By David Hunter
The racing returns to Switzerland, for the last “big” race, before the TDF. We have the usual mix of demanding sprint stages, high mountains and TTs. The race is dominated by a monster mountaintop finish and a 38.4km ITT. You must be a good TT rider to win this race.
The opening stage is a 5.1km prologue. It’s relatively flat and features a long straight. This is one for the power riders.
Stage 1 and it immediately gets difficult. We have a lap circuit around Lake Aegeri. There are two different laps, that are both completed twice. The closing lap contains a cat 1 climb, 4km at 8.8%, and crests with just 12.7km remaining. This is perfect for a late attack or a small sprint. GC riders need to be vigilant, as you could lose important seconds.
Stage 2 starts with a bang, the HC climb of Gotthardpass, 18.8km at 5.8%. The stage might only be 117.3km but this is a horrible start. Expect a selection to be made and a reduced peloton, rolling towards home. The stage finishes with two climbs: cat 2, 5km at 7%, and cat 3, 3.2km at 6.9%. The riders then have to tackle the finish, at 3%. This stage has a horrible start and an equally horrible finish. It will make for exciting viewing!
Stage 3 is an interesting stage, finishing with 3 laps of a circuit. The circuit contains a cat 3 climb, 1km at 7%. This should spice things up, but looks like a day for the sprinters.
Stage 4 is the Queen stage, with 2 HC climbs. The first one is 13km at 7% and we finish with 10km at 10%. This is a brutal stage and the final climb is very, very difficult. Expect to see huge time gaps. However, the GC will not be over, as we still have a long ITT to deal with.
After some very challenging mountains, stage 5, should be another day for the sprinters. There are a few “lumps” along the way, but this is as flat as they’re going to get.
Stage 6 ends with another lap circuit, this time with a pair of cat 3 climbs. The stage also has an uphill finish. The climbs aren’t that difficult and this is another chance for the sprinters, or breakaway riders.
The final road stage and another lap circuit, with plenty of climbs. The end of the stage is great, with 500m at 8%, just 2.5km from the finish. This will give encourage a huge number of riders, and should lead to a great stage, with plenty of attacking.
The final stage is a long and demanding ITT. It’s 38.4km and features 4 short climbs. They are 800m at 10%, 1.3km at 4.5%, 1.1km at 5.5% and 1km at 6%. After such a hard race, this stage requires a very strong rider. The length and climbs could spell disaster for a few.
Despite the parcours, there are more top sprinters than top GC riders. The race finishes with just 2 weeks to go until the TDF, that’s too close for the big riders. It’s impossible to maintain a physical peak, for that length of time. We have some riders who come here, post-Giro. They’ll have no idea, how their bodies will react to the rest and then, the intense racing. The big riders are Niemiec, Arredondo, Reichenbach, Atapuma, Majka, Henao, Thomas, Gesink, Moreno, Spilak, Dumoulin, Danielson, Chaves, I Izagirre, Van Den Broeck, Monfort, Pinot, Kwiatkowski, Fuglsang, Pozzovivo, Rebellin and Szmyd.
Narrowing it down a bit, we have Majka, Henao, Spilak, Pinot, Kwiatkowski and Fuglsang. Interestingly, only Kwiatkowski and Pinot, will ride the TDF as team leader. The others can afford to go into the red, as this race is their big target. They arrive with mixed form.
Rafal Majka has not enjoyed 2015. He started well, in Oman, but had a nightmare in Paris-Nice. His 7th place in Romandie was a good sign and he should be ready for a big race. Considering his incredible 2014, this season has been a huge disappointment. I wonder if Oleg is going to apply some pressure?
Thibaut Pinot was 4th in Tirreno and Romandie. This has been a fair return, especially as it’s all about the TDF. He will be wary of peaking too soon, so I’m unsure how much he’ll give here. He’ll certainly hope for a big TT, but I don’t think he’ll be too attacking.
Sergio Henao was going brilliantly, but losing California to Sagan and Alaphilippe, must have hurt. His 2015 has been good and he’ll be looking to get back into shape, before going to the TDF, to help Froome. The TT looks a little long for him and this could cost him.
The TT is perfect for Kwiatkowski, but are the mountains too challenging? If he’s serious about challenging in GTs, then he should be doing well, in this race. I think he’s looking for a big, first week in the TDF. That means, he should be ready to hit form here. Some think he can’t climb, but he can, especially in one week races. He’ll take big time in the TT, so must be a contender.
Simon Spilak looks ideal for this race. Great in the mountains and a very strong TT rider. If we get some rain and it’s not too hot, Spilak, will start as favourite. He’s lacking a big win, in 2015, but was 3rd in PN and 2nd in Romandie. Such a consistent rider, he was working very hard in the Tour des Fjords, for Kristoff. He’s on form and my favourite for the race.
Jacob Fuglsang has just lost a good bit of weight. This means his power to weight ratio should be starting to resemble a GT winner. Don’t underestimate the importance of this ratio, all teams and riders know what it must be, to challenge for big titles. His current form is unknown and he hasn’t raced an awful lot in 2015. He should be using this race as preparation for the TDF, where Vincenzo Nibali, will be relying upon him.
The weather forecast says we should get some rain and the temperatures won’t get too high, that means we should see, Simon Spilak, taking his first win of 2015.
Risch Rotkruez – Risch Rotkruez 5.1km
The Tour de Suisse love a prologue, although it’s been sadly missed in 2013 and 2014. This year, it’s back. There are only four points, where the riders will have to brake, so this is one for the fast men. Wind has played a part, in deciding previous prologues, hopefully all the riders have the same conditions.
The stage is short enough to interest sprinters and track pursuit riders, as well as prologue specialists. We have a few contenders for the podium:-
Cancellara, Devolder, Jungels, Malori, Elmiger, Coppel, Brandle, Gilbert, Sagan, Bennati, Thomas, Kristoff, Spilak, Degenkolb, Dumoulin, Van Avermaet, Matthews, Meyer, Demare, Kwiatkowski and Cavendish.
Cancellara hasn’t been feeling well and is a doubt for the race. Even if fit, it’s going to be a big ask to win the stage. For me, there are 3 stand out riders for the stage.
Mathias Brandle – Fresh from winning the prologue in the Belgium Tour, this is a massive race for IAM. On home territory, they need and want a big performance. He was 5th in the Tirreno prologue and seems to be getting better in this discipline.
Tom Dumoulin – The future star of TT racing. A disappointing 9th in the PN prologue. He has been at altitude for the last while and should be ready to explode. The circuit might be a couple of kilometres too short for him.
Michal Kwaitkowski – Won the PN prologue and excels in this discipline. He won the Romandie prologue in 2014 and I make him the favourite for the stage. He has the power, the acceleration and the bike handling skills required. He rides the best bike and has the best wheels, everything points to the World Champion.
If anyone is going to surprise them, it should be Sagan, Thomas, Kristoff or GVA. Sagan won the ITT in California, but wasn’t up against much competition. His history in this prologue is impressive:- 3rd in 2011 and 1st in 2012. This is a perfect length for him and has a good chance of success.
The length is also perfect for former pursuit star, Geraint Thomas. Not been seen much, since a very demeaning Spring, his shape might not be good enough.
Greg Van Avermaet is very consistent in prologues: 5th in Belgium and 3rd in Tirreno. He’s in great form, winning the Belgium Tour and looking very impressive in doing so. He has a big chance of success.
You might be surprised that I don’t think Malori will win this. Yes, he won the prologue in Tirreno, but he hasn’t raced for a while. I think the other riders will go faster than him.
The class of Kwiatkowski will shine through. The World Champion to win another prologue.
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