The Tour de Romandie starts today. The spring classics are done and the focus of the sport now shifts to stage racing.
If races were ranked by their websites, it’s the best race of the year. But Romandie is a great race in its own right with some big names on a good course and it’s all taking part just before the Giro d’Italia. Here’s a quick preview.
It’s the French-speaking part of Switzerland, to the west of the country and borders France and Italy, in green above. The country might have several different languages but it’s doing fine, an oasis of prosperity and stability surrounded by the wobbly Eurozone . The race isn’t limited to this area but within the region it can borrow from a range of terrain, from wide plains and valleys to mountain passes and ski resorts. It’s the home race of BMC, the Swiss bike company.
There is a prologue today and then five stages before the finish on Sunday. All the route is online but here’s a summary:
- The prologue is flat and heads though the city centre of Lausanne, the home town of many international sports events like the International Olympic Committee. With a few sharp corners, this is one for the prologue specialists like Castroviejo or Durbridge and it looks like the weather will be a factor too.
- Stage 1 is a hilly day but some sprinters will want this. There are several categorised climbs along the way but they are steady.
- Stage 2 starts in France, in an industrial area dominated by the Peugeot car plant. It is again hilly but might come to a sprint finish although this time the finish is uphill, albeit on a drag. Like Stage 1 it could see some sprinters in trouble if their out of shape but an in-form rider shouldn’t have a problem.
- Stage 3 is chocolate and cheese day as it heads past food giant Nestlé and the lush pastures where they make Gruyère cheese. The finish is uphill and should be to the taste of a rider like Damiano Cunego or Martin Velits.
- Stage 4 is the “mountain stage” but I’ve used quotation marks as this isn’t quite the Alpine festival that Switzerland could offer. The race will pass UCI HQ. The climbs are regular and a good test for steady riders, the turbo diesels of the peloton rather than the pint-sized climbers. But no surprise, it’s still April and there’s snow up at altitude.
- Stage 5 is a 16.5km time trial around the Crans Montana ski resort. Short, the time gaps won’t be big but it features a categorised climb to make the legs hurt.
Note there are time bonuses. 10 seconds, six seconds and four seconds for the first three riders on the road stages. There are no intermediate time bonuses.
A useful warm-up ahead of the Giro d’Italia, the contenders for the Italian race will normally avoid pushing themselves to the max which can put a brake on the racing. But the Tour de Romandie has a selective route that is not punishing in the extreme so we could see the Italians scrapping for this. The official startlist isn’t out yet so this is based on the provisional version.
Cadel Evans is the defending champion but he could be short of racing and was dropped during the Amstel. Nevertheless he’s a great all-rounder and could build form during the race and test himself in the final time trial. If not Teejay Van Garderen looked very powerful in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Another strong team are Sky. Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers and Bradley Wiggins, who is the leader? I feel sorry for Danny Pate and Kanstantsin Siutsou who will be working. Is Wiggins in superstar mode – if so the head to head with Evans could be good – or will Richie Porte return to the race that first made his name as leader? And what of Chris Froome, second in the Vuelta, is this his chance to shine?
Other big names include Denis Menchov. No stranger to the mountain roads of Switzerland in times past, the Katusha rider could deliver a surprise win; if not his team mate Simon Špilak won the race in 2010 after Valverde was erased. Ivan Basso is also racing and if I suspect he’ll be saving himself for the Giro he might want to reassure himself after the Giro dell Trentino. Roman Kreuziger is in a similar position. Pierre Rolland is racing but Europcar patron Thomas Voeckler is not, so will he be liberated or burdened by responsibility?
I’m also interested in watching Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Barracuda), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat), Angel Madrazo and Branislau Samoilau (Movistar) as younger riders. Romandie offers just the kind of racing for a young rider to emerge. Pinot already won the mountains competition in 2010 but we’ll see if he’s building up for more.
A mention of the race website again: http://www.tourderomandie.ch/en/index.php. Taste is personal, you may or may not like the design. But it’s got full stage profiles, video fly-bys, news and plenty of other information. Although it’s not perfect, as of now there’s still no official start list.
Yellow = overall leader
Pink = mountains leader
Green = points leader
White = best young rider (under 25)