I have something to admit: though I hyped up the Tour de Suisse as a race worth watching even though the Tour de France favorites were racing in France a week prior, I haven't been watching the stages. It's not entirely my fault - the race isn't on during the hours I have to view it thanks to its late stages and I've been racing my own bike and traveling afterwards. But the fact remains - I've missed out on what seems to have been some intriguing racing. Now that I've played catch-up on Youtube, I am wishing I had seen everything play out in real time because there has been pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise.
The race hasn't been quite what we expected, which is what makes it so interesting. Peter Sagan, wünderkid and winner of an astounding six Tour de Suisse stages in the past two years, has lost two tricky sprints, both to other up-and-coming riders. Sagan excels in these sprints, being one of the rare riders with speed remaining after climbs near the finish and with an uncanny knack for reading technical finishes. But on Stages 4 and 5, Sagan surprised us all by placing 7th and 2nd respectively.
The riders to beat him were both taking their inaugural wins at the World Tour circuit. Arnaud Démare dove inside the ORICA-GreenEdge leadout of Matt Goss in the final corner of Stage 4, correctly surmising that the first one to the corner would win the race. Démare is a prodigious talent and has accrued a number of wins this year, but none were against the depth of talent on display in Suisse and the win serves as a coronation of sorts of the young Frenchman. The bigger surprise, however, came the next day as Katusha's Alexander Kristoff, who has been showing himself to be a robust sprinter - including winning the bunch sprint for fourth at Tour of Flanders this year - out-kicked Sagan on an uphill sprint, taking advantage of too-early jumps by both Sagan and Matti Breschel. At 25 years of age, Kristoff is not as young as Démare but is still on an upwards arch. His win this week should display that he is becoming more versatile as he matures.
Sagan did get a stage win, but it came earlier in the race on a stage seemingly too tough for even him. Stage 3 ascended the 12km Category 1 Hasliberg climb in the final kilometers of the race, topping out less than 20 kilometers from the finish with only a short descent remaining. Sagan has always been able to climb fairly well - especially for a sprinter and classics rider - but with GC fireworks expected to happen on this stage, I at least did not expect him to make it to the summit in the lead group. When Peter Sagan only has a twisty descent to the line - the more technical, the better, really - there can only be one outcome. There was no disappointment as he dropped down the mountain with Rui Costa, Mathias Frank, and Roman Kreuziger for company. Behind, Bauke Mollema attacked to secure a few more seconds on GC over the less daring.
This aggressive, daring racing has characterized the GC race at Suisse thus far, and it has created a few surprises on the leaderboard so far. Tejay van Garderen lost substantial time on the Stage 2 finish atop Crans Montana and he is now working for teammate Mathias Frank, who leads the GC after being second only to Bauke Mollema on Crans Montana. If Frank can hold onto his lead - which will be hard with Roman Kreuziger nipping on his heels and an uphill time trial to come - it would be his first major stage race victory. Frank did place fourth at the Tour of California this year, so a win would be in line with the progression he has made over the past few years.
If you weren't tired of firsts, Bauke Mollema's Stage 2 win on Crans Montana was his first World Tour win. Are we seeing a pattern here? The young kids really are coming out to play this week.