Tour de Romandie Shorts

Embed from Getty Images

Last week’s stage race may not have wowed television viewers but it was rich in information and ideas. A round-up…

Two time trials meant the race had more solo kilometres against the clock than the Tour de France or Vuelta, and of course in less than a week. Christian Prudhomme turned up the start – always interesting as he’s unlikely to be on holiday – and said time trials can “fossilise” (my translation) the GC of a stage race with some riders able to pull out big gaps (more on this thinking here). Yet the race was decided on the single summit finish when Adam Yates got 21 seconds on Matteo Jorgenson, plus the ten second time bonus, and took the overall lead.

In between the spring classics and a week out from the Giro, the race’s slot on the calendar is bit late for the GC riders who’ve had a busy spring and done the Ardennes; and too late pre-Giro for many of the GC contenders, especially as the weather is often wintry. This explains why there are few star names at the start and why the wow factor is missing.

Embed from Getty Images

The subtlety here is the young jersey competition. As said here before, if you put yourself in the shoes of a team manager and imagine you have an ambitious, talented young rider on your books. They want leadership or protected status in a World Tour race, where do you send them first? You’ll use the Critérium du Dauphiné as a dress rehearsal for your Tour de France squad; ditto the Tour de Suisse. Other races don’t suit, Paris-Nice can be all about the crosswinds, Basque Country is Boss Level racing, the end of season race in China’s not much to offer and the BinckBank Tour or UAE Tour don’t really supply the obvious opportunities. The Tour of California used to work for younger riders. Romandie delivers here, it’s what’s called a course limpide in French, a term that doesn’t have an equivalent in English but think “clear, clean” as in a race with few traps, riders are able to make set piece efforts without being undone by crosswinds or narrow farm tracks. Think of a computer game boss level but with the difficulty set to medium than expert. Many big names have won the race, often before they were big.

Here’s the top-11 above, 11 so we can crowbar 18 year old Jan Christen there, the rider has signed a deal with UAE until 2027. It feels like there are young stars than the Carina Nebula. Matteo Jorgenson is reportedly going to Jumbo-Visma, local newspaper HLN in typical style reported this as a reinforcement for Wout van Aert’s classics ambitions with the rider fourth in the E3 Harelbeke joining. Of course he’s a bit more versatile and that’s what should make him an invaluable signing, with time people will be able to pronounce his name: he’s American not Danish or Austrian, and the “Jor” in Jorgenson is like the “Jor” in Jordan. Hopefully cycling editors are pronouncing Max Poole as they order staff to land an interview with a revelation of the spring. Cian Uijtdebroeks is quietly on the way up. Thomas Gloag already won the best young rider competition in Valenciana in February, now he’s among the World Tour and looks like a complete rider although descending trajectories could be improved. Juan Ayuso won the time trial, no bluffing or tactics there. Jayco-Al Ula have been discreet this year but Filippo Zana looks stronger ahead of the Giro. Oscar Onley delivered as well, his work shredded what was left on the front group high on the road to Thyon 2000. Lenny Martinez was 16th in the time trial stage, a very good result for a first year pro who’d be flyweight if he was a boxer and he was helping Pinot on the Thyon 2000 summit finish. Finn Fisher-Black is back after big crash injuries and 9th after team work for Yates. Asbjørn Hellemose gives Trek-Segafredo some cheer in the week they’ve shredded Tiberi’s contracy and seen Giulio Ciccone forced to sit out the Giro.

If the race gives us a glimpse of the future, does the race have a future? At times the local coverage was like a business report, honey to this blog as much as the scenery and sport or at least a substitute on a cloudy day towards a sprint finish. Speaking to Swiss TV, race organiser Richard Chassot said his annual budget is around 4.2 million Swiss Francs (about the same in Euros/Dollars) for the men’s and women’s races. Only he’s operating at a shortfall of about 200-300k Francs and only has reserves for another years or so. So the race is alright for 2024 but needs more funding if it is to survive. It this the sound of an alarm bell? Yes, it was notable this was an open topic of discussion in the race. But it’s also a call to local politicians to back the race which shows of Switzerland’s French speaking half, some relatively small subsidies from the cantonal, ie regional, government and things should be fine.

