The Moment The Tour de Suisse Was Won

Miguel Angel Lopez Superman

Miguel Ángel López attacks over the top of the Flüela Pass. He started the final day of the Tour de Suisse with three riders within 16 seconds of him on the overall classification and once he’d run out of team mates on the climb he took matters into his own hands and attacked to distance his rivals. This aggression was the hallmark of López’s win.

The race began with a home win for Fabian Cancellara, a hit for him on his valedictory season, he took the Strade Bianche race and but just missed the Tour of Flanders and was ill for the Giro so this was an important moment. Only the spell in the yellow jersey was to be brief – a theme all week with the overall lead changing seven times during the nine day race – as Jürgen Roelandts was the right side of a split on the next day and took the yellow jersey.

Peter Sagan, part pro cyclist, part stuntman, took the next two stages in part thanks to the work of Orica-Greenedge. It was like one of those youtube clips where a fisherman is proudly reeling in a giant tuna only to find a great white shark chomp it away within sight, certainly Sagan ate Orica’s lunch. In recent years Sagan’s enjoyed a festival of stage wins in Switzerland before going on to win the green jersey in the Tour de France and nothing, or at least no one, seems able to stop him again.

Max Richeze took a sprint win dominated by the final corner, a sharp right-hander in the final 150 metres. The Tour de Suisse often seems to include an unnecessary finish like this. Yes cornering is a skill to master but riders are under pressure. Somehow Danny Van Poppel stayed upright but got relegated by the commissaires for poor handling, a cruel joke it seemed only reports proved false and he wasn’t penalised.

Darwin Atapuma

The mountains arrived and in the survival of the fittest from the early breakaway Darwin Atapuma won the stage, finally a reward for the Colombian worker. Behind Warren Barguil was the best of the rest among the main GC contenders with Tejay van Garderen working hard at one point, citing “instinct” which should keep Richie Porte on his toes. Ion Izagirre was 15th and lost 27 seconds to López: with hindsight this was the moment the race was lost. Pieter Weening won the next day from the breakaway and marked a good week for the modest Roompot team who collected the mountains jersey with Antwan Tolhoek.

It rained almost all week and this wasn’t the warm summer rain and gentle marination but cold showers that iced many riders. Will this affect the pre-Tour build up for some? “It’s only in the difficulty that you get stronger” said Warren Barguil although this can equally apply to budding viruses looking for a chance to break through. Pierre Latour took the yellow jersey after the first summit finish only to lose it the next day and quit the race ill, still a promising ride and if he could “only” finish 15th when ill he was one place ahead of Geraint Thomas while Tejay van Garderen fared worse that day, lost time and saw his hopes for the overall classification collapse.

Continuing the theme of reversals Wilco Kelderman may have taken yellow off Latour but cracked the next day on the high road to Sölden while van Garderen won the stage. Van Garderen was perhaps given more room because of his GC collapse but still out rode everyone else, his late attack was not the kind where anyone could clip away and build up a lead while the others hesitated. Team Sky led the chase with Vasil Kiryienka pacing Thomas until Barguil overheard Thomas asking Kiryienka to slow down, at which point the Frenchman took his cue to attack. He couldn’t close the gap to van Garderen and was joined by López and the pair put 15 seconds into their rivals, putting López into yellow and Barguil up to fourth overall. Behind yellow jersey Kelderman lost two minutes, it seems he ignored team advice and went for too big gearing instead of fitting a 34T inner ring.

The stage to Sölden was the Queen Stage. It’s reasonable to ask why the biggest stage of the Swiss race finishes takes place Austria and if the answer is “money” it’s reasonable to question whether this is a revenue stream too far as it undermines a race defined in name by national identity.

Come the time trial and Fabian Cancellara had a long stint in the hot seat, you wondered if he should have brought a book to pass the time. Izagirre dethroned Cancellara and López was also one second faster. This was a surprise but notable as he’s another Colombian who defies the pure climber stereotype, on the bike the resembles a ball of muscle and as an U23 he was better in the time trials, or at least the hilly ones and now did this again in Davos.

