With the spring classics done it’s time for the stage races. There’s no immediate switch from embrocation to sun screen as this year’s Tour de Romandie offers familiar conditions with rain and cold forecast.
There’s a rare pre-Tour clash between Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali but with wider interest as it’s a Giro tune up for some and a test for others.
A 19.2km team time trial at altitude. The route tours the scenic Lac de Joux before a climb but don’t worry about the profile above, it’s a modest drag rather than a monster mountain pass although it is enough to test team cohesion while the clock ticks down. It’s a course for riders and teams that can turn dinner-plate sized chainrings and should put some climbers teams at a disadvantage.
Several climbs before the finish will shrink the bunch with the 9km Col de la Vue des Alpes (“Alps View Pass”) offering 8-9% slopes to start with before easing to 6-7%, it’s selective and the finish comes 18km later so anyone dropped doesn’t have long to get back.
This is what passes for sprint stage and explains why the likes of Mark Cavendish and André Greipel are sunning themselves in Turkey. The stage has a figure-of-eight route and climbs the Col des Rangiers twice during the stage. It looks spiky but it’s a steady climb and a well-drilled team can use it to chase down breakaway. The race passes through Porrentruy three times with the easy 1.5km 7.5% Côte de Courtemaîche in Bure as the last climb.
A revenge day for the sprinters who lost out the previous day this is the easiest day on paper with modest climbs and regular roads. The finish is a crash-prone downhill run to the line.
The Queen Stage. The Col des Mosses is a soft climb 4.5% on average but really a series of 6-7% rises spaced by flat sections. The race descends to the UCI headquarters in Aigle and then uses the Rhone valley in the same way a snowboarder uses a halfpipe, going up and down one side and then another. The climb to Les Giettes has 8-10% slopes but will only soften the legs as the descent is followed by a long flat valley section before using some the Col de la Forclaz only to drop back down and tackle the final climb to Champex, a hard 10km climb with 10% sections in the middle before the slope eases in town.
A tricky time trial around the lakeside city of Lausanne. After several stages of exaggerated profiles the graphic above underestimates the course. A flat start then it twists up through the city centre on a steep and narrow street. Hard enough? It’s cobbled too. Now this is Switzerland not Italy so think tidy urban cobbles rather than medieval flagstones but it makes for a bone-shaking course with a tricky descent too. Just 17.3km but enough to reshape the GC.
Present but correct? Several star names star they’re different points in their training cycles, some aiming to peak now, others on a downward trajectory after a spring peak and another lot prepping for the Giro.
Chris Froome is the obvious pick. The winner in 2013 and 2014 he could do with a third win to make up for his Flèche Wallonne crash and get back to winning ways. He briefly lived in the area as part of the UCI development team which helps for the Queen Stage. More importantly the course suits with its set-piece components: a TTT, a summit finish and a TT. On paper Team Sky are strong picks to get an advantage straight away in the team time trial but the likes of Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas are returning from a post-classics rest and their condition’s unknown.
Katusha’s Simon Špilak is the curiosity choice. He’s often thrived in this race, especially in grim conditions and the weather forecast looks bad for the week. The Slovenian seems to pop up for week-long stage races. Watch Ilnur Zakarin, once the 2007 European junior TT champion he then got rumbled for doping and sat out for two years but now back and very strong in the Basque Country.
Vincenzo Nibali starts after a lacklustre Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The Ardennes classic was his big target alongside the Tour de France but he missed. Still all the prep can be used here, he’s been going up and down Teide in Tenerife at the same time as Froome. Don’t be surprised to see him take a risk or two in the wet weather. Team make Jacob Fuglsang could crack the top-10 too.
Nairo Quintana and Thibaut Pinot both resume racing after a short break and their form isn’t known. Both are better than many think in the time trial. One relative and small difference is that Pinot likes a faster climb in the 7% range while Quintana is more at ease on a 10% grade. Pinot first made a name for himself here as a 19 year old neo-pro taking the mountains jersey and he won his Tour de France stage in Switzerland too. More recently Quintana didn’t feature in Liège-Bastogne-Liège but this stage race suits him more.
