Tour de Romandie Preview

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


With the spring classics done it’s time for the stage races. But there’s no immediate switch from embrocation to Ambre Solaire as this year’s Tour de Romandie offers similar conditions to last year with snow and rain forecast

With Cadel Evans in 2011, Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013 the race winner has gone on to win the Tour de France. This year’s edition is probably important to Team Sky in terms of recovering from a disastrous April rather than staking claims to the future. It’s also a race that serves a final tune-up for those riding the Giro.

Prologue

The race opens with a 5.6km prologue. Confusingly the opening stage isn’t in Romandie but Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. Given the tendency to displace the start of a stage race to a foreign country this is a modest move. There’s no point showing the course profile because it’s flat. Instead of altimetry the corners provide the challenge. It’s a course for a prologue specialist, perhaps with a track background.

Tony Martin might still fancy this but watch for Rohan Dennis, Jack Bobridge, Jonathan Castroviejo, Michael Hepburn, Michał Kwiatkowski, Damien Gaudin and maybe Marcel Kittel and Richie Porte.

Stage 1

Update: the climb over the Simplon Pass has been cancelled. The race has laid on trains to take the riders to Brigerband for an abbreviated stage. That little bump at the end? It’s a proper Alpine effort and the start of road to the ski station of Crans Montana. It’s got regular slopes in excess of 6% so expect many sprinters to be dropped before the race swoops into Sion for a flat finish.

Stage 2

The profile looks alarming but this stage is slated for the sprinters. We’re likely to see the bunch split on the hills before the finish but the climbs are longer and steadier.

Stage 3

The Queen Stage of the race but this is minor royalty as the race heads for the hills behind Aigle and the UCI’s headquarters. The penultimate climb is 10km at over 7% and the final climb is 11km at 6.3% but with a long section at 9% before the race drops into Aigle. It’s enough to allow an attack from the big riders but the descent and flat valley approach could allow a climber to be reeled in.

Politics: If it’s hard for the riders, spare a thought for race organiser Richard Chassot who was ejected from the presidency of Swiss Cycling over Pat McQuaid’s nomination saga, returning to Aigle might be awkward. Will Brian Cookson appear?

Stage 4

A circuit of six laps. The major difficulty is repetition, it’s lumpy and the tactics will depend on who has what to defend in the race and maybe the weather. It’s hard to see the GC being overturned as riders will think of their time trial the following day.

Stage 5

A final 18km time trial with a serious climb in the middle that’s got 8% gradients to help give others a chance against Tony Martin.

Route Summary: mountainous but it’s still April so the race doesn’t venture too high. All riders including the sprinters need their climbing legs. Without a summit finish the winner will use the time trials to their advantage with the prologue and the hilly Stage 5.

There are time bonuses for each of the road stages of 10, 6 and 4 seconds.

The Contenders

Team Sky and Chris Froome need the win. They won last year and in the past this race has been a dress rehearsal in taking the race lead and the burdens and routines that go with it. It also allowed the likes of Wiggins and Froome to prove to team mates and the public alike that they could win a hilly stage race. Now all this is established and expectations are different. But Sky are having a rough season that’s fallen far short of their abilities and budget. This could be the moment to put things back on track. Froome’s told L’Equipe he’s off the antibiotics and his back is no longer a problem, adding “my numbers are as good as this time last year, if not better”. We’ll see how Richie Porte fares too, he’s thrived in this race before too, perhaps Sky give him the leadership, we’ll know more after the prologue.

Tejay van Garderen is the next pick. As the Volta Catalunya showed he can climb and time trial with the best and this is another step along the way for him. The BMC Racing team are registered in the US but BMC’s big on Swiss heritage. The only question is form, he’s was sixth on the Tour of the Basque Country. Is he up for this or is it just a race to complete before the Tour of California and then the Tour de France? I’d say yes as the chance to race Froome is rare… but we’ll discover this week.

