coffee brand
Back in 2011 when the team was still called Leopard-Trek, Andy and Frank Schleck carried the squad’s general classification hopes while Fabian Cancellara was on hand to strengthen their handwhen the roads turned to cobbles and the races were against the clock. Fast forward eight years and in those proven winners’ places are Richie Porte and a resurgent John Degenkolb. How times change. Missed out on Colombian climbing tyro Iván Sosa, who instead joined Team Sky during the transfer window, but still possess riders able to challenge in the one-day races or go stage hunting in the big three-week tours.
The people's favourite – John Degenkolb
It came as little surprise that when the 2018 end-of-year polls were compiled, John Degenkolb's emotional stage win over the cobbles at last year's Tour de France ranked highly. After enjoying a phenomenal season in 2015 when he won two monuments – Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix – Degenkolb's world fell apart with a career-threatening training camp crash in January 2016. While on the road to recovery, during which time he won a handful of lower tier races, the death of a close family friend provided the German with a further setback.
However, that win on the cobbles appears to have given Degenkolb a new lease of life. While his team may prefer general classification wins with new signing Richie Porte, one imagines most cycling fans will be rooting for the 30-year-old who has said he is targeting the Tour of Flanders and world championships. Now that would be something.
UAE Team Emirates (UAE)
UCI WorldTour ranking 2018:12th
General manager: José Antonio Fernández
Title sponsor: Emirates
Founded in 1990, trading originally as Diana-Colnago-Animex, the Emirati-owned squad's roots lie very much in the heart of Italy. However, after Giuseppe Saronni stepped down as general manager during the close season – the former rider who twice won the Giro d'Italia remains on the board – the team's identity is very much an international one. Over the years the team has won stages in all three grand tours and twice claimed the overall at the Giro d'Italia (Gilberto Simoni in 2001 and Michele Scarponi, 2011). Possesses within its ranks some heavyweight hitters – Fabio Aru, Daniel Martin, Alexander Kristoff and the newly-signed Fernando Gaviria – though the jury remains out on whether the squad has the right balance for any of that quartet to realise their full potential.
The (post-Quick Step) blues man? – Fernando Gaviria
Only time will tell if Fernando Gaviria's switch from Quick Step to UAE Team Emirates was the right move for the Colombian, but one thing is almost certain: the 24-year-old sprinter will not be getting the service he enjoyed with Patrick Lefevere's team last year.
Described by Mark Cavendish in an interview with Telegraph Sportlast year as "the future of sprinting", Gaviria won six stages in his opening two grand tours under the guidance of Lefevere's 'super-team', but may struggle to do the same with the vastly weakened lead-out train he will work with at UAE Team Emirates. Presumably the three-year contract signed was lucrative enough to warrant his move, but will Gaviria discover, just as Marcel Kittel did last year, that life away from the bosom of Quick-Step can be tough.