Lopez went into the final stage with a slender lead and three riders within seconds of him on the general classification. But if anyone can fend off attacks it’s Miguel Ángel López. He hails from Boyaca in Colombia, the same area as Nairo Quintana. He grew up at 2,600m above sea level on a small farm where his parents owned a few cattle and he sold corn and potatoes by the roadside to earn a few pesos. He got into cycling because he had to ride to school, 8km away according to one interview, 30 minutes away according to another. This accidental training gave him the foundation to win a village bike race and things went from there via a start in mountain biking. He never had it easy, those saved pesos were parleyed into a better bike costing him about $200 but he got attacked one day by thieves who tried to steal his bike but despite being stabbed in the leg by the attackers he saw them off, the story that generated his “Superman” nickname. As for protecting the yellow jersey he’d been here before too. He led the Tour de l’Avenir in 2014 going into the final stage. He had to see off a series of attacks, whole teams were trying to dislodge him but he proved too strong, first attacking to thin the group of his rivals, then setting a fierce tempo to asphyxiate anyone left on his wheel.

So López duly attacked, bridging across to a group of three others including Jarlinson Pantano on the Flüela Pass before attacking again to drop them and lead down the descent. Did he want to win the stage or just begin the descent with a head start? He’s said before that descending has been his weakness, maybe it’s still a concern. As they arrived in Davos Pantano took the stage win and Barguil and Rui Costa just caught the front group while Andrew Talansky had been distanced and fell off the podium.

The Verdict
The yellow jersey kept changing shoulders but this wasn’t a vintage edition, too often riders fell away rather than battled side-by-side on the slopes; the result was more a last-man-standing survival contest in the grim conditions. Here there was only one rider, Lopez was among the best every day and showed it on the final day. Izagirre and Barguil join him on the podium and their upcoming goals are more modest, Izagirre to help Quintana in the Tour and Barguil has his sights on the white jersey in the Tour de France.

van Garderen

Some other thoughts… What if Tejay van Garderen was Ukrainian? It’s merely a thought experiment but if he didn’t represent an entry route into the giant American consumer market would he be nurtured and groomed to the same extent? He had a solid race but cracked once and saw his hopes of a high placing fall away. The Sölden stage win was more than a consolation, there was no luck here so he’ll be pleased with this, an important win that ensures co-leadership for the Tour de France.

Fellow American Andrew Talansky is back. He delivered a gutsy ride during the week, no more than at Sölden where he put up a fight worthy of his Pitbull nickname only he could not quite seal the deal in the time trial to take the race overall. Infamous among team mates for his rages he’s unlikely to see the glass half full for the comeback here but he is in shape in time for the Tour de France.

Jarlinson Pantano finally delivered big with his first win Europe after years of trying and fourth overall. This will no doubt secure him a job contract but it was the moment that was more impressive, sunshine and showers with his beaming smile and sobbing with tears. IAM Cycling’s demise looks certain now but this may not have motivated him: the team always give one year contracts.

What happened to Team Sky? Their most visible moment might have been Van Poppel’s save. Thomas was climbing ok at times but proved irregular and suffered from the cold on his way to finishing 15th overall. Leopold König quit the race on the final day with a sore throat.

What next for Lopez? The Tour of Austria in July as he’s too young for a grand tour and then he’s part of Colombia’s team for the Olympics and then he’ll ride the Vuelta. During the same weekend the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc took place, a 2.2 stage race orientated towards small pro teams and development squads and for all the promise in race a 22 year old Colombian had just stamped his name on a World Tour race.

57 thoughts on “The Moment The Tour de Suisse Was Won”

  1. Too to sing for a grand tour but riding the Vuelta?

    What a prospect though, great ride. I also agree it was a disappointing race overall despite the frequent jersey changes.

