After a year of unprecedented success for British cycling, the Tour of Britain provides a chance to see the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in action on home soil.
Tour de France and Olympic time-trial winner Wiggins, and world champion Cavendish, are both part of Team Sky's line-up for the eight-day race.
The Tour of Britain has grown in stature every year since being revived in 2004 and its position on the calendar makes it an ideal preparation race for the World Championships later in September.
Ipswich hosts the start for this year's competition and the route takes in stages across England, Scotland and Wales before culminating on Guildford's cobbled high street.
Sunday 9 September - Stage one: Ipswich to Royal Norfolk Showground - 199.6km
This looks likes one for the sprinters, taking in a flat 200km route from Ipswich through the Suffolk and Norfolk countryside to a finish at the Royal Norfolk Showground. From a start at Neptune Quay on the Ipswich Waterfront, the riders head out through the riverside town of Woodbridge to the first intermediate sprint in Melton. The race hits the North Sea coast at Aldeburgh and passes through Lowestoft, the most easterly town in Britain, before another intermediate sprint on Great Yarmouth seafront. After crossing into Norfolk, there is an intermediate sprint at Coltishall before the route loops around Norwich. A long straight road leads into the final kilometre, which is entirely within the Royal Norfolk Showground, and then two 90 degree corners set up the run to the line.
Monday 10 September - Stage two: Nottingham to Knowsley - 177.8km
This stage of contrasts includes the undulating terrain of the Peak District followed by the flatland and country lanes of the Chesire Plain. After setting off from Castle Road in Nottingham the riders head into the Derbyshire Dales for the first category-one ascent of the tour, through the village of Turnditch to a summit at Cross o 'th Hands, before taking in two more category-one climbs at Alstonefield and Morridge. The ascents are a long way from the finish though and there will be plenty of time for regrouping as the race heads west towards Merseyside. Another sprint looks likely at the unique finish venue of Knowsley Safari park, situated on the outskirts of Liverpool.
Tuesday 11 September - Stage three: Jedburgh to Dumfries - 161.4km
A lengthy transfer north of the border awaits the riders before the third stage, which will take in some picturesque and remote Scottish countryside. Three categorised climbs are taken in, including the first-category pair of Roberton and Turner Cluech Law, but like the previous day, they are situated in the early part of the stage. The closing part of the stage takes in a 30-kilometre rolling circuit around Dumfries, but if last year's finish in the same town is anything to go by, it will be another bunch sprint.
Wednesday 12 September - Stage four: Carlisle to Blackpool - 156km
The race heads back down into England for the fourth stage to Blackpool, where the sprinters are again set to fight it out for the stage victory, and the 10 bonus seconds that come with it. The stage does contain some climbing however, the category-two ascents of Shap Fell and Old Hutton, as well as the third-category Quernmore, all have to be tackled as the route skirts the Lake District and Pennines. The final 30km are almost completely flat, although the exposed roads means the bunch could be split up if the winds are high.
Thursday 13 September - Stage five: Stoke-on-Trent - 146.9km
The race visits Stoke for a fifth straight year, although it may not be as decisive as usual as it now features a flatter finish in the city centre. After starting in the Italian Gardens, the route heads south out of the city before looping up and eventually back down towards the finish. There are three intermediate sprints in the early part of the day, while the challenging climb of Gun Hill punctuates the second half of the stage. The roads undulate slightly as the race heads into the middle of town, but the new finish should favour a sprint from a fairly large group.
Friday 14 September - Stage six: Welshpool to Caerphilly - 189.8km
The sixth stage contains the most significant climbing of this year's race with four first-category obstacles on the menu, including two ascents of Caerphilly Mountain in the final kilometres. The other two major climbs of the day come at Cwm Owen and Brecon Beacons as the riders head south through Wales towards the destination town. The finale is dominated by the two trips up Caerphilly Mountain, which come immediately after one another and lead straight into the finish. The general classification contenders will have to use this terrain to attack, with the sprinters who have racked up bonus seconds earlier in the week likely to suffer on the final two ascents.
Saturday 15 September - Stage seven: Barnstaple to Dartmouth - 170.7km
Stage seven could also be a crucial one in deciding the overall winner as the riders face an undulating test through Dartmoor in the south west of the country. The two first-category climbs of Merrivale and Coffin Stone dominate the middle of the stage, but the main action is likely to play out later in the day. Two intermediate sprints, at Kingsbridge and Slapton Ley, are situated within 25km of the finish, while a pair of uncategorised climbs should provide the perfect terrain for attacks heading into the finish. The descent off the second of these ascents leads straight into the finish in Dartmouth.
Sunday 16 September - Stage eight: Reigate to Guildford - 147.7km
The race concludes with a relatively short and unchallenging trip to Guildford, taking in a lengthy loop around the town and finishing on its cobbled high street. After two stages in the hills, the final day is set to reward the sprinters again, with the peloton expected to race into the finish as one. The stage's major difficulty is the first category climb of Barhatch Lane, but at over 45km from the finish it is unlikely to be of any significance to the battle for victory. A sprint is expected on the high street as the Tour of Britain reaches what should be a spectacular conclusion.
The Tour of Britain is unusual in that each team is only allowed to enter six riders as opposed to the usual eight. Mark Cavendish will be targeting the sprints in the first half of the race before the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Christian Knees and Luke Rowe look to test themselves on the more selective stages.
Team Sky history
Greg Henderson claimed third place overall in 2010 before Steve Cummings improved on that a year later by coming second. Henderson and Alex Dowsett have also won stages for Team Sky in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Edvald Boasson Hagen is one of the most successful riders in the race's history, having won the overall title in 2009 and seven stages in total. Mark Cavendish, Ben Swift and Chris Sutton have also won stages in the race.