After these three riders comes a long list of pretenders. First is Astana with Vincenzo Nibali. He looked a little short on the road to Liège but the demands of steady climbing and time trialling are different so we’ll see how his form fares. His Astana team is very strong, with Janez Brajkovič, Jacob Fuglsang, Tanel Kangert, Fred Kessiakoff and Lieuwe Westra all capable of winning the race if the stars align while Max Iglinskiy could poach a stage. Pity Andriy Grivko who’s on bottle duty.

OPQS come with a triple pronged attack. Rigoberto Urán is on the up for the Giro so we’ll see how he climbs. Michał Kwiatkowski could win stages and the race outright but he’s due for a rest soon while Tony Martin will find the Queen Stage too much.

Ag2r have Jean-Christophe Péraud the engineer could have designed this course with its climbing and time trialling. He finally won his first stage race in the Critérium Internationale a month ago, a podium is within reach. The team could win stages from a breakaway with Domont and Cherel while former MTB rider Aléxis Vuillermoz is still learning the ropes of road cycling.

Talking of MTB riding, Orica come with Nino Schurter, the MTB world champion. He’s a novelty and a wildcard but the instense efforts of climbing in this race could be perfect, he’d struggle on longer climbs but it’ll be good to watch. If not the Aussie team has Cameron Meyer who’s the GC hope and needs to break through.

Two riders who’ve used this race to make a name are FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot and Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky. Pinot’s already regretting the lack of summit finishes but all the more reason to attack. He was an impressive 10th in the Pais Vasco time trial. Talansky was top-10 on Catalonia and it’ll be good to see how he’s time trialling, this time last year he was narrowly beaten by Froome in the opening time trial. Both come with good teams and in the US team there’s Rohan Dennis who’s a podium dark horse if he’s climbing well.

Now a quick skip of Giro preppers: Tinkoff-Saxo bring Nicolas Roche and Rafał Majka. Cannondale have Ivan Basso who’s surely over the (Blueberry) hill when it comes to winning outright, he’s not been in the top-10 once this year unless it’s been a team time trial. Trek’s Riccardo Zoidl is another new signing who climbs well but the Tour of Austria winner hasn’t raced since March.

Finally some more names.Simon Špilak is infamous for riding well in bad weather and is a past winner of this race while team mate Yuri Trofimov is a good strealth pick. Laurens Ten Dam‘s getting better with age at climbing. IAM’s Mathias Frank is in great form and could poach a stage, he lost the Tour de Suisse last year to Rui Costa who might find stage racing suits more, he’s been third in this race for two years running now.

Chris Froome, Tejay van Garderen
Richie Porte
Michał Kwiatkowski, Vincenzo Nibali
Rui Costa, Simon Špilak, Andrew Talansky, Jean-Christophe Péraud
Zoidl, Dennis, Meyer, Frank

Romandie?
Romandie
It’s the French-speaking part of Switzerland, to the west of the country and borders France and Italy, in green above. The race 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 and the IAM Cycling team too.

TV: it’ll be on TV but the channel varies, Sky in Britain, beINsport for the USA. Pirate internet feeds prevail as always and cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the go-to sites. Note the stage finishes are expected around 5.00-5.20pm local time.

Weather: snow is forecast above 1,600m tomorrow. If the prologue is dry, the rest of the week promises cool temperatures and rain.

History: first run in 1947 Stephen Roche holds the record for three wins. The race has dipped in fortune in the past but seems to be riding higher again with routes carefully crafted to allow the stage race stars of the sport to shine.

Website: finally I’ll salute the race website at www.tourderomandie.ch. It’s got everything you need to know about the race with maps, profiles, videos, race rules and more. It’s the model for so many other World Tour races which claim to be world class sports events but offer online relics.

Anonymous April 29, 2014 at 11:44 am

Ahh the lesser spotted Froome. Not the most exciting lineup I must say. Here’s hoping though.

Tovarishch April 29, 2014 at 11:52 am

Eurosport are covering the Tour of Turkey (at least in the UK). Sky Sport 2 provide live coverage.