  2. It really wasn’t a vintage edition but a more than worthy, not to say exciting, winner. Really enjoyed his racing. Apart from that it, it did more to raise doubts over those touted as Tour prospects:

    Thomas’s race was miserable. Form was poor, he had no punch at all and was unable to follow the others when they attacked
    Talansky remains a conundrum
    TJVG still cannot convince this fan at any rate that he’s a genuine prospective Tour winner

    • “TJVG still cannot convince this fan at any rate that he’s a genuine prospective Tour winner”

      With 3 mountain stages including Ventoux before we get to a time trial, it think Van Garderen may be relegated to domestique for Porte before he gets a chance to lead in the tour this time.

    • will be interesting to see Sky’s TdF line-up, and whether Thomas still gets protected rider status over Poels, Landa, Henao etc etc…

  3. This van Poppel thing is a good way to show how Twitter and Internet work these days. He was never relegated or fined and the Jury even had to issue a “We did notthing to van Poppel, he did nothing wrong” statement after someone dreamed this up and others ran away with it. He was 26. at arrival and stayed at that place.

  4. The Colombian “paper boys” of cycling are doing very well. Tough men with engaging smiles capable of some very big things. Good to see them winning and we need them to shake things up. Just get rid of those white shoes with black laces.

  5. stunning work from Kiryienka and Dombrowski for their leaders.

    You’re absolutely right to ask ‘What if Tejay van Garderen was Ukrainian?’ – there is a huge amount of noise around US riders. Talansky too.

    • In defence of Tejay, he does deliver visibility even if he frequently has bad days. In last year’s Tour for example you could say he got sick and withdrew and failed, or you could say was in second or third place from stage 3 til stage 16, and got hours and hours of TV coverage. This is perhaps a better return for sponsors than someone Zubeldia-ing their way to a top 10.

      In general, are there any French/Spanish/etc. nationals that have insight on how the cycling media works in those countries? Anglo riders are inevitably more visible on English language sites due to access/familiarity/interviews etc. French riders are definitely overhyped in France once they get a few good results, sometimes to the detriment of their development.

      • There’s a big difference in France between “specialists” and the normal guys who just watch TdF. So if one rider who just won an Etoile de Besseges stage is interviewed by a generalist journalist, he will speak about TdF and ask if he will do the TdF this year, if not when, etc. Then they create some imaginary GT winners, like Chavanel, for example. As for TVG, he’s always quoted in the list of favourites at the beginning on French National Broadcasting. But the “specialists” knows he’ll have a jour sans. Like Talansky, or Martin, or Porte, or any anglo-saxon rider, except Froome.

  6. Great write up. Many unanswered questions, perhaps for some. Having such a massive soft spot for Los Colombianos fellas. I so would like to see a team full of riders racing against pro-Conti or even world tour level, from Colombia(it’s a an age thing). When he went to Astana I have to admit I was a little dismayed, but it’s been a good fit for him.

    • A bit like… Team Colombia / Coldeportes, which had the likes of Chaves, Atapuma, Pantano in its ranks (along with fine riders like Duarte or Duque, or, on a lesser level Rubiano and Torres)?

      A shame for the bad management choices they went through (just anecdotal, but it was especially funny when the only non-Colombian rider in the team was the son of the Italian TM! And better not to speak about the problems with money).

      However, even if they didn’t receive appropriate technical support, they were allowed to enter serious or even WT races like Giro del Trentino, Vuelta a Burgos, Tirreno-Adriatico, Giro d’Italia, Tour de Pologne and many more (plus, a lot of hilly Classics and semi-Classics).

      The previous project, Colombia es pasión (Quintana, Chaves, Henao, Duarte), was perhaps better in terms of managing the riders, but they couldn’t get as many relevant invitations to European races, several .2 and .1 but the odd HC or WT was a very rare event.

        • Colombia Es Pasion/4-72 now Team Manzana Postobón, are a Conti team. Never going to get an invite to an HC race, never mind a WT one.

          Unlike Team Colombia, no money from the Colombian govt. Far from – the strong vocal anti-doping stand taken by the team’s management has made them enemies within the Colombian Fed and other official bodies, aided by the journos in their pockets. Even to the extent of being on the receiving end of death threats if they don’t stop speaking out against doping in Colombian cycling.

