Mathias Frank, Bauke Mollema and Rui Costa are on the attack knowing they have to put time into Tony Martin in order to get on the podium. This was the moment the race was won.
Like the Dauphiné the final stage of the Tour de Suisse saw a reversal of fortunes although this time the script was more predictable with Rui Costa riding away to win the stage while lower down the mountain Tony Martin was left to pace himself in a private mountain time trial.
Winning three times in a row is a big deal but this was a steady ride, a lesson in consistency over panache although with a flourish to leave no doubts on the final climb.
Having written a piece suggesting uncertain times for many in the pro peloton the longer this race went on the more certainty imposed itself on events. None more so than Tony Martin’s consistent performances in the time trials: two stages and a week in the yellow jersey, a punctuality to rival Swiss trains. What next for the German? Three weeks of riding as a diesel engine in Mark Cavendish’s sprint train with a day off for the Bergerac time trial, the penultimate stage and only time trial of the race.
The next certainty was Rui Costa with his third straight win in this race. A stage winner in the mountains and third in the Stage 7 time trial, he was there when it mattered but despite or perhaps because of the rainbow jersey he seemed a more subdued and marked rider this time. L’Equipe called him a cuckoo, sitting on the wheels all week and then nesting on the podium after hitting the front of the race for only the last 2,700m of the race. He was as discreet as a Swiss banker but like Andrew Talansky last week Rui Costa was only in a position to ride for the overall because he’d been impressive all week, matching the moves and then taking third in the mid-week time trial. On Sunday’s final stage he could have ridden with Mathias Frank to the finish knowing victory was assured anyway but responded with a late attack to win the stage. No wonder given his frustration all year, his string of near misses suggested he wasn’t going to cut a “you take the stage, I’m winning the GC” deal with Frank. Call it pride or panache, he’s got it.
Peter Sagan was the third certainty. He only won one stage this time compared to three in 2012 and two last year but this time it looked as if he didn’t have much to prove and one day tried a bullying attack in the finish to go solo over the final climb before the finish and then showed some wild descending. At times it’s like watching a computer game where Sagan has infinite lives, he can do what he wants because the others can’t touch him. That said he was beaten in the sprints by Sacha Modolo and Mark Cavendish, the green jersey competition could become more interesting in the Tour with Michael Matthews as well as the other pure sprinters.
It’s not been a certainty but it has been a theme: if something can go wrong for Team Sky this year it will. It’s as if
BB Albert King was playing on the team bus – “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” – with Bradley Wiggins leaving the race after a crash but he was never in it to win. More worrying Sergio Henao had a crash warming up for the time trial and broke his kneecap, a return for the Vuelta a Espana might be too much. Peter Kennaugh abandoned, ill, and maybe there’s time for him to recover if he’s needed for the Tour de France. Another slight under-performance was Roman Kreuziger but don’t count him out for the Tour where he should be a solid ally for Alberto Contador.
The race provided several revelations and confirmations. Tony Martin’s defence got some help from Giant-Shimano. The Dutch team knew they couldn’t win the race with Tom Dumoulin but they could defend his second place by controlling the pace and riding tempo. Tom Dumoulin won his first race this year in the Critérium International but his performances were better this week, a confirmation of ability, second in the Eneco Tour last year, ninth in the Mont St. Michel time trial of the Tour de France last year. He’s only 23 and time trialling is something that can be improved on. Just in case, despite the French name he’s Dutch and no relation to Samuel Dumoulin. Esteban Chaves took the almost obligatory Colombian-wins-mountain-stage opportunity. A clever signing by Orica-Greenedge. You might not have noticed but Cannondale’s Davide Formolo was seventh overall, he’s a 21 year old first year pro and people have been saying only good things about him for some time, now we get the confirmation.
So what of the Tour de France? The shorthand says if Tony Martin comes close to winning a stage race then there’s little to learn because the German will be dropped like a stone in the high mountains. But there are some points to note. First Rui Costa’s said he wants to aim for overall success in the Tour de France so let’s see what July brings. It’s still uncertain if he can climb with the best nor time trial with the fastest over a 50km course… so should he lose time accidentally he could revert to stage wins.
Bauke Mollema was third and proving everything is going to plan for the Belkin rider to improve on a successful Tour last year. Never the most elegant of riders, he twists his head to the side like Fernando Escartin or “Jeff” Bernard, he’s looking efficient.
Mathias Frank is climbing well and IAM’s best signing could crack the top-10 in Paris given the mountainous course and a stage win is there if he and the team take some risks. Don’t write off Thibaut Pinot, he did well to finish in the top-10 of the time trial but fell ill before the final weekend. If he shakes the cold and recovers he should be in the mix during July. Note he’s a climber but hasn’t finished lower than 24th in a time trial this year.
On Your Bike
France and Italy are famous cycle touring destinations largely thanks to the psychogeographical combo of mountains and famous races. Cyclists flock like pilgrims to Mont Ventoux, the Tourmalet, the Stelvio and so on. But what of Switzerland? It hasn’t the prestige but look at the views, the equal if not the better of many celebrated Tour and Giro roads and all with the kind of road surface you’d expect from the Swiss. The home of BMC and IAM Cycling as well as the UCI, it’s got a thriving cycling culture. So many benefits, is there a cost? The Swiss Franc is one of the world’s last hard currencies and if a visit has you sweating on a mountain pass, you’ll perspire again when it comes to opening your wallet to pay for a snack.
We had the Route du Sud, the Ster ZLM Tour and the Tour of Slovenia over the weekend too. Alejandro Valverde looked comfortable in the Pyrenees while Tiago Machado set up an important win for NetApp-Endura ahead of the Tour de France. The Ster ZLM Tour saw wins for Marcel Kittel and André Greipel while Philippe Gilbert took two stages and the overall – guess who is going to be Belgian champion next Sunday? – and it’s a shame he won’t ride the Tour given the hilly opening week where the arrivals in Sheffield and Gérardmer suit him perfectly.
A little less suspense than the Dauphiné but the French race enjoyed a vintage edition. A week of variety rather than Peter Sagan repeats provided sprinting stories although often these were not stages to watch from start to finish. We shouldn’t forget Cameron Meyer’s early stage win, he’s been groomed as Orica-Greenedge’s GC candidate but might have to settle for a different role now. The final stage reversal with Tony Martin left to himself was a predictable scenario but watching it provided suspense and scenery alike and it was good to see the rewards go to riders willing to attack over the penultimate climb rather than leave it late to and snipe for the stage win only.
We now enter a quiet period. The biggest race of the year is less than two weeks away and there’s a preceding lull with only the Giro dell’Appennino and Halle-Ingooigem this week before the various national championships in Europe and beyond.