As the Dauphiné nears its conclusion, a sizeable contingent of cycling’s top stars who aren’t racing in France have made a trip to Switzerland. Nine days in total with flats, hills, mountains, a short ITT, and a long one, the 2015 edition of the Tour de Suisse has something for everyone.
The race opens with a 5.1km ITT that will serve to put a rider into an early leader’s jersey, but will likely not have that much of an effect on the General Classification as it is so short (and flat). The day that follows is more challenging than you might expect for such an early stage in a nine-day race: Stage 2 closes out with plenty of up and down. The riders will take on the Cat. 1 Michaelskreuz climb, zoom back down the other side, circle back to the foot of the climb to do it one more time, and then zoom down to the finish line.
Stages 3 and 4 have a few bumps (including the extremely challenging Gotthardpass at the beginning of Stage 3) but less challenging finishes will likely make these days more for the stagehunters than the GC favorites.
Stage 5 will be the most difficult mountain test for the overall contenders. It’s a long day of racing, 237.3 kilometers, punctuated by two HC-rated climbs, one near the midpoint of the stage, the other making for the stage finale.
This is not a stage for the faint of heart, and not one likely to be forgiving to anyone at a loss for form.
Hilly but not overly challenging Stages 6 and 7 look like they will favor the sprinters or puncheurs. Stage 8 will put the riders to the test with a very bumpy profile that, despite a lack of any truly vicious climbs, should offer opportunities for aggressors to try to stir up the pot.
The Tour de Suisse finishes with a 38.4km time trial in Bern. The profile of Stage 9’s ITT features an irregular climb and similarly uneven descent right in the middle of the route, but it’s not a hill climb time trial by any means, and should favor the big engines in the peloton.
The General Classification Contenders
Rui Costa has won this race three years running, but he won’t be taking the victory this year, having eschewed the Swiss race for the Dauphiné. In his absence, this is a wide open race, one of the most open stage races of the year. There are plenty of big talents on the startlist but none stand out as five-star favorites.
Sky will bring a strong contingent of starters to Switzerland, among them, Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao. Thomas has had a great year so far and the time trial-heavy route suits him well, though the very steep climb that closes out Stage 5 will challenge him. Henao is a balanced stage racer who can climb at a very high level and time trial surprisingly well too. Personally I see Henao as better suited to this race but recent talk about the Sky plan for this race would suggest that they aren’t coming to the Suisse with Henao as their sole leader, and that does raise a few questions about his chances. Whoever leads Sky will want every ounce of support possible in what is likely to be a close race.
FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot is probably the best climber on the startlist, and he’s had a strong year so far. He’s already won a tough mountain stage in Switzerland this year, taking the fifth stage of the Tour de Romandie, and he’ll be among the top favorites to win Stage 5 of this race—the long time trial is the question for Pinot. He showed flashes of improved TT ability last year though, and if he can replicate that here, in advance of his season’s main goal, the Tour de France, he’ll be hard to beat.
Jakob Fuglsang is consistently among the best riders in the one-week stage races he takes on, but usually he has to ride in support of Vincenzo Nibali. Without Nibali here, Fuglsang should be up there fighting for the win himself. This balanced race will require the sort of Grand Tour versatility that Fuglsang has in spades, and he has the always powerful Astana team to back him up too.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s Rafal Majka is in a very similar situation. He’ll be at the Tour as a lieutenant for Alberto Contador, but in the Tour de Suisse he has an opportunity to race all for himself. His elite climbing skills will come in handy on Stage 5, though he’d probably prefer more real mountain stages in this race; still he’s a good time trialist with a chance at the overall victory if he can ride well against the clock.
Michal Kwiatkowski will love the first and last stage of this race, where he’ll be among the favorites for TT victories. For him, the big challenge of pulling of a Tour de Suisse GC result will be the very steep finishing climb of Stage 5. The sort of ascent doesn’t suit him particularly well. He’ll need all the help he can get from his team, and he’ll need to put in top-notch TT performances to have a shot at the overall in this race.
Simon Spilak has done very well in Switzerland in the past, with a Top 10 here and a GC win (and three stage wins) in Romandie. He’s an elite one-week racer who can climb and TT with the best. He tends to falter in the Grand Tours, however, and he’ll need to come prepared to race for the full nine days if he wants a shot at victory. If he can put it all together, and I think he will, he should be in the mix. Katusha has Daniel Moreno as a strong alternative.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck should still have some form in the tank after the Giro d’Italia, and he looked great in Romandie earlier this season. The very long nature of the race should suit the Grand Tour veteran. Tom Dumoulin put in a good ride last year, and he is always improving as a climber—if he can limit his losses on Stage 5 he’ll have a shot at the GC title. His Giant-Alpecin teammate Warren Barguil will look to do the opposite: shine in the mountains and limit his losses against the clock. Robert Gesink should be in the mix after a decent ride to California. He looks to be working his way back into good form. Domenico Pozzovivo, Ion Izagirre, Bob Jungels, Julian Arredondo, Esteban Chaves, and the Cannondale-Garmin duo of Joe Dombrowski and Tom Danielson are others with a chance in the General Classification at the Tour de Suisse.
The caliber of quick men making the trip to Switzerland is impressive. Mark Cavendish is the class of the pure sprinters in attendance, and should be tops in terms of pure speed on the startlist. There are several bumpier days that could see the more versatile types in control, however, and that’s where four-time Tour de Suisse Points Classification winner Peter Sagan will come in. He’s a machine in this race, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to add to his impressive career win total here (he has nine victories so far in the TdS). In fact, watch out for him from the very start of the race—the short ITT opener is a perfect opportunity for him.
Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, Arnaud Demaré, Michael Matthews, and JJ Rojas are just a few of the other top-notch quick men with a bit of versatility in attendance. This race, which has no shortage of stagehunter-friendly intermediate days, should have no shortage of elite contenders for victories on those stages.
Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Michael Albasini, Jan Bakelants, and Zdenek Stybar are among the many aggressive types who could thrive on the hillier stages.
The double helping of ITTs has drawn plenty of chrono talents as well: Adriano Malori and Fabian Cancellara should enjoy opportunities to face off against some of the aforementioned potential GC riders (Kwiatkowski and Dumoulin in particular) for time trial wins.
VeloHuman Top 10 Overall Favorites
GC Winner: Sergio Henao
Podium: Thibaut Pinot, Jakob Fuglsang
Other Top Contenders: Rafal Majka, Michal Kwiatkowski, Simon Spilak, Geraint Thomas, Ion Izagirre, Domenico Pozzovivo, Jurgen Van Den Broeck