          As for the budget they DO have from their sponsors, for several years now the management had been setting aside a chunk of the team’s annual budget to fund a bio passport program for their riders, to 1. help the management monitor the riders values with an eye to look out for any warning signals, 2. enable riders to be able to show their blood values etc profile and associated history to any WT (or ProConti) team interested in offering them a contract (this happened with Nairo Quintana and MOV, for example)

          • I might be wrong, but didn’t they eventually jump to the Pro Conti ranks and made a bunch of HC races in Spain (but also Italy and France) and the WT Catalunya, too?
            Was it already a different structure?

          • Gabriele, yes, Team Colombia a different set-up altogether.

            Colombia Es Pasion became 4-72 and is now Team Manzana Postobon. Luis Fernando Saldarriaga and Ignacio Velez are the forces behind it.

            The Colombian national teams who contested Tour de l’Avenir in 2010 (won by Quintana) and 2011 (won by Chaves) was basically this team – all riders coming from Es Pasion, supported by Saldarriaga, Velez and their trade team support crew

          • Thank you, Sam; I was acquainted with the difference between the Team Colombia and Colombia es pasión – I also know pretty well Saldarriaga’s work, albeit not as deeply as you or your contacts in Colombia (I can confirm more or less everything you write about him, by the way: I’m not totally sure about public money, since I believe they got something from Coldeportes at a certain point, and 4-72 is… “Colombia Postal”, it’s public and it’s related to a specific Ministry – but it’s true that they’ve got a good deal of *institutional* troubles).

            My doubt was specifically about the *Saldarriaga structure* having made the jump to Pro Conti in order to get more invitations to the big races (.HC and WT), something I vaguely remembered… Finally, I recurred to Wikipedia and apparently I was right.
            They were Pro Conti in 2011 and expected to get more invitations to the top-level races, but it simply didn’t work out as they hoped, even if they raced one WT race (Catalunya) and several .HC… Coldeportes drew back and started the new Team Colombia/Corti project, while Saldarriaga began working on a U23 team which became CT the following year.

            My doubt depended on that “never going to get an invite to an HC race, never mind a WT one” you wrote above, since I was pretty sure that they had become motivated to do so and ended up doing some races of those categories, even if I wasn’t sure about when and how (I’m not hugely familiar with the UCI rules about what race you can enter depending on your status, I gave up trying to follow that some time ago ^__^).

            However, it was a short one-year parenthesis in their otherwise different history, no doubt about that.

        • Sam – go the mud! This is a situation I find interesting as one side’s acting like Claudio Corti took millions from Colombia and went off to the Costa Smeralda to “bunga-bunga” with Silvio Berlusconi, leaving the riders high and dry. But somehow I think the truth is rather different. Do you KNOW the facts in this fiasco? Didn’t the riders finally get paid from the money put up in advance with the UCI to register the team?

          • Oh for goodness sake, its not mud-slinging, Larry

            And yes, I do know a few facts given that the number of acquaintances I have who work in various capacities in Colombian cycling including the Federation, journalism and team management.

            Also as you seem interested in Colombian cycling, you might want to familiarize yourself with the Alpes and Andes website and the writings of Klaus Bellon. Matt Rendell is also very interesting on the subject.

          • Sam – the views I described are what I’ve gathered from the sources you noted – guys way into the Colombian point-of-view. …to the point I question their objectivity in the case.
            I find it hard to believe the entire fiasco was caused by the Italian Claudio Corti, a guy who has been involved in cycling for a long, long time. If he was going to screw all these people over and enrich himself in the process it seems he would have done it back in the big-money daze – when Gatorade and Bianchi were writing the checks and guys like Gianni Bugno were his star riders. I’m the type of person who figures if you are going to slime the guy here, you oughta be able to explain why.
            Disclaimer: I’ve met Claudio Corti a time or two as we used to have a lot of cycling friends in Bergamo, including a couple of guys who worked with the Gatorade team back-in-the-day. I know nothing about the Team Colombia fiasco other than what I’ve read online.

