Convention says Switzerland is a boring place but convention doesn’t ride a bicycle. The Tour of Switzerland waited until the last day to pick the winner and even on the duller stages during the race the scenery made you want to dash to the Alps for a ride with a cowbell soundtrack.
Rui Costa wins the the mountain time trial up the ski resort of Flumserberg, putting enough time into race leader Mathias Frank to take the overall lead at the last minute. This was the moment the race was won.
Rui Costa won last year but this year’s win was more convincing, a more present threat in the mountains and he did all by himself on the final stage. Last year his victory owed plenty to work done by Alejandro Valverde to ensure a move featuring Rabobank’s Steven Kruijswijk didn’t get too far away on the final day. That said Costa got plenty of support from the sizeable Portuguese immigrant community in Switzerland.
Mathias Frank might have lost out on the last day but he still did a great ride all week and exceeded most people’s expectations. He’s a specialist in his home race: he’s taken the mountains jersey, the points jersey and the “best Swiss rider” prize in previous editions with sixth overall along the way too. He’s only 26 and, assuming he rides, will be invaluable help for the BMC Racing team in the mountains.
Like the Dauphiné we also saw team leaders riding in service of their domestiques, masters serving their servants. There are obvious reasons for this, notably if Mathias Frank is best placed on GC then logic suggests Tejay van Garderen should support him, especially given the Swiss rider is a useful climber. But there are physiological factors at play too as a team leader can spend time riding steady to lead their protected rider for the day, doing longer efforts as opposed to the stop-start efforts of attack and chase. We saw this on the Albulapass when van Garderen helped pace Frank… at least for a while until the American took off after team radio instructions to follow Rui Costa. But it’s not new, last year Rui Costa won the race outright in part thanks to Alejandro Valverde’s pacing on the final day.
Pinot’s Glass Half Full
The Tour wasn’t just a test of climbing and time trialling but descending too. Twice FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot was amongst the best going uphill but then lost time on the descent to the finish. The first time on Stage 3 to Meiringen saw Scarponi crash and block Pinot but on Stage 7 the Frenchman was just distanced, telling L’Equipe “it was a fast descent, the kind I don’t like with curves you take at over 80km/h.” One of the goals in the week was to work on positional skills and ensure the team is in place to shelter him but these things take time. But he looked the real deal on the climbs and the more familiar roads of France should suit him in a few weeks’ time. Note that Arnold Jeannesson did the second fastest time on the uphill section today (stat via Twitter’s @kroiziger)
Meyer, le Meilleur
Another ride in the ascent albeit in a different sense is Cameron Meyer of Orica-Greenedge. Tipped as a contender for stage races he’d so far come a little short but proved his worth in this race. For all the right reasons the Australian team is undergoing a mini existential crisis as management question what the team is for and how they can win races. The roster’s been packed with sprinters and flatland fastmen whilst Australia’s best stage racing talent (Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Mick Rogers, Rohan Dennis etc) are elsewhere. Meyer’s opening stage win was blamed on the wind picking up to spoil the chances for the others but he was fifth on the big mountain stage although the regular grade of the Albulapass suited his style. Still he’s exactly what the team need.
Rui Costa, Movistar
Based on today’s performance Rui Costa can easily extrapolate a top-10 performance in the Tour de France if not top-5 but don’t bet the ranch on it happening. How he interacts with Alejandro Valverde will be interesting to watch and don’t forget the Spanish team bring Nairo Quintana too. There are no guarantees but these riders could certainly delay if not derail the Team Sky train.
A few other notes:
- I don’t know the score with Tejay van Garderen’s performances. An off-day, an illness or allergy? Certainly his ride this week won’t put him in the hot seat for the Tour de France but he’s a steady rider who could still come good although by riding steady rather than anything spectacular
- Saxo-Tinkoff looked strong collectively in the mountains with the likes of Nicolas Roche and Roman Kreuziger
- Andy Schleck’s return continues and he’s now on a level with the likes of Roche or Brice Feillu which is superior to anything we’ve seen for a year but still far short of his past status
- Peter Sagan’s versatility continues, he can sprint and climb. Stage 3 saw him resemble one of those large dogs used by mountain farmers to watch over a flock as he sat with the pack of mountain goats, his bulky build contrasting with all the others
- Sky’s Joe Dombrowski impressed with his climbing ability. His pedal stroke reminded me of a taller Andy Hampsten
- IAM Cycling’s Sébastien Reichenbach was a quiet revelation, another neo-pro climbing with the best
- Ryder Hesjedal’s participation in the Tour de France is uncertain but if he starts he could be ok as most of the stages are well into the race giving him time to get his rhythm back
The season goes into a bit of a lull. There’s the one day Halle-Ingooigem in Belgium on Wednesday and then various European countries have their national championships, the time trial towards the end of the week and then the road race on Sunday. The grand départ in Corisica is now less than two weeks away.