Embed from Getty Images

Egan Bernal continues his comeback, he was spotted being dropped on the climb to Thyon then rode back to eighth place, a steady ride but at a high level. It’s hard to extrapolate too far but the signs seem gradually more encouraging and his pull on the final climb on Sunday helped eject many sprinters. He says he’s down to do the tours of Hungary and Norway, and if they go well, then probably the Tour de Suisse. Can we extrapolate if that goes well then he’s touring France next?

Embed from Getty Images

Thibaut Pinot got one of those Pinot results, tantalisingly close but not there. Supporters should note it was an ideal day for him with cold weather and a long final summit finish, his speciality is starting slow on a long climb before getting more aggressive and fast for the final. He’s ready for the Giro.

Among other older riders Damiano Caruso seemed like a flower that bloomed during the race. Ready for the Giro too? Yes, although presumably for his diesel-style racing as he grinds his way to, say, fifth in the third week. Also have to mention Chris Froome who was being dropped before the sprinters on some climbs, perhaps he’s aiming for the Tour de France and able to pass on advice to younger riders last week but absent any communication to this effect it’s a bit like watching an old lion pad around a enclosure in the zoo rather than rule the savannah.

Embed from Getty Images

The sprints suited riders called Ethan, with Vernon and then Hayter taking wins. Vernon impressed on Stage 1 when he got over some big climbs that ejected other riders, despite being a big rider although he’s what they call longiligne in French. It wasn’t a dense field so Romain Bardet was hustling for time bonuses at times before Fernando Gaviria won the final stage by launching audaciously early.

All roads lead to Rome, or at least the Abruzzo region and the Giro’s grande partenza. Hopefully nobody else is ambushed by Covid is doing the rounds. Several riders are testing positive ahead of the Giro both in Romandie and elsewhere. Case numbers in Europe are harder to come by but there doesn’t seem to be a wave, it’s just bubbling away, a persistent risk for the peloton. If you were in charge of Quickstep or Jumbo you’d invest in a private jet to get your riders to the start and take every measure to avoid infection.

55 thoughts on “Tour de Romandie Shorts”

  1. I was frustrated at being unable to watch the Tour de Romandie as I usually do so via GCN’s highlights packages but lo and behold none materialised for this race. I wonder if that’s linked to, as you say, the declining interest and whether the race has a future? Perhaps GCN decided it was not worth paying someone to clip together the various parts each evening.

    Luckily Eurosport on their website had 2-3 mins of highlights per stage, so I caught up as much as possible and watched the final stage yesterday. As a Brit who is relatively new to watching bike racing it’s really encouraging to see so many promising young riders coming through – and all genuinely so young as well. We can only guess what their future holds.

  2. Egan Bernal. Yes, it was really encouraging to see Bernal showing some impressive improvement in form. I suspect that many of us thought there was a chance he would follow Froome in never really getting anywhere near his previous best. Early days I know, but seeing him dragging the bunch along in the flat closing kilometers of a couple of sprint stages and climbing with some of the best must surely give him and those around him extra motivation.

    • Agreed – it was great to see. Theoretically, Bernal’s youth compared to Froome always gave him a much greater likelihood of a substantial recovery, but even then his injuries were staggering. Hats off for him making it this far, and here’s hoping he continues that journey.

  3. It’s a shame Christian Prudhomme is of the generation of Frenchman still carrying psychological scars from Richard Virenque routinely losing 2-3 minutes per time trial to Miguel Indurain and Jan Ullrich. Otherwise a route containing a decent amount of time trialling, and a startlist containing Evenepoel, Pogacar and Vingygo, might produce some classic battles.