      • Oh look Gab it was a bit tongue in cheek. Any team kit that has some of the Colombian national colours is alright by me. i get the romantic picture I have in my head about the Colombians is different from the reality of riding for a pro team. And what little I know about the national scene is limited with such a poor grasp of Spanish. It would be so cool to see a Colombian team around at races. Best sight I saw a couple of years ago at the Circuite de Sarthe was the Col des Portes fellas on the front in foret Pre en Pail. My oldest jersey is a very worn out Cafe Colombia.

  7. Lopez is in the Colombian Olympic team? Who are they leaving out? For a team of 5 on a very hilly course, they have a lot of depth: Chavez, Quintana*2, Uran, Henao*2, Atapuma, Pantano, Anacona…

    • The team is N. Quintana, Uran Uran, Lopez, Sergio Henao and Chavez. Seeing that Rio is perhaps the closest they’ll ever get to a ‘home’ olympics, they’ll be extra motivated no doubt. Terrifying.

      • Ahh, but check the course. The course is kind of like a play. “We’re on the first climbing scene. Change scene: we’re on the second climbing scene. Change scene: we’re onto the finish scene.”

        Apparently a long (20K) drag from the last climbing to the finish leaves ample opportunity to run down a lead break of Ardennes-type climbers. Since it is so near the ocean, maybe winds will play into finale.

        My point being, the Colombians can definitely generate the power for a podium, but it’s difficult to see a finale where they aren’t sprinting against riders able to win the final 200m.

      • Who will they ride for? – is Chavez the best in a small group sprint? with these riders is the tactic to sit back then absolutely drill it on the last hill to leave themselves with a full team and only a small group (<20) of typical mountain goats – the likes of valverde, frome, contador, landa, aru, nibali porte etc. then just ping men of the front and see if anyone sacrifices themselves to chase (can't see any of the above doing it really). Maybe stick Henao in the break so you can do that and keep uran or chavez fresh to sprint.

  8. Enjoyed the write ups, enjoyed the Tour. As usual the climbs look daunting with a lot of roadside snow, the rain making this look like a very tough event indeed … brrr brrr

    • As much as this may sound contrary and unexpected from me, after the mud / rain debate before Paris-Roubaix, I do find that it’s somehow only fitting that the weather should be inclement high up in the mountains.
      I don’t know if this feeling is borne out of envy of the picture-box photos of riding in the Alps etc, or a reminder from many days out on the fells of Northern Britain when four seasons weather in one day is entirely possible, but a three week Grand Tour over some of Europe’s highest mountains should get a bit of poor weather?

      This Summer is shaping up to be wet so far, and TdF is less than a fortnight away now.

      • Under the “extreme weather conditions ” that forced a shortening of the final stage, both Barguil and Spilak were cycling wearing shorts and short-sleeved jerseys and the kept the front zipper open for the climb. This happened despite lots of good wind-and waterproof gear available from sports stores in Davis. The conditions were completely doable, one should promote right gear for the conditions instead of shortening the course to a length which is sustainable for a rider in shorts.
        It could be as easy as in kindergarten: boys and girls, it is wet and cold outside today, let’s put on our wellingtons and the waterproof clothing, and go outside to play. The right clothes are mandatory and if the teachers can make that work with kindergarten kids, it is as simple as a rule in the UCI book, “extreme weather” chapter.
        PS: I admit there is real extreme, but it takes more: for example snow on the road (does not happen easily in midsummer time, but for Tirreno-Adriatico it isn’t uncommon.) Floodings, avalanches, high winds etc. However, ordinary summertime wet and cold is not extreme, it is fully possible to go cycling. Just get the right gear.

        • Some riders clearly don’t understand the ewp (just like Marcel Kittel was complaining on Twitter about UCI rules about motorbikes, just to then ask loud on Twitter where those rules are he just was complaining about without ever having read a word of them! Can’t decide, if that is sad or ridiculous. But I think I stick with sad. If he publically voices an opinion, he has the responsibility to educate himself BEFORE he voices an opinion). It actually didn’t even take a whole year to implement the thought in some riders minds that it is a “bad weather protocol” and not an “extreme weather protocol”. The moment it is around Zero and/or raining and/or snowing, teams and riders begin to campaign on social media and call that “extreme weather” und “unsafe”. It is a farce. Sorry, forgot to mention that this of course only applies to certain WT-teams. We know who they are, I don’t have to say no names.

