Come Sunday evening, we're all going to be sick of the sight of the Cauberg.
The fabled Dutch climb — renowned for its prominent role in the Amstel Gold Race — was used in both the TTT and ITT; now the peloton must drag itself over the Cauberg's 12% maximum gradient 10 times on Sunday in pursuit of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Like a spring classic, the World Championships road race is always notoriously long, making it veritable ordeal that will no doubt be played out over multiple phases.
The undulating parcours is a leg-sapping 265km, starting with a 100km loop through the Province of Limburg that features seven short and sharp climbs. An early selection will no doubt form in this section of the race — and it won't be a surprise to see a gap established of more than six minutes.
Part two of the race is where the real action will happen: 10 laps of a 16.5km circuit that features two climbs — the winding Bemelerberg (900m with a max gradient of 7%) and the game-changing Cauberg (1.5km with an average gradient of 5.8%).
The course is very similar to when the World Championships last visited Valkenburg, in 1998, while many of the roads are those used in the Amstel Gold — won twice in recent years by the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, one of the hot favourites for Sunday's road race.
In 2009, stage four of the Vuelta a Espana featured the Cauberg on a day that Germany's Andre Greipel took the spoils. Three years earlier, another German — Matthias Kessler — jumped the peloton to win stage three of the Tour de France atop the Cauberg.
But the Cauberg is a very different proposition in the Worlds. Where the Amstel Gold — or 'the race of a thousand corners' — finishes on the summit of the Cauberg and sees the riders attack the Cat.3 climb just twice, the Worlds road race will see 10 gruelling ascents, the accumulative effect of which will be decisive.
To add a further twist, the finish in Valkenburg comes after a 1.7km drag to the line after the climb — meaning this will not suit the pure uphill sprinters (such as Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez) alone.
Let's look at the main contenders for the rainbow jersey in Valkenburg.
Five stars: Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde
The rainbow stripes are the one clear prize missing from Gilbert's palmares and the Belgian is entering the race in good form after what has been a tricky first season at BMC. Two uphill sprint wins in the Vuelta showed us that he's back to his best — and with many Belgian fans sure of making the short journey across the border, the 30-year-old is the bookmakers' favourite. Valverde, like Gilbert, has a strong team behind him — although the Spanish nine-man squad does seem to be made up of a roll call of riders all of whom could potentially win this race. Runner-up in the Vuelta, Valverde won three stages and will relish this hilly course.
Four stars: Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans
Slovak sensation Sagan won three stages in his debut Tour de France but recent results indicate that the 22-year-old could well have peaked in July. He won't have the same team support as his rivals, but Sagan is a rider so good and confident of his own abilities that this may not prove decisive — although he was clearly isolated during the Olympic road race. His supreme sprinting skills would put in him pole position provided he can make it up the final ascent of the Cauberg in touch with a leading group. Unlike Sagan, Australian Gerrans is a rider coming back into form after early season success Down Under and in Milan-San Remo. Gerrans won the hilly GP de Quebec a fortnight ago and revels in such demanding finales. It will be no surprise to see him standing atop the podium.
Three stars: Thomas Voeckler, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Edvald Boasson Hagen
Although he won't admit it, Frenchman Voeckler is clearly one of the dark horses for the rainbow jersey. In fact, never before has Voeckler had a better chance: his form is strong, he's the right age, he has the whole French team at his service, and the parcours is tailor-made for him. Nibali is the best hope of a wet-behind-the-ears Italian team — but while the former Vuelta winner has a Diesel engine that will get him through the long race, he lacks the top-end kick to match the big guns. Rodriguez loves uphill finishes, but he will be worn out after the Vuelta — and the 1.7km flat run-in may whittle any advantage he has away. Boasson Hagen is always a threat on such a route — and the Norwegian will have high hopes of keeping the rainbow jersey at Sky for another year.
Two star: Tom Boonen, Greg van Avermaet, Sylvain Chavanel, Robert Gesink, Oscar Freire, Michael Albasini, Oscar Gatto
Boonen is an outside bet to make it a hat-trick of sorts for Omega Pharma-Quick Step following wins in the TTT and ITT with Tony Martin. But the Belgian, so scintillating in the spring classics, has never ridden the Amstel Gold Race as a senior, and those 10 ascents could well prove too much. A better bet for the Belgians should Gilbert and Boonen falter is van Avermaet, who has been solid if unspectacular for most of the season — and looked sharp in the Canadian classics recently, taking second place in Quebec. Chavanel will be France's Plan B should Voeckler suffer a jour sans, while Dutchman Gesink is a former podium finisher of Amstel Gold — and perhaps the home nation's only real chance of an upset. The attacking Albasini is always game for a fight, while Gatto and three-time world champion Freire are interesting alternatives for Italy and Spain should it come to a sprint.
One star: Ryder Hesjedal, Gianni Meersman, John Degenkolb, Nicolas Roche, Rinaldo Nocentini, Juan Antonio Flecha, Alberto Contador
All the above like riding on this kind of terrain, although if Wednesday's ITT is anything to go by, Contador is a spent force following his Vuelta win. Degenkolb took five wins in the Vuelta and is one of the few pure sprinters who could prevail on this kind of course — hence German selectors not even opting for Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel. Trade team-mates Roche and Nocentini are sharp at the moment — and the Italian finished runner-up here as a junior in '98. Hesjedal, Meersman and Flecha all have the potential to have a say in matters — although it's unlikely.
Zero stars: Mark Cavendish
One thing is certain: Cav will not retain his rainbow jersey. In fact, were the Manxman not reigning champion, he probably would be watching the race like most of us on TV. On discovering the course, Cavendish must have felt about the same as Andy Schleck on learning that the 2012 Tour de France featured 100km of time trials and only three summit finishes (not that it ultimately mattered). Should there be numerous attacks during the 10 laps, Cav could well find himself irrevocably distanced — and may not even bother to finish the race.
What do you reckon? Has Saddles got it wrong? Do you think any other riders can make an impact? Have your say below...