Leo April 29, 2014 at 12:33 pm

And the same goes for continental Europe, no Eurosport coverage at least in Italy or Poland. Sky’s Bikechannel and Polsat Sport show the race in those two countries respectively.

Brian April 29, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Ah, yes the old “My numbers are good in training story.” Almost always used by guys who know they are off of form. (Alberto especially tried selling that bill of goods last July)

Last chance to place a bet on ‘Berto for Le Tour before his odds go way down?

Anonymous April 29, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Nibbles V Froome V Tejay is interesting enough for me. All going for the TDF GC plus the added pressure on Froome makes for an interesting enough race for me.

Not sure I entirely agree with the esteemed inrng opinion on Porte even as an outsider for the Prologue.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Porte’s the last of the outsiders for the prologue.

At the time of writing Tejay van Garderen’s off to a bad start after crashing hard in the prologue.

diamondjim April 30, 2014 at 5:57 am

Tejay crashing may rob the race of some interest, but you were spot on with your predictions (the entire podium) for the Prologue! :-)

Dax Ludwig April 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Finally a tour that starts with a classic individual prologue

Steppings April 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Chris Froome has 13 days of racing in his legs this year and is the top tip for a win here. Any previous winners with less racing days in their legs? Just a thought for the stats records.

cd April 29, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Do you know what the Direct tv link is as per the charts above. Are they airing it or just sponsoring it?

Anonymous April 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm

The profile maps are from the TDR website. The Direct tv simply means that’s where the live tv coverage starts for those of us who happen to live in Switzerland. Lucky us since even German Eurosport is not bothering with coverage this year it seems.

cd April 29, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Interesting. As far as I know Direct Tv doesn’t broadcast any cycling in the US. If they were investing in cycling I’d be inclined to sign up and dump cable.

Gingerflash April 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Direct TV is just the French for live TV; I don’t think it relates to a particular TV company.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Correct “direct” means live.

cd April 29, 2014 at 4:25 pm

In the US it’s a satellite broadcaster, hence my confusion.

az2en April 29, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Yes Direct TV covers cycling, NBC Sports and Bien Sports usually have a fair amount of cycling. So far this year I’ve watched all the big road events on either channel as well as a few big MTB races, the cyclocross world championships, and several track events.

Vitus April 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

German Eurosport never (at least the last 15 years) broadcasted Romandie. Since Swiss SF2 has the rights for German language broadcast

KubaWinter April 29, 2014 at 2:41 pm

The weather forecast for Simplon Pass is very bad. Temperature is just above 0 degrees and heavy snow falls are forecast. If this is not enough, the wind could blow up to 50 km/h…

Despite perfect weather in Ascona today’s morning, the weather in whole Switzerland is just terrible this week. A lot of rain, wind and low temperatures.

I am going to Neuchatel for the TT! :)

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm

The Simplon has many tunnels and so is designed to be open all year. It should be open to traffic but whether we have a race is another matter.

blinkyblueeyed April 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm

The weather does indeed look really bad and the Simplon is an incredibly wild place when the wind blows at the the top (summer or winter) let alone when you add snow in the mix.

I was about to say I’m surprised the stage hasn’t been modified but looking at the TdR website, I think they’ve done just that, moving the start from Ascona to Brig (my French is great unfortunately so I’m not 100% sure of the details).

As an aside I find it interesting that they put stages in the high Alpine passes so early in the year. The Tour de Suisse has done the same in the past (in June) and has often suffered a similar fate, as the weather’s just so fickle at this time of the year.

Anyway, if it’s not pouring with rain I’ll hopefully be off the NE to watch the TT too :-)

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 10:22 pm

The start’s been moved and I’ve updated the piece above for every else.

RxMcS April 29, 2014 at 3:16 pm

BEIN Sports are streaming it here in the US. I guess it will probably be the Sky Sport 2 feed.