          In the Route du Sud not one team thought loud about that stupid protocol on Twitter, as some riders and teams did in Suisse as the very first thing in the morning. The RDS queen stage the riders rode in really nasty weather and with it they have experienced something unique they will tell their children about and gathered a lot of respect from every side. Yes, it was nasty and bad weather. But it wasn’t extreme. There is a difference. And no, I am NOT advocating riding in really dangerous or extreme weather conditions. If that rule doesn’t go away or gets specified to explain, that it really is only meant for extreme weather and that extreme weather doesn’t mean bad weather, it will become a real problem, because it is abused by some teams in the struggle about power and is a permanent damocles sword now hanging over race organisers.

          • “he has the responsibility to educate himself BEFORE he voices an opinion …
            In the Route du Sud not one team thought loud about that stupid protocol on Twitter.”

            You know that the EWP only applies to WT and HC races, right? And that the Route du Sud isn’t either?

          • It was cleat that this weather thing was not only be another nail in the coffin of cycling as a heroic sport, it was going to encourage whining of all sorts. When I think of that guy Brammeier insulting those braver than him…
            By the way, it’s interesting to note that when the race gets really hard and old-timey, anglo riders seem to go backwards.

  9. anyone know what actually happened to Carthy in the Route du Sud? someone grabbed his seat from behind or something and made him crash… was it deliberate?

  10. “from Boyaca in Colombia” … “grew up at a height of 2600m”… “he had to ride to school”

    If i only hear those words 100 times in July, Phil & Paul will have been gentle to us viewers!

  11. I thought it was a very good race. A great TdS as TdS go. Very satisfying. It left me with the flavour of almost a Grand Tour, with the balance of power evolving day after day. It was hard, and the viewer felt the hardness and could admire the best riders’ courage. The “last man standing” concept is really my concept of cycling.
    Certainly, the presence of TT improved the race, and the amount of climbing was also very helpful. As was the fact that no team was superior. The field was not top-notch, so it’s hard to tell if M.A. Lopez, Izaguirre, and Barguil have taken a big step forward, or it was just that their rivals were a bit under the weather. We’ll see.
    I would have loved to see Froome, Quintana, and Contador contest this one. I honestly believe it would have been fantastic (without Movisky around, of course).

  12. TJVG as window dressing , yes an Americans role as a GC rider on a WT team that is BMC.

    2015 NBDA reports 6.2 Billion $$ of cycles and related accessories sold in the US…

    Wish it were’t true TJ. Now Joe Dombrowski that cake is yet to be baked.

  13. “Andrew Talansky is back.”

    When talking about Talansky, you have to mention Dombrowski, who did tremendous work for him in the mountains. Without him his race would have been worse.

  14. TJVG and Talansky remain inconsistent BUT I found some of the circumstances of their problems interesting. TJVG commented that he seems to be responding worse to cold conditions than he used to in the past. Maybe this is due to additional weight loss? Regardless, his freezing up may not be due to failure to prepare himself. Talansky evidently had a near fall on the descent of the last stage and ‘lost his nerve’ afterward. I was glad to see him competitive all week at least (certainly a better bet than Rolland for TdF).

    That super short last stage was explosive and fun to watch. Any chance we occasionally see organizers throw in such a stage into a race?

  15. Re your comment that Cancellara should have brought a book for the TT hotseat: he did! Well, of sorts. Eurosport showed a moment of him reading a newspaper well before the final riders were off. Obviously very confident.

  16. So it wasn’t when the race organisers curtailed the last stage, thereby reducing the likelihood that anyone else could put enough time into Lopez?

    To be fair, you get the sense that most of the riders just wanted to skip the TdS and start the TdF than endure more rain and cold. It can’t help your morale thinking that the conditions might lead to some illness or accident that will rule you out of the biggest and best party of the year.

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