[A brief note: This is an unedited email chain between Conor and myself. Needless to say, we are only this rude for the benefit of readers. At least, I hope that's the case. However, my interest in this race is genuine, as is Conor's... well, you'll figure out how the dynamic works pretty soon. Enjoy the preview, and the race. Andrew]
So, we’re trying the ol’ two man preview again. On the slate, the Tour de Suisse. For the benefit of our readers, I’m sending you this on the 31stMay, well before the race kicks off in anger, a week on Saturday, but giving us time to exchange a few notes before we get this posted. Also for the benefit of our readers, a few nuggets of information on the race:
The startlist is pretty well what you’d expect, with the true mountain goats and true sprinters over in the Dauphine refining their preparations for the Tour. What we get instead are a few tough sprinters (Bling, Sagan), some cobbled classics guys returning to the road after a late spring break (GVA, Gilbert) and some punchy climbers (Izaguirre, Poels, Albasini). Oh, and the Giro champion, who is here (presumably) because he gets a longer break after the Giro, and because he gets a bunch of time trial kms to have a pop at before he goes for yellow in front of his adoring home fans. Finally, we are scheduled to see the belated return of Miguel Angel Lopez, winner last year and coming off a long old injury delay with a broken leg during the offseason.
So, we probably aren’t seeing the top 5 for the Tour (most of them are already in France) but what we are seeing is a pretty interesting parcours suited to the riders who've turned up, with two bookending time trials (the first of which is one of two stages in Cham and only 6km. The babyCham stage, if you will. The other runs for 29km and has a decent hill in the second half), three legit uphill finishes into Villars-sur-Ollon (stage four), La Punt-Chaumes (6) and Tifenbachferner (7 - and probably the toughest). The other stages all have some up and down and will be either for the puncheurs or the sprinters. I’d tentatively put 3 and 5 in the latter camp, 2 and 8 in the former.
All this leaves us with a varied nine-day race with an intriguing range of possible winners both of stages and the overall, in pretty countryside and with world tour points on the table. Which brings me to my first question, Conor: why do you hate this race so much, given that you lose your mind over vastly inferior Spanish weeklong races? Or do you just hate the Swiss?
[insert Editors’ secret handshake here]
There are reasons why I hate this race are multiple and obvious. From the dearth of GC contenders to the surfeit of time-trials, the ever-recycling route on the same, predictable roads to the continual dominance of Peter Sagan, who will this week be back in my vision after a blissful month and a half, it almost makes one pleased that there is such poor coverage (Eurosport don’t like it enough to show it on either of their channels, preferring, er, highlights of World Superbikes) and that what coverage there is can be avoided easily by thinking about the better racing one has just witnessed in the Dauphiné, and will witness in the upcoming national championships and Tour de France. While, when one looks at this race’s route, one might see a couple of interesting mountain stages and potentially exciting hilly stages, I am sure that this race will contrive, as usual, to make them dull.
Well, nice to see your prejudices being maintained even in the face of an interesting and balanced route. I think having some time trial stuff in there is ideal, and makes a very pleasant change. Still, if I can't convince you, let's try this: pick your podium! You show me yours, and I'll show you mine. Reasoning too, please.
My prejudices, while strong, could probably be broken by such a route, but that quite simply isn’t what we’ll see the peloton go through next week, not least because it simply isn’t the peloton you would expect to turn up at the startline of a race with quite so many metres of vertical climbing. Mathias Frank’s record in this race proves that this isn’t a new phenomenon. We see some presumptive GC contenders who won’t be at peak condition having just completed an appointment in Italy, with Domenico Pozzovivo, Tom Dumoulin, Steven Kruijswijk and Tour de Suisse specialist (the poor man) Ruí Costa all due to start the prologue.
Then we see defending champion Miguel Angel Lopez, who paused his busy schedule of DNFs last year to win Milano-Torino and of course this race, notably beating Fabian Cancellara in a time-trial. This has only been legal under Colombian and Swiss law since a recent groundbreaking international agreement which allowed Fernando Gaviria’s rise in the sprint scene. A crash in the Vuelta ended his shot at the Grand Tours for 2016 and a broken tibia in a training crash derailed his winter training, so it is in the Tour de Suisse where he makes his first pedalstroke in anger of the 2017 season.
All of these riders (except Mathias Frank) would be capable of winning this race under different circumstances, but I’m afraid they’ll have to wait another year to convince their DSs to send them to the Dauphiné contest for the...wait, what colour is the jersey again? Oh yes, it’s yellow and Vaudoise green, like everything in Switzerland, apparently. I don’t know whether Swiss cycling has only heard of that particular company, whether Vaudoise has heard of sales techniques other than bike races and cycling teams, or whether both think it makes an international market champ at the bit to buy insurance (yes, I googled that) because they saw it on a leader’s jersey, but prepare for a lot of Vaudoise marketing if you’re planning on going through with watching this race. Anyway, let’s look at who else is on the startlist to compete for the chance to market Vaudoise to the world.
