The Moment The Race Was Won: Tour de Suisse

Rui Costa Switzerland

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.

Celebrating a stage win in 2012

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.

Role reversals
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

What next?
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.

17 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: Tour de Suisse”

  1. Switzerland may be boring for many things and it is indeed (maybe that’s due to everything working as it should… or the weather at times… lol…) but the mountains and roads with breathtaking views of lakes and valleys and small villas is perfect for cycling. I’m taking off from Zurich back home in a couple of hours after following following this ToS and riding a bit and I must say imho it is one of the best places for road biking and travelling this time of the year. Excellent coverage and comments as usual here at inrng, thanks for this one and let the Tour come!

  2. No mention of Mollema??

    That is one of his best GC results in a World Tour event. Promising signs if Blanco can get behind him and the first week is negotiated without falling off.

    • Good point. A very satisfying ride for him and his team. He’s 26 and starting to deliver what’s been promised since he won the Tour de l’Avenir, he’s been top-10 in many races but now he’s getting top-3s.

      • I was very impressed with Mollema. Not just because he did a very solid ride and delivered good results, but also because he achieved them by attacking but still riding smart. He won a stage, was second on the queen stage (maybe partly because he thought he was sprinting for second place) and I think he even forced the winning move. Furthermore, he was aggressive on other stages and did a relatively great and very smart TT. He lost time on the flat but said afterwards that he took it a bit easy intentionally to have extra on the climb. It clearly payed off!
        It shows that Mollema could try for stage wins while riding a good GC in the TdF. He’s a different kind of GC rider with his more daring racing style.

  3. I wonder how Sagan manages to be so muscular, carry that extra weight and yet still live with some very good climbers? That boy worries me.


    • Troy, Costa did not only get acquitted for claiming that he got the substance from a contaminated supplement – he PROVED it. He literally provided the multi-vitamins he had been taking and tests showed that the vitamins did indeed contain said substance which he tested positive for.

      So I don’t see how a positive test can be relevant or used against him when it was proven 100% to be a genuine mistake by the manufacturer of the vitamins.

    • I remember the confusion the case caused, in part because he was tipped for big things after having a very good last year in the amateur ranks with top-10 in the worlds and a podium in the Tour de l’Avenir. But my piece above is about the race more than what happened a long time ago… although someone’s past is always important.

      • Inring, thanks as always,

        Just a wish, as we go into the Tour. Can we as a group of like minded spectators agree to not cast doubt on performance of the riders who are currently free to ride, and not currently suspended?

        We have rules which are broken from time to time, yet they are the rules even though most who share on this site agree they are not strong enough or perhaps bias.

        That said we have a lot of things too enjoy and discuss in the coming weeks. We all have our heros and villains as it should be, but please can we restrain from casting dispersions, it really takes away from the passion and commitment we know these athletes share.

        Just a thought

  4. Very good piece, and very good race. It leaves a lot of questions open, that we’ll certainly have at least a half a year to discuss thoroughly.

  5. I think that all cycling journos and bloggers etc should always place a D after a dopers name, so an article would read, ‘…the Italian cyclist Ivan Basso (D) has been distinctly average since he stopped taking PED’s’, …the Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador (D) has been lacking in certain departments since he has been riding clean.’ And so forth, thus anyone reading an article can be sure of certain facts.

    On this subject, it annoys the bejeesus out of me when aforementioned journos etc talk about cyclists that have been done for doping and since returned to racing as though they were/would be as good/ as deserving of respect as they were when they doped, strikes me as bizarre!

    However, since the new broom of blood passports and the advent of Sky I think cycling is going to get a lot more boring, no drugs = no heroic solos and no superhuman acts of cycling, because they weren’t ever superhuman, just superfuelled.

    And yet I’m still looking forward to the tour immensely!

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