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Tour de Suisse Preview

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Tomorrow begins another installment in our series on great races that have been devoured in June by the Tour de France. Yes, it's the Tour de Suisse, arguably the world's most prestigious stage race after the Grand Tours, where you can see some of July's stars alternately showing off their magnificent skills, and then drifting back to the team cars for a leisurely chat.

Why can't these modern riders acknowledge the greatness of the TdS? The race has been running since 1933, contains some of the planet's more beautiful courses, and throws in more than enough vertical to separate the wheat from the chaff. And the attraction doesn't stop there: there's fondue to be had, unparalleled banking and shopping, complete security against land invasion... they even have an Official Tour de Suisse song!

Lately the race has become an alternative Tour warmup to the Dauphine, and the TdS even recently began running one week earlier, overlapping with the CDL, to reflect their mutually exclusive status. 'Twas not always thus; back in the day you could ride them both, and Phil Anderson holds the distinction for being the only rider to win both races in the same year, 1985.

Historically, though, it was an alternate to the Dauphine for it's own sake, and from the most superficial scan of the winners, it looks like:

  • The two races originally enjoyed a simple geographical bifurcation, with the best French, Spanish and Belgian riders at the Dauphine, and the best German, Swiss and Italian riders at the TdS. As yet, the Dauphine has never been won by an Italian.
  • At some point the best riders started alternating between the two: winners of both races, in different years, include Lance Armstrong, Alexandre Vinokourov, Urs Zimmerman, Bernard Hinault, Michel Pollentier, and Eddy Merckx.

In other words, they both pretty much kick ass. The Tour de Suisse has the advantage of being a little closer to the Tour de France, and a solid approximation of the efforts required in July, while the Dauphine, though further out, will often send riders over the identical climbs they'll battle on a month later. Opt for the Dauphine and you can rent a place in Provence for two months so you'll never be further from loved ones than a few hours' drive.

This year, the Tour de Suisse parcours kicks off with tomorrow's prologue and a relatively harmless 157km ride to Luzerne Sunday over only one rated climb, before the mountains start. Monday it's over the 2300 meter Flüelapass plus a short climb near the finish. Tuesday it's over the Albergspass into Austria and Lichtenstein (marketing idea: "the Tour of Switzerland... now, with Lichtenstein!"). Long finishing climb on the Triesenberg-Malbun. Wednesday is a transitional stage but still humps over the long Lukmanier Pass. Thursday, it's all-out war over the Nufenpass (some 2200 meters of vertical) and the climb to the Crans Montana ski resort. Friday is the queen stage, climbing the Furkapass, Sustenpass, and finishing on the Grimselpass. Saturday is a relaxing transition before Sunday's 15km time trial brings down the curtain. Not too shabby.

T-Mobile is bringing potentially their whole Tour team: Burghardt, Gerdemann, Guerini, Hammond, Kirchen, Klier, Rogers and Sinkewitz. CSC (Cancellara, O'Grady, Sastre, Schleck, Voigt) will be the main attraction. Saunier Duval (Simoni, Cobo, Gomez Marchante, Ventoso) could put up resistance, as will Caisse d'Epargne (Karpets, Lopez, Gutierrez), Rabobank (Dekker, Freire, Ardila, Boogerd, Flecha) and Lampre (Cunego, Ballan, Bennati). Hope I'm not forgetting anyone. One very intriguing subplot will be Robbie McEwen versus Daniele Bennati... these June races might be lousy predictors of Tour GC success, but they can give us insight into the Green Jersey battle. Sunday and the second Saturday may be the only sprint stages, but they'll be worth monitoring.