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Tour de Suisse Preview

Jérôme Coppel - Rettenbach Glacier 2015 TdS
Jérôme Coppel - Rettenbach Glacier 2015 TdS

More Cowbell.  As the Critérium du Dauphiné heats up, don't forget that this Saturday, the nine stage Tour de Suisse begins.  If the Dauphiné is about judging the form of Tour de France favourites as July approaches, the Tour de Suisse might be all about the course.  Including a repeat visit to Austria and the Rettenbach glacier.

Will:  I remember back in 2012 when the Podium Cafe editorial team lambasted the TdS organizers for forgetting where the Alps were.  This is no longer a problem.  The Alps are high, and they are in this race.

Nairo Quintana skipped the Dauphiné.  He must be competing in the Tour de Suisse, right?  Who are the top stars here, and will Peter Sagan compete on a mountain bike?

Jens: You would think Nairo would be here but no. His only racing prior to the TdF is the mighty Ruta del Sol. It's a prep that has worked well for him before. How well it works for the World Tour organisers who get Ion Izagirre as their most glamorous Movistar in June may be another matter. I bet they're thrilled.

When you ask who the top stars are I'm a little stumped. Had you said "superstars" I would have said there are none besides Sagan. But it would be a lie to say the race is devoid of stars, it just doesn't have the top Tour de France contenders is all. There is no shortage of secondary TdF contenders though, the guys we expect to fill out the top 10 and in some cases that may make for better racing in Tour de Suisse. Actually the better description would maybe be that there are many interesting riders in the TdS than star riders .

Of course to start with we have an actual superstar in Tour de Suisse context. Rui Costa is already a three time winner and it appears he has had a bit of an epiphany, realizing that Grand Tours aren't what he should be focusing on so he may be firing on all cylinders again this week. The big stages in this edition look a little too much for him though frankly but then again he won't be up against the most fearsome climbers either.

Mainly I look at the GC names here and see a lot of riders who could do well but I wonder how much the TdF is on their mind. Tejay Van Garderen is the biggest name but for sure the Tour is his priority. Kelderman, Talansky, Barguil and Geraint Thomas all fall in that same category.

That leaves us with guys like Simon Spilak and Matthias Frank who look like real hot favorites. Both care more for Suisse than TdF and both have a proven capacity here . Spilak luuurves Switzerland for whatever reason and Frank should be just right for this. Plus he is Swiss and has to care whether he wants to or not.

Let's take a quick look at the prologue and 8 stages:

Prologue - 6 kms (flat)

Will:  WTF?  This is like a normal prologue.  Why aren't they climbing the Matterhorn?  #MontChéry

Jens: Why aren't they climbing the Matterhorn? Because this is Fabian's big farewell party in his home race. The least they can do is give him suitable stages to shine on.

Stage 2 - 188 kilometres (mid-mountain / sprint)

Will:  This is your annual reminder that in Switzerland the word flat means hilly. A four lap circuit course with a category 2 climb each lap.  Fun for the fans.  Sprinters or Punchers?  Who's here? Who wins this stage?

Jens: This is actually the kinds of stages the startlist is stacked for. Lets ignore Peter Sagan because everyone knows he's here and what he can do. But besides him there is Michael Matthews getting back to racing and he has his little Swiss friend Michael Albasini along in case he should suddenly suck. So Orica are well set as is Etixx who seem built for these stages with Gaviria, Stybar, Vacoc and Lampaert. There's Lobato on Movi and Cimolai on Lampre, both guys who can handle climbs and sprint with the best of them. Because they spent them all at the Giro Trek don't have any of their 637 Italians custom built for hilly sprint stages though which is a shame.

Stage 3 - 193 kms (sprint / mid mountains)

Will:   Another flat stage, and more circuits at the end.  I love the idea of circuits.  Easy to control the route, perfect for fans.  WIn-Win.  This seams almost like a Classics stage to me:  lots of little bumps.  But surely the sprinters have their eye on this stage?

Jens: My main concern is that all the profiles in this race look like diagrams I've seen on corporate Powerpoint presentations. It must be a Swiss orderly thing?
I do think they tend to exaggerate the difficulty of the little climbs though but you never know these things until after a stage or two. What I'm saying is I agree, there will probably be a very big group at the finish.

Stage 4 - 193 kilometres - (sprint)

Will:  I declare this a true sprint stage!  The TdS struggled to find a town in the western, French speaking part of the country to host a stage.  But finally Champagne, in the Jura mountains stepped up.

Fun from Wikipedia:  "In 1974, vintners in the Swiss city of Champagne were ordered by the World Trade Organization to cease using "champagne" in the name of the white wine produced there since the 9th century. In a deal with the EU, the town agreed to stop using the name in 2004. Sales dropped from 110,000 bottles a year to 32,000 after the change. In April 2008, villagers voted to continue to try to use the name." Damn EU, how does one exit?

Jens: Who am I to argue? Sprint stage it is. A showdown between Tyler Farrar and Matti Breschel then I assume.

On a more serious note, Fernando Gaviria looks like the fastest man by far here next to Matthews and Sagan. Cav, Kittel & Co are at home building up for July but a Gav vs. Bling showdown sounds very tempting too. Especially since they are both guys who can handle the tough terrain in Switzerland.

