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Lessons From the Tour de Suisse

Nine days come and gone, seven stage winners who have stood atop the podium in Switzerland. Nine days closer to the Tour de France and nine days worth of information about how riders are or are not performing in the final weeks before the biggest show in the sport.

Fotoreporter Sirroti

The Tour de Suisse is come and gone, riders departing for final altitude training camps before the Tour de France or preparing for their national championships races over the next weekend. It is that time when all eyes are turned towards Corsica and the start of le Tour in just under two weeks time and race results are viewed primarily through the lens of what they portend for a few weeks into the future. So, in that spirit, what can we take away from the Tour de Suisse?

First, Rui Costa has confirmed his talent as a stage racer with a second consecutive victory after climbing well and decisively winning the final time trial that included a stout 9 kilometer climb. This is not too surprising news, but it does prompt some interesting questions for Movistar in the upcoming weeks. Should they adopt a two-pronged leadership for the Tour, or should it be all in for aging veteran Alejandro Valverde? Valverde recently placed seventh at the Critérium du Daupiné, just over three minutes behind Chris Froome, though the question is really whether Costa is on the rising form trajectory Valverde must be counting (and planning) on. Costa cannot be considered a first tier contender for the Tour yet (though in a few years...?), but Valverde is an outside bet to win as well, so Movistar might be better off by letting them both share leadership and try for top-10 overall placings.

Thibaut Pinot receives a confirmation of sorts as well, finishing fourth overall and sixth in the final time trial, which was only half uphill. With this year's Tour de France suiting the young climber (the youngest rider in last year's Grand Boucle) much more than last year's parcours, The Next French Hope is on track to better his 10th place in last year's general classification. That is, Pinot looks to have the form, though whether he can perform through the desperate expectations of a whole nation and in the role of a team leader rather than an opportunistic pup is a different story. Either way, July just got a lot more interesting.

Also worth noting was the performance of Bauke Mollema, the Blanco rider who will bear a portion of the GC leadership in France. The young dutchman has had strong results in the past two years, though his performance has been a bit of a flat line over the past three years, never improving from his fourth place in the 2011 Vuelta a Espańa. In that time he has finished 3rd in the Tour of the Basque Country, 2nd in the Vuelta a Murcia, and 3rd at the Vuelta a Andalucía but never stood atop the podium. His second place at Suisse is not a win either, but it is his most notable result outside his strong Vuelta two years ago. With an excellent climbing pedigree and strong time trial, might he have a shot at the top ten? The list of likely top 10 contenders is getting rather crowded at this point, but Mollema is a strong candidate and if he achieves it, he may inherit the role of next Dutch grant tour hope from Robert Gesink's frail shoulders.

Not all news that came out of Suisse was good, though, and Tejay van Garderen's disappointing 10th place finish will hurt his hopes of being a dual leader aside Cadel Evans this July. The result was a surprise after the winner of last year's Best Young Rider classification in the Tour de France won the Tour of California in May and one wonders if he is merely tired from heavy training before the Tour or if something is actually wrong. Van Garderen's time trial does not seem blunted, as he posted one of the fastest intermediate times on the flat portion of Suisse's final time trial. Instead, it was the second half of the race against the clock, which climbed for 9 kilometers, that affirmed his climbing legs had not returned from the vacation they went on Stage 2's summit finish to Crans Montana. Cadel Evans, on the other hand, must be grateful that Mathias Frank's climbing legs - which propelled him into the leader's jersey in Suisse until the final day - are likely to lend him extra support when the Tour hits the Alps and Pyrenees.

Though Mollema and Costa are both one year too old to compete for the maillot blanc, van Garderen and Pinot will be stiff competition for each other and will be challenged as well by Movistar's Nairo Quintana. If the signals from Switzerland are correct, we should have an exciting race on our hands even if the fight for the top step of the podium in Paris is a bit of a dud.