Just back from a week lost to personal stuff. Don't ask; all I can say is that really expensive Scotch had to be brought in. Onward!
So, as I plug back in, I'm wondering... is there anyone around to win the Tour de Suisse? Will already detailed the course and three words came quickly to mind: Stop Rui Costa. The Tour de Suisse is sometimes the domain of the Costas and Cancellaras, allowing someone to take the ball away from the little climbers and go home. Costa has won the last two editions, and no race likes repeat winners after a while. Even World Champions don't get races served on a platter, if the Gods of Cycling believe them to have already gorged themselves.
But this course hasn't eliminated Costa, or any of the other Grade B climbers who can wind it up for short spells. As Will says, the high mountains are there but early on and not in a decisive position. What we are left with is a mix of modest uphill finishes, bolder ones, and a hilly time trial of no small consequence. Which brings us to... a mix of different challengers for the overall title.
Tony Martin -- Overall leader thanks to a win in the prologue, der Panzerwagen was once upon a time a podium finisher in this race and a threat in the climbs. That was before his thighs turned into pillars of granite, so maybe he doesn't get up and down the big hills like he used to. In fact, he rarely comes into a mountainous stage race with overall ambitions. But he does bring some excellent form, wrapping up an overall win at the Tour of Belgium (he most certainly does contest flatter stage races) and winning today. I don't fancy his chances but if the climbers leave him hanging around too long...
Fabian Cancellara -- We can dream, right? So say the Swiss fans, but in reality Cancellara would never have stood a chance even if he hadn't suffered a heavy fall in training last week.
Tom Dumoulin -- Hm... now things get interesting. Dumou sits second overall, a meaningless six seconds in arrears to Martin and a fairly meaningless 11 seconds ahead of the nearest bona fide climber (Mollema; more in a sec there). Dumoulin has never profiled as a great climber, using the crono to push himself up the GC of relatively non-threatening week-long stage races, as long as the climbs don't undo his candidacy. There is a good 25km worth of hard climbing coming up over the weekend, so unless he crushes the Friday crono, chances are not looking terribly exciting. For Dumoulin to win, we need to see him get to another level.
Jon Izagirre -- Dumoulin with slightly more time to make up. But hey, these young kids can develop. Now would be a pretty good time to show us.
The Mountain Men
Domenico Pozzovivo -- Pozzerwagen is a major threat to win here, after a strong Giro d'Italia that included solid time trialling. Today? Fifth in the prologue. Given the nature of the ITT coming up, and Pozzer's general ability in the mid-range climbs, He's my clear favorite to win. [Ha! This came out when I first tried to sit down and write, four days ago. Blerg...]
Bradley Wiggins --
Er, well, maybe not. Wiggo's abilities are quite well known. His form was good enough for an easy win in California last month, which is a common summertime stepping stone. What's less known is the give-a-shit factor Wiggo brings here (or anywhere) given his topsy-turvy run with Sky. He opened his Swiss account (see what I did there?) timidly Saturday -- Sir Bradley isn't one for the tight, twisting descents -- but the later crono will give him a big opening, and the mountains offer none of the threatening spikes in gradient that nearly derailed him in the US. With Froome turning into Sir Crashalot in France, maybe Wiggins thinks he should be ready in case of a change in plans?
Um, sure. But somehow, until Wiggins also stops falling off his bike, I can't see Sky giving it a moment's thought. Anyway, that 14 minutes he lost after a fall today have rendered this entry null.
Cadel Evans -- Coming off an arduous Giro where he ... can we just stop here? "Coming off an arduous Giro" is one of the two worst ways to prepare for immediate success, and at Evans' phase of his career, where time keeps creeping up on him, only the long list of memories of Cadel HTFU-ing like a true pro are what keep him on this list. Someone will have something in their legs, and most or all of the Giro boys will be in trouble when that happens.
Bauke Mollema -- Aha! Now we are truly getting somewhere. Mollema may be the stealthiest big favorite of the entire 2014 cycling season. If I had been available to watch, I'm sure I'd have noticed him a time or two. But with Martin likely to hold the jersey into the weekend, and just as likely to promptly lose it by minutes, not seconds, Mollema is sitting awfully pretty at 17" back. That, by the way, is a pretty good indicator of form, since Mollema is hardly a prologue specialist. That plus a win in Lillehammer on May 24, the sole climbing stage of the Norway Tour. If he liked the opening crono, chances are he'll have a favorable impression of the primary time trial, not to mention the trip up to another Olympic-level ski resort (Verbier) on Saturday.
Roman Kreuziger -- The other big name who, by all accounts, should be expected to do something here. Well into his prime now, Kreuziger has a fifth in the Tour since his last Suisse try, as well as a solid spring in the classics. And the cycling world's least patient or rational owner, meaning now would be a very good time to hop to it. Dropping 16" to Mollema in the prologue wasn't ideal, but that's just a couple switchbacks' worth of time, a most. A mere dram.
Matthias Frank -- Perennial hometown semi-favorite who never actually wins the damn thing. Frank is a solid stage-racer but last time around on an easier course he was the lesser rider on both the cronos and the mountain stages, even losing an overall lead on the final day's ITT.
Thibault Pinot -- This is probably a good place to point out last year's final GC:
- Rui Costa
- Bauke Mollema
- Roman Kreuziger
- Thibault Pinot
- Matthias Frank
Pattern, much? It all came down to pretty small margins in the end, so whoever has an extra gear should get it done this time.
Rui Costa Types
Rui Costa -- His two wins in this race prepped him for a pair of Tour de France finishes that have been completely forgotten. So yeah, that's why nobody is taking Lampre terribly seriously right now, as far as Le Tour is concerned. Still, he's been dominant here, including in the high(er) mountains. Mollema, Pinot, Kreuziger et al have to out-climb Costa over the weekend, because he's too smart to slip up before then. Or during it, frankly.
Obviously there are more candidates in this wide-open affair. Who's yours?