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Tour de Suisse Stage 7 Preview

Today's TdS stage to Crans-Montana, from what I read (lousy work schedule), demonstrates that Cycling's other Tour de France warmup is loaded with riders itching to race. Freed from (or deprived of) the obligation to hump it over the 2200 vertical meter Nufenenpass today after golf ball-sized hailstones drove riders off their bikes and into shelter, the top riders from last month's Giro d'Italia and next month's Tour de France waged all-out war on the relatively survivable slopes of the final 10km climb. Now, it doesn't always work out this way, but if you thought that moderate little tempo hill brought out the best in the peloton, wait til they get to this:

Rather than one long slog of a hors categoire (above-category) climb and a moderate one, tomorrow features two HC climbs and a finish up the cat-1 Grimselpass. Like the best stages of the recent Giro, the 125km distance won't leave the contenders half-dead heading into the final ascent, so even if they'll have already spent most of the day going up, those looking for a stage win or a stiff test will likely be ready to battle to the end.

Caisse d'Epargne, whose performance at the Dauphine Libere rated among the biggest disappointments, must be heartened by the ride being put on by their B-team. The Russian duo of Efimkin and Karpets, first and fifth overall, shows just what a deep bench they have. When Alejandro Valverde's Tour de France curse strikes again, Cd'E will barely skip a beat. Saunier Duval and Lampre have also livened things up, and tomorrow may go down as the last chance to see Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego renew their bitter feud on bikes, though I'm sure it'll make a good undercard on the 2018 European pro wrestling circuit.

Less inspiring are the rides by T-Mobile and CSC. The former have been AWOL most of the year, so this is nothing new, but the Tour de Suisse is almost a home race for them. CSC, meanwhile, had the most firepower on paper, but what they don't have is a powerful plan B whom they can unleash on the race while keeping their Tour hopes Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck under wraps. So Schleck carries the water, but I doubt he'll be willing to go all out tomorrow. Fabien Cancellara, now 22 minutes back, will probably be their last rider of interest as he goes for one last home-soil time trial win in the World Champion's jersey Sunday, but that's it.

Hopefully starts early tomorrow, because the action probably will. Oh, and Simoni's my pick. Predictions??