Stage 5 - 126 kilometres (high mountains)

Will:  Read the Y axis on the above chart.  This is the HIGH Alps.  Furkapass is one of several jaw dropping high alpine roads in the central Swiss alps (it just recently re-opened after a long winter).  This short, but sharp stage should be great.

In the very first seconds of the below clip is James Bond (1964 - Goldfinger) near the top of Furkapass driving past the still open Belvedere hotel  You can see, just behind, the Rhône glacier, the source of the river that runs across Switzerland, through France, all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.  Then on the other side of the pass ..... snipers! The Furkapass looked great even 52 years ago.

After Furkapass the peloton will climb Gotthardpass, unfortunately descending on the main road thus skipping the most beautiful cobbled hairpins anywhere.  But if the riders glance left, they will see this.  The stage finishes in Ticino - parlano Italiano qui - they speak Italian here - climbing to Carì ski station.

Jens: In their continuing efforts to irk Will the organizers have arranged so the TV transmissions start just after they pass the Furka. The obvious solution is of course to pop a Goldfinger DVD in the player and watch the Furkapass scenes just before the live images come on. Then we can all debate whether the early Oddjob breakaway will hang on to the finish. My money is on "no". I wouldn't say no to Pussy Galore as a podiumgirl for the stage though.

Will:  I hope you weren't confused.  The actor in the video was not me but some guy named Sean Connery.

Furka - Watch out for snipers:

Stage 6 - 163 kilometres (high mountains)

Will: I love this central Swiss stage.  Klausenpass is a fabulous road.  Down below at the start of the climb, is the home town of Wilhelm Tell (locals will laugh if you call him William Tell).  He was not just good with a bow and arrow, he was one of the "founding fathers" of Switzerland. There is a nice statue and museum there.  The stage finishes with a challenging uphill finish to Amden ski station

Jens: This feels like the day for the not so exciting guys , think Tejay and Thomas. I could also imagine Simon Spilak taking off from everyone, flying up the mountain to the tunes of Rossini.

There is quite a bit of valley between the climbs on these stages. How are those passages if you are a cyclotourist? Is it nice quiet roads or are they a bit of a nuisance?


Stage 7 - Solden - Rettenbach Glacier (high mountains)

Apparently Switzerland doesn't have rich enough ski stations that want to pay to host a pro cycling stage as we're heading back to Austria for the second straight year of climbing the truly fearsome road to the Rettenbach Glacier - 2675 metres!

One of your two authors rode the official TdS cyclosportive last year the morning of the TdS stage. Quote: "Like many famous cycling climbs, the hairpins are numbered. But unlike Gotthard (38), Alpe d’Huez (21), Stelvio (40’s?), etc. this bastard of a climb had 8(!), fucking only 8. And I swear to God that it took me an hour to get from #4 to #5."  It's a nice climb.

Will: In 2015, Thibaut Pinot won this monster of a stage.  He is busy winning riding the Dauphiné this year.  Who will win this year?

Jens: I hate to say it but we have new Podiumcafe kit now so we're going to have to ask you to ride that climb again and take an updated version of that pic. Could you have it done by Monday, that would be great? Thanks.

Will:  No!

Pinot passes under the Flamme Rouge, heading to a Glacier victory in 2015.

Stage 8 - 17 kilometres (Time Trial)

Will:  Held in Davos, the ski station where evil world business leaders annually plot their world dominance, this stage could have been much tougher.  But after a long drive back to Switzerland from a tough day in Austria, the riders will be grateful.  Searching my FLICKR friends for Davos photos, this was the first hit.

Jens: This being cycling you can almost count on some idiot trying to take away Cancellara's victory on this stage and steal his glory but I doubt anyone will succeed. He will go his "maximoum" on this day and it will show. Besides, the TT competition isn't fierce here anyway.

Stage 9 - 118 kilometres (high mountains)

Will:  Ah, I knew they came to Davos for a reason.  Switzerland is not just full of cycling climbs, it's full of beautiful cycling climbs.  And these are two of the best.  This challenging loop is the must-see stage for scenery lovers.  Albulapass and Flüelapass.  Drool.

Jens: Short stage, downhill finish. I like how they think. Odds are the Rettenbachferner sets the GC pretty solidly but it would be fun if it was still in play because this day looks hard to predict if people set out to make it hard. And if not we'll watch it for the helicopter shots.

Will:  You didn't think I'd write a Tour de Suisse Preview without a cow photo, did you?  Albulapass:

VDS Fantasy League - Who Are You Bringing?

Will:  Team Moo has Fabian Cancellara, and James Bond riding.  I didn't even bother looking if anyone else is here.  Hop, hop, hop (Swiss for Allez).

Jens: My main hope here is Joe Dombrowski, can we go back to looking at cow pictures? Please?

Actually I have Wilco and Barguil too but I hesitate to hope much here. I'd love it if Barguil really went nuts on the Rettenbachferner and showed everyone though.

Oh, who am I kidding, I can't keep up this sandbagging charade any longer. Of course Tiesj Benoot will win the whole damn thing. The Rettenbachferner is a mere molehill for this demi-god.