Finish your Belgian beer and open the chocolates. The Classics season is over and we're off to Switzerland. The six day Tour de Romandie starts tomorrow (Tuesday).
The route in a nutshell: An uphill prologue, three quite bumpy - but not crazy - stages that could see break-away or sprint finishes, one absolutely massive Queen stage, and a flat Time Trial to finish.
The weather looks to be warm and generally dry but the snow ploughs have been hard at work clearing the imposing Col de la Croix in what looks to be the most spectacular Romandie Queen stage in years:
As usual, it's a star-studded field. 2012 Romandie Champion Bradley Wiggins will not defend his title - Sky are sending Froome and Porte. But most teams are fielding strong line-ups, many in preparation for the Giro in early May. Notable participants include 2010 winner Simon Spilak (Valverde had his title stripped), 2009 winner Roman Kreuziger, Tony Martin, Ryder Hejsdal, Ivan Basso, Mark Cavendish and many, many more.
This preview will focus on the course, but please feel free to use the comments for some FSA DS smack talk.
The Tour de Romandie has been raced since 1947. Romandie refers to the French speaking region of Switzerland - approximately 20% of the population - in the western edge of the country. A list of former Romandie winners reads like a who's who of cycling: Merckx, Hinault, Bartali, Koblet, Thévenet, Zoetemelk, Roche, Rominger, Evans, etc. etc.
- Official Race Site: here (French only this year).
- Official list of teams and riders here (may not be completely up-to-date).
- CyclingFever start list here.
- Maps, profiles, times, and fly-throughs for every stage here.
- Leader Jerseys here.
- Official Twitter feed @TourDeRomandie (usually French but speaks English)
- An excellent free official race iPhone app and Android app (search your stores)
- Television coverage: See here for Television options by country/region and I am sure as always that steephill.tv will provide other viewing options.
OVERVIEW OF THE 6 STAGES:
Tuesday: Prologue - 7.45 kms
On roads below Verbier Ski Station, this challenging uphill prologue averages roughly 4%. We'll have a true KOM leader immediately as the entire route is rated a Category 3 climb.
For the Cyclotourists: If you continue up the valley, it's a 20 kilometre climb to Lac de Mauvoisin - and the 8th tallest dam in the world. One of many beautiful, quiet, big Swiss cycling climbs up to Alpine lakes/dams.
Wed: Stage 1 - 177 kms - mid-mountains
A challenging mid-mountain stage through the Jura mountains. But the final climb of the day is a long way from the finish. Good day for a break away win?
For the Cyclotourists: If you're planning on watching the stage at the high point - Col du Mollendruz, remember that you are not allowed to park your tank there:
Thursday: Stage 2 - 190 kms - mid-mountains
Even the flat parts of Switzerland can be fairly hilly. I expect riders will say post-stage that this was harder than it looked. But Sprinters will be looking for strong team support to get them a stage opportunity.
For the Cyclotourists: Switzerland has a huge network of impeccably signed cycling routes, including 9 National routes. Pick the Jura Route to ride through this region.
Friday: Stage 3 - 181 kms - mid-mountains
Another bumpy but not crazy stage as the race leaves the Jura mountains but stays on the "plain" to the north of the Alps.
For the Cyclotourists: Starting and ending in Payerne to the south of Lac Neuchâtel, this is a perfect stage to watch live. 3 laps (all different from each other) will allow fans in Payerne to see the peloton 4 times - not to mention pre and post-stage fun. Other multiple viewing locations possible as well. Nice.
Saturday: Stage 4 - 189 kms - Alpine Queen Stage
This is the toughest Romandie stage in many years. I have been known to complain that Swiss races always pass UCI headquarters in Aigle but skip the best mountains nearby. Not this time. High above Aigle, the snow ploughs have been working overtime to clear the stunning Col de la Croix and the route will climb both the north and fairly huge south side.
The route will also visit Gruyère cheese country as well as making a u-turn on the French border at the summit of the Pas de Morgins.
It's a fantastic location for a stage. Sunshine please.
For the Cyclotourists: Like cycling but hate your job? Envy Alain Rumpf who works at the UCI and rides climbs like Col de la Croix at lunch hour:
Photo by Alain's badass girlfriend L. Croft - used with permission.
See a superb set of FLICKR photos of current conditions at Col de la Croix by Alain here.
Sunday: Stage 5 - 18 kms Flat Time trial
A little more than a näverskomil in length - entirely along the Geneva waterfront on Lac Léman (Lake Geneva for the foreigners). The course stretches from the left bank across downtown to the right bank. Or are my banks confused?
For the Cyclotourists: Sunday morning there will be a keg party at my house then we will all ride as a group to watch the stage (Jens, this is a lie).
Below: An unidentified Podium Cafe cyclist was seen a couple of days ago scouting out Col de la Croix and will possibly do a more in depth Queen stage preview in the coming days.
So who is your FSA DS Fantasy team sending to Romandie? Me? I like former Romandie KOM winner Thibault Pinot (who was also seen scouting Col de la Croix last week).