I’ve had the thought that if I were running a cycling-based venture capital firm, I would probably be taken in by the Tour de Romandie’s pitch. A stage race in Switzerland you say? No sprint stages? Two months before the Tour? Seems like a wonderful idea.
In practice, the Tour de Romandie has not always been the greatest race on the calendar. It for some reason saw the surge into form of Simon Spilak, like a metronome, once a year for like, a while. It gave Ilnur Zakarin his big break, gave the peloton a recurring view of Aigle and gave a cold to, um, everyone. All the time. It is always raining, or at least that’s my perception of it. So there’s your top quality analysis.
Rules for Romandie are that you don’t usually ride it if you want to win the Giro, you can’t really ride it if you want to win in the Ardennes (people called Michael Albasini are exempt from this rule), you shouldn’t ride it if you had any aspirations to win anything in Flanders and the same goes for anyone who thinks they’re going to be sprinting at any point. People called Michael Albasini are exempt from this rule.
These rules are being followed with one particular exception: Primoz Roglic is here. I have absolutely no idea why. He’s down to ride both Giro and Tour so really he should be nowhere near form until stage nine in Italy. Nobody else too high on the Giro favourites’ list is here with Zakarin the only other guy bucking that particular trend. His management has stated that this is the final step in his preparation for the Giro. It’s not usual to do that — the last guy to win the Giro having ridden Romandie was Ivan Basso, nine years ago. Basso finished thirty-fifth. It’s safe to assume Roglic won’t do much better.
The sprinters are certainly steering clear — Giacomo Nizzolo is making an appearance despite the race being fundamentally unsuited to him. Though I suppose that makes sense when you consider that in his current form, all races are fundamentally unsuited to him. I can’t say the same of Viviani, who is presumably here for practice climbing mountains so he doesn’t step off the first time he sees one in the Giro.
Geraint Thomas, also known as The Guy Defending the Yellow Jersey™ has also showed up here to fly the flag for the dreadful INEOS-Sky hybrid monster. Defending champion Roglic I’ve dealt with and it’s more likely his team mate Steven Kruijswijk will be flying the garish yellow flag. Outside of him, this race might look a bit like a callback to the UAE Tour, with Jumbo showing up in force and the presence of David Gaudu, Emanuel Buchmann and James Knox, all top ten finishers from that race who should be looking to do the same in this one. Then there’s Guillaume Martin, DF Martinez and the obvious Spilak plus Turkey winner Felix Großschartner.
And that’s it.
This race is not well-attended this year, by any stretch of the imagination. That is not to say it will not be entertaining. I don’t expect Thomas to show up in any particular strength and I can say the same of Roglic (thankfully, as a top-form Roglic would turn this race into a foregone conclusion). Hence, we have some third-tier guys fighting it out for what will be the biggest win on their palmarés. Which will be some good clean fun.
The terrain they’ll be doing this on is challenging if not torturous. There is a very short, very inconsequential, out-of-fashion-for-a-reason prologue which would be won by Michael Matthews if he were here. As it is I’ll pick Patrick Bevin. Following this is a very well-designed stage that could go to a breakaway or a motivated attacker. Here it is:
I don’t like picking individual stage winners but this is a great one for David de la Cruz. Oh wait, he’s not here either. I can see the Boras launching on this one.
Stage two is less beloved to me, with a big, draining climb plonked in the middle. No hope of a sprint win or a GC battle, this is made for Thomas De Gendt who, remarkably, is riding.
Stage three could be a place to lose the race if not one to win it. There’s a lot of climbing in that there final fifteen kilometres.
Made for Buchmann.
Stage four is the queen stage: there’s a lot of serious climbing with a host of first category climbs ending at the summit at the first probable Game of Thrones character to host a summit finish: Torgon. In a Romandie Classic Hits move, the climb starts at Aigle.
This is more Kruijswijk’s terrain and if he’s going to win the race, this is where he will do so.
I’ve often said that time-trials probably don’t get enough credit for deciding races and this, make no mistake, will be the most important stage. The king stage. Sounds less poetic than queen stage, which is about right. As I say, this race is pretty much perfect for Roglic but more than anything else, I hope he isn’t in form. It would be a monumentally bad idea under the circumstances. Hence I reckon this will go the way of hour record holder Campanaerts.
So then, as I’ve probably made clear I think this race is between Steven Kruijswijk and whichever of the Boras comes out on top: probably Buchmann. A lot will depend on the time-trial and Kruijswijk is probably a little better in that department. However, Buchmann may be on better form and that goes a long way in stage race ITTs. Buchmann is my prediction to win then in a race which is not as star-studded as we might like, but will be plenty of fun nonetheless.