• Rúben Silva

Tour de Suisse Overall Preview

The last stage-race before the Tour de France starts this Saturday and in Switzerland several of the main contenders for the Grand Boucle will be in action, aswell as a big contingent of top-notch sprinters. The race is 9 days long, longer than the Dauphiné and closer also, the race is set to feature a big amount of hilly and mountain stages, alongside two time-trials.

The race isn't as popular Tour de France preparation, it's past winners include some 1-week specialists as Simon Spilak and Rui Costa, more recently Richie Porte. But there isn't a good history of the race's winners fighting for the overall in the Tour.

The Route

The race starts off with a 10 kilometer time-trial in Langnau. It's a relative loop circuit, the riders will go down and then up the same road towards the town and it's a parcours for specialists, pure power riders and will set the first leader of the race, and possibly some small gaps between the favourites.

As it's a habit in Suisse there's a hilly circuit early on the race. Stage 2 will start and finish once again in Langnau. 3 laps of a circuit with some climbing in it, a 8Km climb with 5.1% average but an easy section in the middle, followed by a short descent into Chuderhüsi where the climb is 9.3% for a whole 3Km.

This summits with 18.5Km to go and it's final kilometer is at 11%. It's a circuit where gaps can be made if a rider shows fragility. It's a day well suited for a breakaway but likely there will be teams interesting in making sure that doesn't happen.

Stage 3 is one for the sprinters but it's quite a lumpy one. There's a good amount of sharp climbs on the way to Murten, they will be traps but mainly the GC teams will be focusing on entering well positioned but not push.

Not an easy day by any means, but in the end the sprinters should have the saying in who fights for the stage.

Stage 4 is another hilly one, this one much better suited for a breakaway. The stage isn't hard enough to dispatch all the sprinters I'd say, only if all the climbs are seriously forced and there's no stopping can it be prevented.

The final climb to Eichenberg is 3Km long at 7.4% which will make for a hard ascent and it will come with 19Km to go, and from there on there's some false flat roads tilting up before a steep descent into Arlesheim for the final 7Km in flatter roads.

There's 2700 meters of climbing in this stage, this another one where chaos will come and a breakaway will surely make it to the line. The start of the stage is quite hard and will allow really strong riders to get to the front.

And from there on there's a lot of rolling terrain where chasing is hard and the riders in front can take advantage. This is one that favours the power riders, the Sattelpass climb near the finale is an ideal place for the decisive attacks to come, and the rolling climbs afterwards are solid to establish gaps. If the peloton fights for the stage there's sprinters who can take it, who can climb these ascents well, but late attacks are to be expected as a powerful and organized chase is very unlikely.

Stage 6 is the first summit finish of the race and the first moment of the race that should settle serious gaps and see who will be in the fight for the win and who won't. The day in general is pretty flat, not completely but there's no serious climb to get some fatigue, and with it's only 121 kilometers in lenght it shouldn't be hard to control in case any team wants to go for the stage.

As for the final climb to Flumserberg it's quite a hard one. It's a constant one, it's 8.5Km long and has an average gradient of 9.1% and it pitches right up to the line with it's final 1.5Km at 10.5%. Pacing is key in this climb, and although being steep it will favour power climbers as it's a single-effort stage and it favours a constant pace throughout the final ascent.

Stage 7 is a whole different affair, it's 217 kilometers long and has around 4300 meters of climbing despite not looking like so at first sight. The truth is the two climbs of Flims and Lukmanierpass, both have descent/flat sections in it so the average gradient doesn't really do it's justice.

The final climb will be anteceded, the run-up is a long valley road ascending to the foot of the final climb, which itself is set to be a brutal one. The San Gottardo Pass is 12.1Km at 7.3% is the opposite of the other climbs of the day, it's very constant throughout it's entirity and is considered one of the most beautiful climbs in the whole Alps.

Stage 8 is a classic time-trial near the end of the race. But the stage is shorter this year, the time-trial is only 19.2 Kilometers long, for specialists it's a decent distance to create a gap but between the climbers there won't be much of a gap. It's another non-technical TT, so the specialists will have it all for them, and the averages will be very fast.

Stage 9 finally, the culmination of the race is also a culmination of the big climbs we'll be seeing in the race. The day is 147 kilometers long, it's fairly short and there will be very few flat terrain, as the first two stages, the last two also take place in the same city, a loop around Goms this time.

The Furkapass is 16.5Km long at 6.4%, it should be the place where the leaders will try and send some of their domestiques to the front as they can be very valuable later on the day. The descent follows to Sustenpass which is an absolute brute of a pass, classic in the Alps. It's 17.5Km long at 7.6% and as it's been all week the hardest comes right in the end with pitches of 9% decimating what is a very constant climb. The biggest spectacle should come on the final climb though...

