Since the Dauphine is on at some god-awful hour every day (except tomorrow), this week has turned into Waiting for the TdS Week instead... a race so exciting it will only be shown in the UK on one day. You know what this means, don't you? We are in for an EPIC Tour de Suisse!
It's hard to say who is coming here to win, so handicapping the GC might be an exercise in futility. Thibaut Pinot leads the peloton in pedigree, but there are a few interesting names on the list. There are, of course, the top Swiss stars, led by Mathias Fran... what? He's at the Dauphine?!? OK, let's keep going.
The Tour de Suisse is a funny race to handicap, not merely for the lack of July Stars on hand but because the ones who are here don't always reveal their hand, and the course doesn't always select out the rouleur-puncheur types, like Rui Costa, who has won the last three editions (and took a pass this year). That said, stage 5 ends atop the very nasty Rettenbachferner, 12km averaging... it's almost too painful to say... 10.7%. Climbbybike has it rated as #127 in the world. So if the peloton races this stage like the high alpine event that it is, maybe we can winnow down our list of favorites considerably. Same goes for the long, treacherous final ITT. But for now, let's keep it broad.
Sebastian Reichenbach, IAM Cycling
Suisse History: 16th in 2013
Status: He left the Giro unceremoniously on the Mortirolo stage, after having performed admirably as team leader. I can't find any info, but he left early on stage 16, which makes me think he was ill? Anyway, doing the Giro isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for one's Suisse hopes, and doing three-fourths of a Giro is even better prep. But only if whatever caused him to depart isn't still an issue.
Rating: Stealth contender. I say stealth only relative to some of the famous names. But Reichenbacher has been coming into his own for a couple years now, and at 26 with a Tour in his legs should be entering his prime. Also, the race's failure to round up the usual Swiss suspects has left him as someone you can expect a moto to follow for the next eight days. He doesn't have the kind of convincing results you'd like to see of a real contender, but conditions are positive for him to start at the TdS.
Darwin Atapuma, BMC
Suisse History: Zip
Status: Plugging along. Was 16th in the Giro, albeit without cracking the top 10 of any stage.
Rating: GC Fodder. He'll be around, maybe even high up heading into the ITT, but his record against the watch is weak.
Rafal Majka, Tinkoff-Saxo
Suisse History: Bubkis
Status: Hasn't raced in a month, though that was the Tour de Romandie. Do I detect a pattern?
Rating: Unrankable. He could be the favorite, if his sixth in last year's Tour is any indication (spoiler alert: it is). But his form is a total mystery. Has been all season, though that happens a lot when guys push all their chips in on the Tour.
Michael Valgren, Tinkoff-Saxo
Suisse History: Nah
Status: Coming off 15th at the Tour des Fjords.
Rating: Nothing. I just felt like mentioning him. Maybe he'll do a nice time trial.
Sergio Henao, Sky
Suisse History: Not good. He crashed in recon of the ITT last year and was out for the rest of the season. The roads of Switzerland owe him one.
Status: Looking strong again after 3rd in California.
Rating: Semi-Favorite. His history in time trials of this length isn't impressive, but it's hardly embarrassing either. Mount Baldy looking like good prep for Rettenbachferner.
Robert Gesink, LottoNL-Jumbo
Suisse History: Two appearances, 4th and 5th on GC
Status: Slowly resurrecting his career after, I can't even remember which catastrophe. The heart thing, right? Fifth in Cali doesn't say all that much, but Gesink has always been a classy rider on tough courses like this, and he's still just barely 29. If he's got his legs back... well, let's just wait on that.
Rating: Mystery favorite.
Dani Moreno, Katusha
Suisse History: Two past appearances, back in the Aughts.
Status: Maybe his only chance to race for himself, for the time being. He's his usual self, it appears.
Rating: Meh-vorite. The big climb puts him into contention for the kind of race I wouldn't normally rate him on.
Tom Dumoulin, Giant-Alpecin
Suisse History: Two appearances, fifth last year.
Status: Seems solid enough, though it's difficult to say since he hasn't raced since Liege.
Rating: Top Favorite. The Rettenbachferner will be a stretch, and if he's saving it for the Tour he may not dig very deep that day, but the final ITT should shore up whatever his prospects are at that point.
