For the Romans all roads led to Rome. In cycling they lead to Paris and as the Tour de France looms large the peloton is congregating in the Alps for the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse. Here’s a quick look at the route and the overall contenders for the win and more.
- An opening prologue, labelled as Stage 1, in chriesi country, the dialect for cherry, amid fields and suburban houses and one for the prologue TT specialists
- Stage 2 features a hilly circuit tackled several times, normally reserved for Peter Sagan but there are several rivals like Michael Matthews, Michael Albasini, Philippe Gilbert, J-J Lobato, Paddy Bevin, Zdeněk Štybar and Fernando Gaviria among others
- Stage 3 takes the race to the German border and the river Rhine for a sprint finish but with a finishing circuit with 1.2km climb at 10% to scale several times meaning a similar list of contenders as Stage 2
- Stage 4 goes from beer to Champagne, from the home of Switzerland’s most popular beer to a town called Champagne which just means “fields” rather than premium sparking wine. The flattest stage of the race there’s still a 1.3km climb with 12km to go but this should be fine for all the sprinters, anyone dropped here wasn’t going to feature anyway
- Stage 5 is the first big mountain rendez-vous and they’ve picked a great route. Just 125km and First the Furkapass, 2,429m high and 16km long at 6.9% and a very steady climb. Then a brief descent before the Gotthard Pass. They’ve just opened a giant tunnel underneath to take freight transport but such luck for the peloton who tackle this giant pass and its cobbles too. Then a 10km summit finish at 7%. Weather permitting.
- Stage 6 sees more climbing, a long valley approach and then the Klausenpass, 24km at 6% and a matching descent then more valley sections until the summit finish to Amden-Arvenbühl, 8km and most of it at over 11% making it highly selective
- Stage 7 is the big test, a return visit to Sölden in Austria and the mighty Rettenbach glacier, 12km long and most of it at 10-12% with the road easing to “just” 8% near the top. It’s literally the high point of the season with a stage finish at almost 2,700m. You might remember Thibaut Pinot winning here last year
- Stage 8 is a time trial in and around Davos, famous for it’s economic forum but more importantly a ski resort in the mountains for this race, a 16.8km test with 260m of vertical gain, one for the time trial experts to pull back time on the climbers
- No procession for the final day as Stage 9 features the Albulapass and Flüelapass, 2600m of vertical gain in just 117km before a flat finish in Davos.
Time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds go to the first three on all of the road stages.
Prototype rider: there are two time trials but the combined length of 23.2km is not much, the winner will have to be able to be among the very best on the mountain stages day after day, surrender 30 seconds on a mountain pass or two and there’s not enough time to take it back.
Tejay van Garderen is a star rider in need of a win. It’s all about the Tour de France for him but July would be a lot easier with a win under his belt, proof he can deliver big as opposed to hope or expectation. Richie Porte has been brought into BMC Racing and instead of the two taking different objectives, eg one of them goes for the Giro and the other for the Tour – they’re both doing the Tour. The plan was to have Porte as competition to keep van Garderen on his toes. We’ll see if it works, he’s been a pro for seven years and a big talent but he’s only had three wins outside of the US and is yet to win a stage race overall.
Now onto three riders with a firmer record of stage race success. Little is known about Simon Špilak‘s form, in fact little is known about Simon Špilak at all. He’s got a media profile so low he seems to fly below the radar, at least in the English, Italian and French media. But he’s the defending champion, a specialist in one week races. It’s said he’s good in cold weather too – although he’s won in roasting heat too – and the forecast all week looks grim. Katusha send a decent team in support. Look out for Matvey Mamykin, an excellent U23 climber last year so see if he can show as well in the pro ranks, many Russians struggle.
Rui Costa has stormed this race before winning it three years on the trot from 2012 to 2014. His contract’s up and a top performance would suit the Portuguese champion well again here. He’s a curious rider, so strong in this race – roared on by the sizeable Portuguese community along the route – and often forceful in others but a very infrequent winner; an actor in races rather than a winner. But perhaps it’s this nice that helps him win here, he has the legs to win and the desire too while some of his rivals are dreaming about the Tour de France instead. This year’s very mountainous and high altitude route could be too much for him.
Ion Izagirre is proving to be another one week specialist. Third overall in Romandie he won the prologue there and took the Tour of Poland last year. He’s likely to feature but the high mountains are a test, especially the steepest parts. Movistar bring a strong squad with Winner Anacona and Gorka Izagirre for the mountains and Alex Dowsett hunting for TT stage wins.
Geraint Thomas won Paris-Nice this year, all part of the story of his switch to stage racing for 2016. Only in 2015 he was climbing with the best in the Tour de Suisse and finished second overall; if anything he was finishing higher in the mountains than he was in the time trial stages. Now he’s back for more and should be a contender before assuming team duties in July. Leopold König back too and in need of a result and one of Team Sky’s rich Plan B options.
Robert Gesink leads Lotto-Jumbo. He climbs well and is better in the time trials than you might think if you glanced at his heron-like legs. Wilco Kelderman is still a big hope of Dutch stage racing but still hunting for that big result to confirm his impressive neo-pro ride in the 2012 Dauphiné.
Warren Barguil is still just 24 but has Vuelta stage wins and more to his name. He leads Giant-Alpecin in this race. Some good performances in the mountains and maybe a stage win seem within reach for the aggressive racer but the time trials are a concern.
What about Andrew Talansky? The 2014 Dauphiné winner almost sunk without trace since that big win but is coming back to form with some steady riding at the Tour of California. He’ll need to be on a higher level again to feature here but climbs and TTs well.
IAM Cycling’s Mathias Fränk will like the climbing here but the overall win seems a big ask. He seems to be a rider who needs a lot of stars to align for him to crack the top-5 in a race rather than someone who can make a mistake or two and still place high.
One rider to watch is Pierre Latour of Ag2r La Mondiale, a promising rider. Will he win? No, of course not but Ag2r have renewed his contract on a long term deal and he’s cited as the next big thing in French cycling after Alaphilippe. This is a big test for him before he takes a break and prepares for the Vuelta, his first grand tour.
Finally Astana are led by Miguel “Superman” Lopez who is a good prospect for the mountains but less reassuring for the time trials. He seemed an odd hire for the team, they were keen to pay top dollar for talent but the team wasn’t a natural place for a Spanish speaking 20 year old. He seems to have found his spot and was seventh overall last year and could do better.
|Geraint Thomas, Ion Izagirre, Rui Costa
|Tejay van Garderen
|König, Barguil, Lopez, Fränk, Talansky
Where are the Velon Stars?
Earlier this year a press release from Velon touted the 10 year deal with Tour de Suisse organiser Infront saying the member teams would all send their best riders. Only many of them are racing the Critérium du Dauphiné instead and the split of riders between each event seems much like it’s always been. Business, politics and PR count but sporting ambition still counts for plenty and the Dauphiné’s early slot seems to suit those with Olympic ambitions this year, they can race in France then rest ahead for the Tour de France while Switzerland’s later slot on the calendar, and the extra day means, less downtime.
Instead the novelty this year is the telemetry of live data from the race with several riders having units fitted to their bikes and you will be able to see on screen, TV or via Velon’s IOS app, available from iTunes.