The UCI WorldTour yet again brings together the best races, the best teams and the best riders to create the most prestigious race series in men's professional cycling.
The 2013 UCI WorldTour consists of 29 races: 15 stage races and 14 one day Classics, including the legendary spring Classics on the cobbled roads of northern Europe, the three-week long Grand Tours: the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a EspaÃ±a; and other prestigious races in Oceania, Europe, North America and Asia.
18 UCI ProTeams teams are assured invitations to all the UCI WorldTour races and points are awarded to the best placed riders in each race, creating the UCI WorldTour rankings for riders, teams and nations.Â
Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez was the number one ranked rider in 2012, with Sky Procycling the best and Spain topping the nation ranking. The riders and teams fight for points in every race to secure the highest possible ranking.
Argos-Shimano is the only new team in the 2013 UCI WorldTour and has German sprinters Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb in its talented roster. However several big-name riders have changed teams during the winter, shuffling the balance of power. 2012 world road race champion has left Sky Procycling to ride for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, and Italians Vincenzo Nibali and Andrea Guardini have joined the Astana Pro Team. Cannondale is now the title sponsor of the Liquigas team, while another bike sponsor Merida has boosted the Lampre team signed sand helped the Italian team sign sprinter Roberto Ferrari and Classics contender Filippo Pozzato.
Team Saxo-Tinkoff again has Alberto Contador as team leader but has strength in depth thanks to the arrival of Nicolas Roche, Matti Breschel and Roman Kreuziger. Sky Procycling and the BMC Racing Team remain two dominant forces in the peloton. Sky Procycling can count on Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, while BMC has Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans, Tejay Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney.
Starting Down Under
While the northern hemisphere shivers in the depths of winter, the UCI WorldTour begins with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia between January 22-27, allowing the riders to begin their season in the sun.Â
Each stage of the six-day race is held near Adelaide, attracting huge crowds on the beaches, hills and vineyards of South Australia.
UCI world champion Philippe Gilbert of the BMC Racing Team is one of the stars starting their season early at the Santos Down Under. Also on the start list are German sprinter Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky Procycling), Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard Trek), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Jack Bobridge (Blanco Pro Cycling Team).
2012 winner Simon Gerrans returns to defend his victory with his Orica- GreenEdge team -the only Australia team in the UCI WorldTour and so is again a huge home favourite. Gerrans set up his victory on the stage to Old Willunga Hill last year and the short but testing climb is expected to decide who goes on to win this year's race.
The overall winner of the Santos Tour Down Under is awarded 100 points, with 80 points awarded to the second placed rider, 70 to the third placed rider and other points awarded on a sliding scale. Points are also awarded for stage success. The winner of the Tour de France scores 200 points after racing hard for three weeks, while one-day races offer 80 points and the five monumental Classics: Milano- Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia score 100 points.
Following the Santos Tour Down Under, the UCI WorldTour heads to Europe in the spring for the Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico stage races in France and Italy before the first one-day showdown at Milano- Sanremo. April is packed with one-day Classics in Belgium and Northern France â€“on the cobbles and in the testing Ardennes hills, before the long stage races begin in May and June with the Giro d'Italia, the CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ© and the Tour de Suisse.
The Tour de France dominates July before summer stage races such as the Tour of Poland and the Eneco Tour in the Netherlands and Belgium.Â
This year the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a will be held between August 24 and September 15, while the GP de QuÃ©bec and the GP de MontrÃ©al make for a packed mid-September weekend.
The racing end in China, in October. Only then will we know who is the best ranked rider, team and nation of the 2013 UCI WorldTour.
Picture: Can Boasson Hagen win the Santos Down Under... or even the 2013 UCI WorldTour?