Oh look, it’s Simon Spilak. I now see why he always does so well in Switzerland, he’s one of the only GC contenders lining up. He’s won it before, with a frankly brilliant time-trial performance to beat Geraint Thomas by five seconds in 2015. He can climb very well, certainly in comparison to the other potential GC contenders here, and when he turns up to these Swiss races, he’s usually a factor.
He’s not my pick to win, however. That dubious honour goes to Ion Izagirre, who can use another dubious honour, that being the leadership of Bahrain-Merida, to take his first win in a major stage race other than the Tour de Pologne, or as most of us would have it, his first win in a major stage race. The time-trials suit him down to the ground, he’s probably the best climber, on likely the best form, in the race, and he will be hungry to prove he has the mettle for Tour de France leadership. He’s my pick to win.
What’s that? I don’t have a third place? But I’ve mentioned everyone and there simply isn’t anyone. Can we abolish that step of the podium? No? Alright then, Mathias Frank. Feck it.
So, if we cut through your usual bile, this boils down to finding guys who time trial well, can climb well enough, and are likely to be on form. Fine, I can buy that. I even agree with you that Izagirre is the likeliest winner. I'll put different guys on the lower steps, though - for me, Jarlinson Pantano is the second best threat, he's a sneaky-good timetraillist and will be excellent on the climbs, and he should be gearing up for the Tour. Third, and a bit of guesswork, is Wilco Kelderman. Clearly has the ability and the question is what form he brings in, given that he was the first man to kiss tarmac in that awful fall at the beginning of the Giro.
Last questions, and then I'll leave you alone. First, how does your VDS team look? I'm brining Carlos Betancur, John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews, Niccolo Bonifazio, Ramon Sinkeldam and Sondre Holst Enger, and am (a constant problem this season) hoping for some stage points and expecting nothing on GC - unless the Betancur recovery continues. I suspect you'll increase your advantage over me, but at least I'm beating you in the Ed's league.
More pertinently, let's have some stage picks off you. Mine are:
Prologue - Alex Dowsett . He's really good at these and is my guess in a wide-open race. Amazingly, Movistar have three competitors in Dowsett, Castroviejo and Oliviera.
Stage two - Bling. Hedging my bets as I could see a sprint, a reduced field sprint, or a small group. Matthews could feature in any of these.
Stage three - Gaviria. He'll be here for a reason and this looks the most likely.
Stage four - Tim Wellens. We know he'll attack on one of these stages and this one might not be seen as quite so critical by the bigs.
Stage five - Viviani. Because saying Gaviria again is too easy.
Stage six - Frank. We have to have a Swiss winner at some point, right? About now, I'm regretting the stage-by-stage predictions.
Stage seven - Pantano. Because otherwise my overall prediction makes no sense.
Stage eight - Degenkolb. He's the other obvious winner in the field.
Stage nine - Dumoulin. I know he's just come out of the Giro, but I think he'll want yellow back home, and this is where he'll prove his fitness.
So, there we are: lots to look forward to. You excited yet?
I’d like to think my bile is impenetrable, thank you very much. The idea that Pantano will be excellent on the climbs is more in need of the word “comparatively” than any other sentence I’ve ever read.
My VDS team sends eight men to this race, who may collectively go under the name “C. Rickets” as it seems unlikely to me that many of Alexis Gougeard, Arthur Vichot, Jhonatan Restropo, Lilian Calmejane, Louis Vervaeke, Merhawi Kudus, Ondrej Cink and Yves Lampaert can do much other than make me question what I was thinking while picking them.
Given the antagonistic style in which we’ve written this preview, I suppose it falls to me to say that all your picks are nonsensical, so here goes: All your picks are nonsensical!
Prologue – and there I thought I was the one who let national pride cloud my judgement. This one goes to the best rider in the world over short time-trials – Rohan Dennis.
Stage two (how annoying is it that this race doesn’t have a stage one?) – Peter Sagan. He wins races in Switzerland and I complain. It’s a neverending cycle.
Stage three – I have the sneaking suspicion that the finish of this stage is the same as in the Tour last year. So Sagan again. And then there was fawning.
Stage four – My repulsion to the idea that Wellens would win on a HC climb is offset somewhat by the miscategorisation of what’s really a much easier ascent than how the profile paints it. I’m tempted to predict the escape of one of the infuriatingly talented yet infuriatingly winless (yes Pierre, congratulations) Cannondale riders. And who can tell them apart anyway?
Stage five – you do see the 2000 metre ascent in the middle of the profile, yes? Albasini from the break.
Stage six – Let’s say Jan Hirt. He’s turned up at this race in the past, and I may have by this point started picking riders purely because of their names.
Stage seven – Yet again, the Tour of Switzerland is decided in Austria. I’m gonna say Izagirre gets this one on climbing legs alone.
Stage eight – Did you know that all Swiss jewellers are called Herr Blingen? If memory recalls, the peloton loses interest in this race as easily as I do, and breaks always win the flatter late stages. Let’s go with Patrick Konrad, because if you mention someone often enough, they always win things.
Stage nine – Dennis again. Dumoulin can’t possibly maintain his form all month and there’s no one else of that calibre in the field.
Oh, I’m very excited. Just think of how productive I’ll be when I don’t have to worry about missing stage finishes. It’s almost as good as ENECO week.