In the Grimselpass, it summits with 23.5Km away from the finish line which will mean attacks from far are a sure thing, and it's 25.8Km long at 5.8% and it's another true Alpine, with a long valley road with some easier sections comes where the riders will be spread all across the mountain.

The Weather

Long-term forecasts aren't the most reliable, but so far they predict a bit of a hard week coming. The opening stages will surely have some rain and wet roads, midweek there will be an ease with better weather but the last stages of the race, in the mountains, should also see some grey skies and dangerous roads.

The Favourites

INEOS is the main team in the race. With Froome having been in the Dauphiné the leaders split sides, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal are both here and should be considered the main favourites, not only because of their individual strenght but what they can as a duo accomplish, being supported with riders like Elissonde and Castroviejo. If we are to consider duos another interesting one to take into account is Bahrain Merida's, Domenico Pozzvivo is coming after a very strong finish to the Giro, where he should still take the form over to here, and Rohan Dennis who is setting up for his Tour and encounters in Suisse a good race for him with two time-trials where he can take a win, and possibly fight for the overall if he has the legs for it.

Deceuninck have Enric Mas, one of the few Tour GC contenders also opting to come here as a final tune-up, he's been focusing on it a lot with a consistent start to the season, may only be diminished as the team will focus a lot on the sprints, but with Kasper Asgreen racing it can be a very important card to play if he's still in great form.

On the field of the past winners there are two very strong riders, Rui Costa and Simon Spilak, both have a great history in this race and usually always thrive in it. The Portuguese isn't so suited for the climbs this year as in the past but Spilak is, but with a strong competition they won't be to the liking of the amount of time-trialing envolved. Costa will have support of Fabio Aru, returning from his leg surgery, and it will be interesting to know what he can do, despite obviously not having the pressure to perform yet.

Interested in the time-trials will be Wilco Kelderman, another rider brought down by injuries already this season he should be in form as he's targeting the Tour, as is Marc Soler but with different ambitions, but the Spaniard is a strong GC rider in his own right and should be in contention for the overall, above all taking into acount his big quality against the clock.

More on the outsider side there's Hugh Carthy coming straight from a great Giro, home rider Matthias Frank who should be fond of the conditions and have great knowledge of the roads alongside Pierre Latour who has this month returned to racing after an over 4-month break after a training injury and the duo should be tuning up for France. Lastly also Pattrick Konrad, part of the strong Bora squad who has been having a super season, the Austrian is still impressively without a pro win to his name, this week won't be easy as the team will be fully backing Sagan's expectations.

The Sprinters

Exactly Sagan can be the first name, with 16 wins to his name in this race and very suiting stages for his capabilities, alongside a strong leadout he is a strong bet to enlargen that number throughout the 9 days of racing. But the competition will be very fierce as it is every year.

The main should come from Elia Viviani, he had a bad Giro coming without any wins, and he is in need of a boost of confidence ahead of the Tou, but he may very well get it as with a leadout of Richeze, Morkov and Lampaert, there aren't many teams who can provide their sprinter with such a strong backing. Of the other sprinters Alexander Kristoff is the other big one to mention, just of victories in the Tour of Norway and GP Argovie.

Some of the sprinters classify very well as puncheurs, Michael Matthews and Matteo Trentin more exactly, they are both riders who suit the hilly stages very well and both will have strong teams putting big confidence and resources in them, they aren't slow either in the bunch sprints so they are always to consider.

John Degenkolb, Danny van Poppel, Rick Zabel and Dan McLay should be there, Ivan Cortina who recently won a rough stage in California in a sprint, there's Thomas Boudat and Carlos Barbero also for the places in the Top10. And also a mention to some riders as Jasper Stuyven, Greg van Avermaet and Patrick Bevin as they also should fancy their chances in the complicated stages.

The Time-Trialists

With two time-trials it's important to take a look at who will be in contention for those stages. The aforemention Dennis and Thomas are big candidates for both, as should Kasper Asgreen be, outside of them is a luxury amount of riders who thrive against the clock.

Home rider Stefan Kung who's had his success in Romandie is an headliner, Jonathan Castroviejo and Maciej Bodnar should be the other main hitters.

As for the opening one, it's short enough to consider more names, Michael Hepburn, Tom Bohli and Benjamin Thomas are prologue experts and should be good in there, Soren Kragh Andersen, Yves Lampaert and Bevin himself should also be high in the odds for those days.

Prediction Time

Thomas, Bernal

Mas, Spilak, Kelderman, Soler

Pozzovivo, Dennis, R.Costa, Carthy, Konrad

Returning from injury, Bernal has proven plenty of times he doesn't need much to come back to form, last year it was a constant in his season. He is strong enough to win this race, his rival will be the mentality in the team for sure, but with the Tour in sight I wouldn't be surprised to see Thomas helping Bernal here so that the favour is returned later, or at least, give him the freedom to try to win the race.

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