    • They’d just pull ahead of the rest though, the winning margins would be even bigger, no? Looking at the Vuelta last year, Evenepoel managed to put 1m40s-2mins into the likes of Simon Yates, Geoghegan Hart, Mas and they all did well, in the top-10.

      We’ll see for the Giro, just as Romandie disproved the theory, can the same happen this month? A lot of riders who lose time on Saturday and might wait and sight tight until the third week, well into the third week.

      • Yes they would pull away even more from the others but they are miles better than them so thats fine in my eyes. But the battle between the 3 of them would be the potential classic. Vingegaard would have to attack Pogacar who himself would have to attack Evenepoel. Who cares how far behind 4th is? Who was 3rd in 1989 and how far behind were they? Nobody knows or cares..!

        • “Who was 3rd in 1989 and how far behind were they? Nobody knows or cares..!”

          It was defending champ Pedro Delgado. The vast majority of his deficit to LeMond / Fignon was because he missed his Prologue start time by almost 3 minutes. Certainly could have been a very different race had he not made such a stupid mistake.

          • I put the .. in fully expecting to be informed of exactly who it was.
            Removing all time trials prevented Froome from putting the Tour to bed before it had reached Prudhomme’s precious micro mountain stages, but its an outdated tactic now.

          • As the Tour next year is rumored to be “Remco friendly” i.e. more TT-ing km’s, then we might well see a different GC battle. As for the Giro this year, it’s still possible that someone might win if Remco & Roglic look at each other like what happened in 2019 when Caraapaz won.

        • I think you might well be right. In all likelihood, the others will be also-rans, as is usually the case outside the top few in grand tours (with many riders more focused on hanging on to their 6th place or whatever rather than making any risky attack), so why not try to separate them a bit more with a decent amount of time-trialling?
          Similarly, put in at least one properly long mountain stage as that kind of stamina should also be tested in grand tours. But that’s even less likely to happen with the current – utterly unfounded – dogma of ‘short stages are more exciting’. Variety is more exciting.

          • But there are always interesting stories and subplots in every race, and that year the third place finisher had a particularly interesting one. How could a defending champion possibly show up 2:40 late for the prologue? He was so demoralized he ruined the Reynolds TTT and came into the mountains at over 5 min to the eventual winner. But finished the race at 3:34.

            Or Vuelta 2020. Got the expected slugfest at the top, but the kid in third looked like he might just have a bright future.

            On another note, I d agree that this thing with short stages has gotten completely out of hand.

  4. I enjoyed the room vacated by the top top riders who didn’t compete in Romandie – it meant we could see some other riders take the spotlight and show their qualities; A.Yates gets a GC win, Gaviria wins a World Tour sprint, Pinot nearly pulls off a mountain top raid. It’s nice to see these riders having the chance to get some success in the absence of the very best competition – and it’s given a chance for younger riders to shine.

    • I agree. It’s nice when you know a second tier race is a second tier race (as this was clearly from the starting line up especially once Geraint was not riding hard) and come to it looking for new talent – actually makes it more enjoyable.

  5. I think Jayco have been more missing in action than discreet. Just have to hope that Jay Vine gives cause for an Australian to smile a little.

  6. Thanks for the round up of the race.
    Ayuso surprised me with his TT-ing, even though he said he was still in pain. DSM with Bardet, Poole & Onley were also a pleasant surprise. Bernal’s form is improving, but to be frank, he’s a long way from his best and as he apparently said he’s not “next levelling up” to the likes of UAE & Jumbo.
    The seasoned pros of Pinot & Caruso performed somewhere at their best, but Jayco must hope their Yates can find his form.
    Overall, a nice change from watching the recent races of red hot favourites winning and hopefully the funding problems can be resolved.

