Does the Tour de Suisse Still Matter? Just Maybe..

Fotoreporter Sirotti

With the biggest Tour de France favorites strutting their stuff around France in the Critérium Dauphiné this week, you may writing off the Tour de Suisse this year. That would be a mistake.

All the cool kids go to the Dauphiné, or that's what I hear on the street. It has more interesting stages, more time to recover before the Grand Boucle in July, and even previews some of the attractions we will see in the Tour de France like the l'Alpe d'Huez - Col de Sarenne double that will feature on the stage of le Tour that will go up l'Alpe a stunning two (!) times. So, yeah, all the cool kids go to the Dauphiné and the guys who don't want the attention or the juniors go to Switzerland to go ride around fields with lots of cows and idyllic mountains and, probably, not partake in the excellent cheese.

Or, that's the storyline you've probably heard. And yes, part of it is true - the big stars aren't lining up for the prologue in Ambrì tomorrow and the route is a little less exciting. There is no first stage that finishes on a climb, there are more time trial stages, one of which is mostly a procession to anoint Fabian Cancellara in the race's first yellow jersey, and the first mountaintop finish atop Crans Montana is pretty but also pretty old hat at this point. Would it be so hard for them to use the cobbled (if you can call them cobbles) Gotthardpass this year? But, despite the deck stacked against it, this year's Tour de Suisse still offers a few compelling reasons to watch the race that might actually pull me out of bed at 8am to watch a few stages.

Suisse is often a race where the untested GC talent and the second tier stage racers come out to play while the bigs are parading around France. With more unknowns and with younger riders with more to gain from a high-profile win or podium placing, the racing can be pretty exciting to watch. Suisse is where Rui Costa came out as a major stage race threat last year and this year the roster is full of young talent waiting to prove itself. While much of the Sky juggernaut is in France, first year pro and former baby Giro winner Joe Dombroski is starting Suisse with, for the first time this year, some freedom to see where his long, skinny legs will take him. Thibault Pinot, one of the biggest revelations of last year's Tour de France, is doing his final prep for a run at another top-ten GC placing in July in Switzerland. And Blanco is sending Steven Kruijswick and Wilco Kelderman, who are just waiting to show that they, not Robert Gesink, are the future of Dutch stage racing.

Really, with such a gaggle of young talent, it's amazing more attention isn't being directed towards Switzerland, especially since I haven't even started talking about Tejay van Garderen. The BMC rider who finished fifth overall in the Tour de France last year is hot off winning the Tour of California - his first major stage race victory as a professional - and is keen to assert his role as a dual leader for the Tour de France, despite whatever he may say about deferring to Cadel Evans come July in the press. Suisse offers van Garderen a chance to notch up another stage race victory, especially since he is the heaviest favorite to take the overall win with two time trials where he can distance the more climby types. Of course, he has to out-pace Roman Kreuziger, which is no mean feat, but that just shows how deeply this GC field is stacked with relatively equal talent, if not big hitters.

There are a few interesting stages to watch for as well. All the GC action will happen on Stage 2's summit finish at Crans Montana, Stage 7's climb over the HC Albulapass mere kilometers from the stage finish, and the final stage time trial and the nasty little climb it contains. And yes, for the reasons I just iterated, those will be interesting stages to watch. But the rest of the route, it is none to kind to the sprinters. Most of the flat stages - Stages 6 and 8 specifically - have category three climbs inside the last 20 kilometers that are sure to prompt attacks. Personally, I'm hoping they will be enough to distance Peter Sagan, because if he gets near the finish line those stages are his to lose. The odds of Sagan getting left behind are slim, but watching people try will be fun. If I were a betting man, I'd put good money on seeing world champion Philippe Gilbert trying to start some ruckus. The other intriguing stage is Stage 3, which is relatively flat to rolling all day before summiting a category 1 climb with a mere 20 kilometers to race, half of which is downhill. Can you spell attacking? Because that's what you'll see plenty of.

So, are you sure you want to write off Suisse just yet? Between a few stages whose profiles look like they were pulled straight from the Giro d'Italia and the wide-open GC battle of young kids, I'm not.

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