Larrick April 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Re the website. Though better than many it’s still not up to the Le Tour site. This ‘forces’ you to it’s mobile site if your accessing via a smart phone but doesn’t allow you to choose the full site. It also does not have a ticker with race radio style info. It does have a twitter feed (in French) from the organisers but I don’t think it’s comparable to the Le tour ticker. Important as here in Australia no live tv :( Fox (sister to Sky) have yet to take up showing any live cycling. A couple of races had a 18 hour delayed 1/2 hr highlight package shown but that is all so far.

Hope the weather allows a good racing week!

Tovarishch April 30, 2014 at 11:42 am

Loses a lot of marks because there was no live coverage of the Prologue (or, at least, I couldn’t find it). With the lack of on screen intermediate timing (and a very poor internet feed) we had to rely on the odd snippets from the commentators. The ASO show all the splits for all the competitors on TT’s.

JD April 29, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Is Romandie an ASO organised event do we know? Just interested as they have a yellow jersey and didn’t know if ASO had some sort of copyright on this?
If it is then surely the Tour website should be just as good (which I haven’t found it to be in the past).

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Many races have yellow jerseys. This race is organised by “Chassot Concept” which belongs to Swiss cycling businessman Richard Chassot.

Shawn April 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Regarding Tejay: “Is he up for this or is it just a race to complete before the Tour of California and then the Tour de France?” I’m not sure he’s up for Romandie now but, as I understand it, he is not defending the Tour of CA. Too hard to be good at both and he doesn’t want to just ride CA for training.

The Inner Ring April 29, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Thanks. California seems to come at an awkward point in the season for Tour hopefuls.

HANS April 30, 2014 at 6:43 am

I think the race might have just gotten more interesting with TJ immolation. Ive not seen evidence Froome or his squad is up for the win, especially given lack of summit finishes. Im hoping the non-Nibali Astanites can light this up a bit with multiple attackers, or that OPQS aggressively goes after another Kwiatowski win…

Kelly's Bidon April 30, 2014 at 7:12 am

Interestingly enough I notice that ‘The Shark’ was only two seconds back on Froome-dog in the prologue. Come the queen stage they’ll still be that close, but I’d lay odds-on that come the final ITT, with that 5k climb, Froome-dog will show his usual power-to-weight superiority to cruise home. Be nice if the Nibs could claim second spot, but probably depends of whether or not young Kwiatkowski implodes.

Samuel G April 30, 2014 at 10:17 am

Can anyone shed any light on how the time-cut rules have been applied to Van Garderen? His crash was before the 3km limit and his time was 52% more than Kwiatkowskis, are the time-cut rules for prologues different?

Also any thoughts on contenders for today’s stage 1 now it has been reduced to 90km?

The Inner Ring April 30, 2014 at 10:24 am

The race rulebook lists a time cut for every day… except the prologue. So there was no time cut.

Today’s a short stage but that climb at the end is hard. It can allow sprinters to tuck in on the wheels, think Lobato etc, but it’ll be very selective and if some teams crank up the pace there won’t be a sprinter left. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kwiatkowski sprinting for the win.

Sam April 30, 2014 at 10:33 am

I wouldnt put it past Tony Martin to be close at the finish – I’ll be surprised if that cat 2 leaves him behind.

Michael April 30, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Regarding the climbs on stage 3, to be picky only the last one up to Villars is really in the hills behind Aigle. The others are farther up the valley and across the river. I would also say that this is pretty royal, particularly for the end of April in the Alps: The four climbs may not go very high, but they’re tough. The first climb, the Col des Planches, is no small bump: 10 km at 8.9%, with many kilometres over 10%, while the second climb to Champex-Lac has a 7 km section in the middle at 9%. Apart from two km at almost 10% early on and a few at 8%, the climb to Villars is the least difficult. By the way, Nibali looked really good today (on TSR, Swiss tv) descending at over 90 kph from the last climb today to attack the peloton. Bring on the Giro!

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