  7. An interesting race with some surprises:
    – DSM seem to have two good young Brits with Poole outscoring team leader Bardet and Onley looking confident – and a little impatient at times
    – the first decent ride of the season for Dunbar
    – a surprisingly good TT for ultra-lightweight Lenny Martinez thould he could not show the same form in the mountains (which should have been his terrain)
    – the TT seemed balanced with a mixture of rouleur, climber and technical roads

    An interessting follow up to IR’s previous post with the final top ten composed of ten over (some well over) thirty, three youngsters and only two (Bernal aand Dunbar) at normal peak years

    • Or for those in AI and machine learning where his name is a technique for handling images. Or just for headline writers/puns, “Max out” for a DNF, “Poole drained by efforts” etc.

  8. Best Romandie in years. Higher mountain, interesting TTs, and better weather than usual in a usually rainy race. Only misses a really long hilly stage (they should try it for the Sunday, from Yverdon to Geneva across the Jura, for example, to see if someone tries pull a Zoetemelk in the cold rain). Big names should consider this classic race a must in their palmarès.

  9. Hope this race survives, maybe Prudhomme was in town to talk about buying the race?

    Would add this was a good result for Pogacar as he’ll have Adam Yates by his shoulder in July.

    • ASO to take over the race? Possibly but the organiser seemed to be appealing to local politicians to chip in some more money rather than waving a white flag or a for sale sign. Plus what’s striking is how local this race is, the organisers draw the route, do the logistics etc but each host town has its own organising committee, it’s quite decentralised compared to ASO’s Parisian central command.

      I might suggest two other things, first Aigle is in Romandie so a visit to the UCI, although it seems President Lappartient has been in Brittany this week. The other is a possible Tour de France stage to Geneva.

  10. Once again, the type of analysis very few cycling journalists get into. I love this blog.

    Very interesting seeing which GC riders come, and which ones stay away. Also very interesting to note Egan Bernal’s ride. He is gradually showing improvements, yet nowhere close to his previous peak form. You hope that for him he can continue to build and either return to the top and challenge Pogacar/Vingegaard, or he can settle in as either a great super domestique or in that second tier of riders. These latter two options can still lead to a great career, and no one would blame him – his crash was catastrophic… Just very happy that he continues to ride and race and work hard at this dream job.

    Everyone, stay safe out there, we all love to ride, but it’s so dangerous. I’m now 19-months from a severe concussion, and I’ve been pretty good for a long time, but there are times when my head still gets fuzzy (lol – usually when my 3 kids are fighting or I’m under pressure at work).

    • I’m desperate for Bernal to recover just because it seems sad if someone with so much promise peaks so young although admittedly peaking with a TDF win isn’t that bad…

      Let’s see… but if I were a gambler the idea of him competing with P/V seems absolutely unthinkable… before the accident he already had weaknesses they don’t have in (off days/TT’s) and even then I’m not convinced he ever climbed in either of their league – throw in the accident and seeming new fragility (having abandoned multiple times this year) it would be a truly great comeback for him to be anything other than a super-domestique (as you say) with the occasional win in future.

      • “…someone with so much promise peaks so young…”
        It’s not like the guy “peaked” then just faded away, lost interest, etc. He almost died in that crash. It’ll be a miracle if he ever gets back to what he was before the crash. Not quite Roger Riviere but it’s a shame nonetheless. I’d love to see him come back but I wouldn’t bet much on it.
        Counting the days until my beloved Corsa Rosa, already have plans-in-place to see stages 6-7 live, in-person! 🙂

        • It gives me hope that he’s at least at the pointy end of the races again, rather than Froomesicle going backwards a la his Saeco days. Froome can’t even ride with the sprinters uphill, this is more than just about his leg issue.

          Enjoy Larry – very jealous! Over across the pond we are gearing up for a huge NHL playoff race!

  11. From a British perspective it was really interesting to see Ethan Vernon perform so well. He’s obviously very fast in a sprint, a big lad, but seems to have a big engine to match as he’s getting over climbs that shell other sprinters. As a QS rider he’s going to be a threat in the 2024 cobbles classics, you’d imagine.

