By David Hunter
Racing returns to Switzerland for the 70th edition of this demanding race. The organisers have stuck to tradition with an opening prologue, a tough ITT and some days in the mountains. Add in the usual rainy conditions and it promises to be another good week of racing.
The race begins with a 3.95km prologue, which does feature a climb.
The cat 3 climb is 960m at 6.5%. The descent to the finish features a few corners, hopefully it stays dry. We have plenty of TT talent here, so gaps will be very small.
The first proper stage is typical Romandie. The peloton are up and down all day long, with four categorised climbs. The last climb is 5.3km at 4%, but does have a maximum of 16%. We should get a sprint finish, in Romandie the bunch is never usually more than around 60 riders.
Only the third day of the race, but it’s time for a mountaintop finish. Both climbs at the end of the stage are very demanding, 7.1km at 7% and 7.3km at 7.1%. This will certainly show who will not be in contention for the overall win.
The TT is 15.1km long and features a hill, just like usual! The whole climb is 4.4km at 5%, but it does feature a 7.5% ramp for over half a kilometre. This is not as demanding a climb as we previously seen in previous TTs, so it certainly favours the pure TT riders.
The TT might be a little easy, but the Queen stage certainly isn’t. We have three cat one climbs:-
10.4km at 8.9%.
8.9km at 7.8%.
8.9km at 7.8%.
The climb to Villars is tackled twice, in quick succession. This is a stage with lots of climbing. Stage 2 was quite difficult, but a lot of riders should still be in contention going into this day. Pinot took the big stage in 2015, he will back himself to do it again.
The final stage looks like another sprint, we might even get a large peloton. After such a tough race, the breakaway also has a good chance.
Romain Bardet – having a very strong season. 20km of TT is not great for him and will stop him from making the podium.
Miguel Angel Lopez – could be the surprise of the race. He won in San Luis but has been a little disappointing since. I’m still waiting for him to take his first WT stage win, I think it might just be here.
Richie Porte – he and Tejay continue to try and work out how to ride together. He was 4th in Catalunya, with the American in 5th. The TTs are good news for Porte as he tries to assure his bosses that he will be a major contender in the TDF.
Tejay Van Garderen – will certainly have his eyes on the overall title. This is exactly the type of race he should be winning, I wonder if he can.
Thibaut Pinot – wonderful season, probably his last with FDJ. His TT performances have been impressive and he has rediscovered his descending skills. He likes this race and doesn’t mind a bit of bad weather. If he doesn’t make the podium, I will be surprised.
Nairo Quintana – was very close to a big surprise in Pais Vasco, a silly bike change certainly cost him the TT and overall title. These climbs are much more his style, long and steep. The Colombian is another who doesn’t mind a spot of rain. He will be looking forward to competing against Froome, their last battle before the Tour.
Simon Spilak – 2015 has been a little disappointing for him, but we should see an improvement here. The climbs, the TTs and the weather is great for him. He has a good record in Switzerland, winner of this race in 2010 and he also clinched the Tour of Switzerland in 2015.
Ilnur Zakarin – the defending champion is back and it’s clear from LBL that he is in good form. Not afraid of bad weather and also good on a TT bike, he and Spilak will form a great partnership.
Chris Froome – certainly wasn’t at his best in Catalunya. Is he on the decline, or was that just a poor race? I suppose that’s the big question and we’ll get our answer in this race. I would imagine that it was a poor race and he’ll be back to form here. He will be supported by the strongest team.
Geraint Thomas – not a bad man to have as your number 2. The winner of Paris-Nice, this race will be next on his wish list. He will start as domestique for Froome, but one that could just finish on the podium. If Froome is not at his best, the Welshman will take over the GC battle.
Rafal Majka – still waiting for him to really start the season. It’s incredibly difficult to predict when he’ll be in form, but with the Giro just weeks away, he surely will be good here.
Bauke Mollema – another rider who will be disappointed with his season. Yes, he was 3rd in Andalucia, but that really is just a preparation race. The Dutch rider could really do with a big result.
Also looking for a big result will be Tom Dumoulin, Rigoberto Uran, Rui Costa and Wilco Kelderman.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the TT and the mountain stages will be crucial. Froome and Quintana are the best GC riders here and they should battle it out for the win. Riders like Pinot, Spilak, Zakarin, Van Garderen and Porte will be looking to finish 3rd. If they are going really well, it is possible to surprise Froome and Quintana.
Both Sky and Movistar are looking exceptionally strong and will dictate most stages. Once we get near the end of the mountain stages, they will have 3 riders left each. Compare that to just one from the other teams and you see how hard it will be for the others to win. Katusha are the team that could upset things, as they should have Spilak and Zakarin left at the end of the big stages.
Quintana didn’t have a good day in Eibar, which was surprising. Froome didn’t have a good race in Catalunya. Both riders really will be looking to hit top form and strike a blow before heading off to prepare for the Tour.
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