Tom Danielson, Cannondale
Suisse History: Four appearances over his 52-year cycling career. Was seventh in 2012.
Status: Clouded. He basically crashed out of the Giro, persevering a bit after a heavy fall before hopping in the car. Nothing was broken though, so you never know.
Rating: What-ifavorite. A healthy Danielson wouldn't mind a course that features some modest stages, a massive, high-alpine climb, and a long ITT, plus a less-than-elite field. Maybe his legs will wake up after a couple days. If not, maybe Joe Dombrowski gets let off the leash?
Johan Chaves, Orica-GreenEdge
Suisse History: One appearance, Meh-ville.
Status: Meh-nacing. 55th at the Giro.
Rating: Meh-be, meh-be not. Are we sure he's not just gonna work for Albasini on stage efforts?
Someone from Movistar, Movistar
Suisse History: Eros Capecchi was 10th last year. Having been around the block, he's got a few appearances here. Igor Anton was 12th in 2013.
Status: Hm, Javier Moreno was 15th in the Bayern Rundfahrt. Nobody on their startlist is up to much of anything.
Rating: GC fodder. Someone will show the colors. Winner Anacona is wearing the 1st dossard. Does that mean anything?
Suisse History: First timer.
Status: After chasing placements at the Tour for so many years, Van Den Broeck has changed up his season, hitting the Giro first (and presumably abandoning his Tour hopes), which leaves him out of the usual Tour primer at the Dauphine and chasing points on what's left of his form at the TdS. He was 12th in the Giro, so it's not like he stinks.
Rating: Sorta Favorite. Guys like him (all-rounders who've never actually won much) win races like the Tour de Suisse. He'll have the incentive and the crono chops. He just... needs... to... get up the Rittenbachferner without losing too much time.
Thibaut Pinot, FDJ
Suisse History: Three years running, which is saying something since he's only been a pro for five years. He was 15th last year, a prelude to finishing on the podium of the Tour.
Status: Hasn't raced in a month. Seems to be on one of those Tour-Only schedules. Not that I can blame him, or Madiot. A young Frenchman threatening to win the Tour de France is something of a miracle these days.
Rating: Sexy Favorite. But as we all know (?), the sexiest choice is not always the wisest one. Pinot's last hurrah at the 2014 TdS was finishing 3.19 down on the Saas Fee climb. And like I said, he went on to the Tour podium. I am guessing he considers laying low at the Suisse a thing that isn't broken and shouldn't be fixed.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Etixx-Quick Step
Suisse History: Nada
Status: Hasn't raced since the Ardennes. But he had a strong spring all around, including second at Paris-Nice.
Rating: My Pick to Win. Hey, what else does he have to do, besides getting ready for Utrecht? OK, he might be too rusty to pull it off, but the World Champion has a nice mix of skills, and frankly someone has to come in first. Why not Flower Power?
Domenico Pozzovivo, AG2R
Suisse History: The Professor doesn't race outside Italy much, but he's racked up two DNF's at the Suisse. Last year he left after one stage due to illness.
Status: Was going great until he bashed his head on the ground in the Giro, an event which we are all pretty thankful he survived, let alone well enough to resume training after eight days. I have no idea how to gauge his fitness, but he was flying at the Giro.
Rating: WTFavorite. I have no idea how to gauge his form after all he's been through, but if somehow the legs are there, he will be a person of great interest on stage 5. And that alone may get him on the podium.
OK, now for the stage battles. There may not be many sprints, but in case a few develop, here is a list of people you can expect to compete for the win:
- Alexander Kristoff, Katusha
Thanks for reading!
[Update] I should have added Jakob Fuglsang, who I suppose you could call a semi-contender. I looked at his name a few times and consciously decided not to add him. Not sure why (or whether that's better than accidentally omitting him), but it might have to do with Astana Exhaustion. Anyway, his track record in one-week races is pretty good, including fourth in both the Tour de Suisse (2011) and the Dauphine (2013). Since it's an odd-numbered year, I guess it's time for him to finish fourth in a Tour warmup stage race again. He's not likely to gain time on his rivals on stage 5, but if he can stay close, the time trial suits him.
I also could have added Frank Schleck, but I looked at my watch and realized it's no longer 2008.