  12. Eddie Dunbar is flying under the radar for everyone. Hand injury first day of racing & complicated recovery so this was the first race back where he looked to be hitting form. Has something to prove after some frustrating years at Ineos & untimely crashes etc. Attacked well on high slopes on Saturday and had good Jayco team support. Did pretty good at the TTs, not his strength, same time as Bernal & Bardet. Put down a marker for Giro, finishing well ahead of Zana. 9th overall. 26 now but only 1 Grand tour so far. Be interesting to see how he gets on in Italy. Big test for future career.

    • Noticed that as well, he won’t win the Giro but if he can shed some time then stage wins open up. However, and it’s something to address in the upcoming Giro preview, he and others hoping for stage wins risk finding Jumbo-Visma, and possibly Quickstep and Ineos too, mowing down the breakaways so their leaders can sprint for time bonuses.

      • One of a few reasons to get rid of time bonuses (in recent TdFs, J-V have been considerably worse for needlessly chasing down breaks than even Sky were in their peak years). Having bonus seconds also discourages long-range attacks as riders can simply sprint at the end to pick up time. (Personally, I also think that the winner of a grand tour should be the rider who completes it in the shortest time – time bonuses can mean that doesn’t happen.)
        However, in the Giro, Evenepoel’s lack of a sprint should hopefully mean that he has to attack Roglic (the prime example of a rider who waits and wins uphill sprints) from further out.

        • Roglic packs a fast uphill sprint and is hard enough to hold wheels of riders who’re stronger at climbing in that moment, which often ends in the well-known script we’ve seen again at Tirreno and Catalunya. Yet, I wouldn’t say he’s a “prime example” of the above because he’s been attacking from far out on several occasions, alone or with selected company, at the TDF, Vuelta and in some of the week-long stage races. Of course, we’ve all “suffered” watching the terrible Jumbo train at the 2020 TDF or the waiting games which handed the 2019 Giro to Carapaz, yet all in all I feel that it’s sort of a commonplace portrait of the rider which doesn’t mirror as much actual racing by Roglic, at least not at the point of being a “prime example”. Dumoulin or Froome were even less used to attack before the very last climb, and more often than not on the very last kms of the very last climb. If they attacked at all. Which is more shocking than in Roglic’s case because, unlike him, they weren’t necessarily holding a defensive position fron an athletic POV. Even worse for, say, Hindley or Mas. Or, some years back, Purito and ça va sans dire El Bala. Of course, in the age of Pogacar, Carapaz, Evenepoel, van der Poel, McNulty even (since we recently named him, not ’cause he’s on par with rhe rest!)… Roglic looks worse. And luckily so. But if you think it well, it’s not like Vingegaard or even Van Aert have put on more personal fireworks from far out than Roglic himself. A couple of examples, maybe three – plus the famous one where the three were involved. I tend to think it’s partly due to team style, which, albeit not being outright “catenaccio” as Sky’s, is still very focussed on trying to be, how to call it?, let’s say “extremely effective” (or what they suppose to do so, sometimes proving to be right, sometimes not as much).

          • In modern cycling, most don’t attack before the last climb. Froome and Dumoulin might be the dominant rider of respective races, but without them (or when they are not as dominant, say earlier stages of the 2018 Giro) people are still just going to slug it out on the last climb. As to “last kilometres”, I guess that’s pretty subjective and circumstantial. Is last 2km “last kilometres”? Is last 5 or 8 km?

            Also, in early season/pre Tour races of Froome era, he does attack quite a lot and often slug out with AC long way out from the line when the later is competitive, not to mention his various crazy raids.

            My point is that our impression of how “aggressive” a rider is can often be skewed by our own preconceptions of them, and we often percept defensive riders to be less attracting than they actually are. I guess the problem of Froome and Roglic is that in major races, they tend to do one massive attack and get massive advantage (often then have this reinforced by their ITT) and then just set their team to defend defend defend.

          • @hoh

            “Froome and Dumoulin might be the dominant rider of respective races, but without them (or when they are not as dominant, say earlier stages of the 2018 Giro) people are still just going to slug it out on the last climb”.