Rui Costa has been on the final podium three times and is in good shape after featuring in the Ardennes races, albeit by following moves. Once again it’s hard to see him winning outright but he should make the top-10 and could be top-5. Lampre-Merida team mate Przemysław Niemiec made the top-10 on the Monte Terminillo stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and could sneak into the top-10 here but might not force things too hard before the Giro.
Ag2r have a strong squad with J-C Péraud, Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz plus a Carlos Betancur still on diet mode so let’s hope he doesn’t win the mountains prize and the daily block of Gruyère cheese. Péraud is the best bet for GC given his TT skills but it’ll be interesting to see what they do all week. Bardet is relaxed character off the bike but aggressive with a number pinned on his back and sixth place in Liège tell us he’s in top condition. He’s also visited the windtunnel after discovering he produced just as many watts as Tejay van Garderen in last year’s Tour de France TT stage but lost so much more time due to his upright position. The promising Vuillermoz has caught a cold so don’t expect much.
Cycling’s most unheralded stage race Jurgen Van den Broeck is racing the Giro and will test his legs here while Greg Henderson also starts for Lotto-Soudal… providing the Swiss border guards didn’t object to his passport.
If Oleg Tinkov’s not enjoyed the start to 2015 then part of it’s down to Peter Sagan’s modest results but Rafał Majka has bombed so far this year with talk of over-training. Word is he’s fresher now. Look out for Paweł Poljański, a mini-Majka in the making but both will suffer in the final TT.
Pierre Rolland is a late entrant but in form and capable of a stage win. With no news of a replacement sponsor for Europcar he could do with a result right now too. Lotto-Jumbo are led by the returning Robert Gesink who has the talent but often not the luck.
Cannondale-Garmin come with a great team to liven up many stages. Dan Martin might be bruised and battered but Janier Acevedo is a strong climber needing a result after impressing in 2013 but blank years at Slipstream although he was 9th in the Tour de Suisse, no accident. Ramūnas Navardauskas can always win a stage and Ryder Hesjedal is looking to build his form.
Etixx-QS’s Rigoberto Uran rides for a pre-Giro tune up. He was trundling around Romandie last year to use the final time trial as a test: expect a repeat if he wants to save energy. Could Tony Martin go for the GC? He’s been second in 2011 but an overall win looks difficult. Stage 5’s summit finish is too much unless he’s been on the “Aru-diet” and lost five kilos. Otheriwse even if he rides to his limits to Champex it’s hard to see him making up for lost time on the final TT stage. Gianni Meersman is a likely contender for the sprints.
I’m keen to see BMC Racing’s Rohan Dennis in action, he has climbed well and this isn’t a giant Galibier/Stelvio test. BMC might be registered under a US flag for marketing purposes but this race passes their bike factory and team owner Andy Rihs is Swiss so there’s extra pressure. Ditto IAM Cycling on home soil where local hopes are on Mathias Frank‘s climbing skills with Jarlinson Pantano for support. Orica-Greenedge bring wunderkind Simon Yates.
Sprinters: Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quickstep), Luza Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin), Giacomo Nizzolo and (Trek Factory Racing), Elia Viviani (Team Sky) while Michael Albasini (Orica-Greenedge) isn’t really a sprinter but will profit from a thinned out group at the finish… so will enfant terrible Julian Alaphilippe.
|Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana|
|Simon Špilak, Thibaut Pinot|
|Rigoberto Uran, Ion Izaguirre, Rui Costa,|
|Dennis, Martin, Péraud, Bardet, Fuglsang, Zakarin|
It’s French-speaking Switzerland, the western part of the country which 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.
TV: it’ll be on TV but the channel varies, beINsport for the USA for example. For other feeds cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv serve up the usual feast. The stage finishes are expected around 5.20pm local time.
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 high again with routes carefully crafted to attract the stage race stars. The inclusion of a team time trial probably isn’t a coincidence as it allows prep for the Tour de France.