            2018 Giro? Bad choice. A certain Simon Yates who’d dul(l)y win a Vuelta later that year had shown aggressive racing with a memorable (though so many forget about it!) raid from far to Sappada before essentially cracking by himself while Froome was on the rise.
            People were slugging it out on the last climb when Froome wasn’t there? Giro 2015 and 2016 anyone? TDF 2019? TDF 2011? I’d rather say that a good deal of riders were keen to race aggresively when the competition wasn’t put to sleep by Team Sky. Vuelta 2015, even?
            Unluckily for us, although it’s a merit to the man, Froome was happy to ride a lot of GTs, but when he was absent spectacle outweighs processions by far.
            Surely I don’t like Team Sky and Froome’s career there is the perfect example of why, from start to finish, but what I just presented above might suggest that perhaps it’s your perspective to be *a little* skewed.

            Plus, I named some attacks by Roglic in major races, not Vuelta a Andalucía. And, even there, wasn’t it for Contador, we’d have had little show.

            By the way, what “various” raids by Froome? I remember essentially one, which I’ve got several doubts about: the one I’d state publicly – and which is of technical nature, not ethical – is that it was a programmed performance rather than the sort of bet against the unknown which the best long raid in cycling identify with.

            Finally, re: “before the very last kms”. Nothing objective, of course, but let’s say some 5 kms out? Four or four-something might be on the line, 3-something or less being surely “very last kms”.
            How many of 5-or-more-kms attacks has Froome got on his list? I suspect he doesn’t get to a handful *in his whole career*, a couple of them being Ventoux where Quintana had moved before and LPSM, where he went when most of the terrain ahead was flattish. I was impressed by Ax-3, little less to remember.

            As a sidenote, let me say, as a sheer curiosity, that to me Froome’s masterpieces were attacking on the descent in that Pau stage, the crosswinds stage with Sagan, and that day when he defended most stage after being isolated the day after Ax-3. Defending can also be good.

  13. Found it one of the most enjoyable races of the year – as others have said, without the big guns it was much more competitive. On my favourite topic: I can understand problems with Jorgenson as, to European ears it doesn’t sound right but can’t the commentators ate least make an effort to pronounce Cian correctly!

  14. Ethan Hayter must be the most frustrating rider for those playing prediction games. Under performed, by his standards, on the Prologue and stage 1 but an easy win of Stage 2. Most interestingly it was the best climbing performance I have seen from him. Is he a potential green jersey combatant?

      • It demonstrably is not over.
        Hence people getting covid.
        I do, however, fail to see why cyclists are still being prevented from doing their jobs with a positive test, while everyone else is told to get back to work.
        Having said that, it’s almost certainly better for the cyclists not to be exerting themselves to that extent while they have a virus that can cause cardiovascular issues.
        Everyone else would be better off not going to work and spreading it to others too, but capitalism means that health is less important than profit.

          • Yeah, then why not stay in the race with a positive test and probably infecting team mates and staff, they won’t get sick either, don’t they?

        • People are indeed still getting covid, and other hCoVs, and influenza. Prior longitudinal evidence is that we get reinfected with hCoVs a median of every 2.5 years (and that was with HIV patients) – and the data coming in suggests covid19 is about the same.

          We don’t need to do PCR tests though. If you’re sick, if you have symptoms, listen to your body, let it recover and get well. But carrying out extremely sensitive tests that can detect specks of a virus in your nose, even when you’re not sick – not useful.

          In this case, seems the rider was sick – I guess the test followed the symptoms in this case. Not really useful.

          Symptomless testing and isolation there-after is just pointless though. I hope that has stopped.

  15. Romandie was a nice race. Ayuso’s interviews were very honest and open, made a fan out of me.

    Time trials in the Giro will be super fascinating to watch. The 3rd time trial especially. I believe one of the last two stages of the TdF 2024 will also be a mountain time trial near Nice, similar in profile if not quite so crazy. I hope I’m not mis-remembering. I think it was talked about during Paris-Nice.

Comments are closed.