29 April - 04 May 2014

Enough of the one-day races. Now, it’s time for the stage races to take over. First up is Tour de Romandie. Within the last three years, the overall winner of this race won the Tour de France as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the tendency continued this year.

The route
This year’s Tour de Romandie very much looks like last year’s edition. However, the uphill prologue is replaced by a flat one. This means we won’t get as big of a selection among the GC rider as fast as last year. The following two stages both include a couple of climbs. Some might lose their overall ambitions in these stages but I doubt the big GC favorites will lose any time. Stage 1 and 2 will most likely end in a sprint within a reduced peloton. The Queen Stage of the race comes on day four. There are no less than four category 1 climbs on the menu. However, there are still 15 km to go from the top of the last one. Villars-sur-Ollonisn’t very hard on the final part and we could see a small group of riders reaching the top. There are 10, 6 and 4 bonus seconds on the finishing line, meaning riders, who aren’t strong against the clock, can’t afford to let a breakaway fight for the win on this stage.

Stage 4 could be a day for a breakaway to make it, but the most likely scenario is another sprint. The GC riders will try to save as much energy as possible before the final time trial on Sunday. The distance of the time trial is about the same as last year, but this time, the course is much harder. A 2.6 km climb with an average of 4.8 % means nothing is settled until the final rider crosses the finishing line.

Due to the lack of an uphill finish, the time trials will be of huge importance for the overall classification. You will be able to gain much more time here than in the mountains. Therefore, the favorites are also those who are good against the clock.

The favorites
The number one favorite is last year’s winner, Chris Froome. In 2013, Froome won the opening prologue and kept the leader’s jersey throughout the race. Due to various reasons, Chris Froome has only done two races this year. Tour of Oman (overall winner) and Volta a Catalunya (6th overall). A “mild chest infection” kept him out of Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but he’s now ready to ride again. Froome just recently spent a couple of weeks training on Teide (Tenerife) and according to his teammate, Richie Porte, Froome "is starting to fly again in training". His preparation for this race hasn’t been ideal, but I’m confident Chris Froome will be more than ready to defend last year’s win. To help him accomplish this, Team Sky sends strong riders like Richie Porte, Mikel Nieve and David Lopez to support him. Chris Froome may not start the final time trial in the leader's jersey but has a good chance of ending the day wearing it.

The biggest threat to Chris Froome is Tejay van Garderen. As I’ve mentioned many times already this season, 2014 is a very important year for the young American. He’s set to lead BMC in the Tour de France and he needs to show the team that he’s up for the task. So far, Van Garderen has been doing a great job proving his worth. He finished second after Froome in Tour of Oman. In Volta a Catalunya he won the big mountain stage and finished 3rd overall, and most recently he finished 6th overall in Vuelta a Pais Vasco. Tejay van Garderen is very strong against the clock and these kind of climbs suit him very well. Usually, he wouldn’t be able to beat Chris Froome in the final time trial but if Froome isn’t on top of his game, Van Garderen may win Tour de Romandie 2014.

On paper, this race is perfect for Michal Kwiatkowski. However, the young Pole has been in peak-condition for a while now. It’s doubtful that he’ll be able to keep his good legs throughout the entire race. When the other - more fresh legged - GC riders, start attacking on stage 3, Kwiatkowski might not be able to respond after a hard Classic season. Still, if he’s in the mix on the final day, you can’t count him out. The time trial fits him like a glove and, being fast on the line, he may be able to take a few bonus seconds in the previous stages.

The outsiders
Last year’s number two, Simon Spilak has had a good season so far, finishing 9th overall in Volta ao Algarve, 8th overall in Paris-Nice and 4th overall in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The Slovenian is set to lead Katusha in the Tour de France this year and he now has a great chance to prove himself against some of his top rivals in July. Spilak is strong on the climbs and good against the clock. Futhermore, he’s not afraid of attacking from afar. I don’t think he is able to beat Froome and Van Garderen in the time trials so he has to gain time before the final day, if he wants to win Tour de Romandie overall.

Two other riders who aren’t afraid of attacking are Vincenzo Nibali and Rui Costa. Both are targeting the Tour de France this year. Both are without a win this season, so far. Rui Costa crashed out of Liège-Bastogne-Liège last Sunday. However, it won’t keep him from taking part in Tour de Romandie. It’s hard to say how the crash will affect the world champion. If he’s not bothered by it, he’s definitely a candidate for the overall podium. Rui Costa is in great shape right now and it will be interesting, ahead of the Tour de France, to see what he can do against Chris Froome. In Liège-Bastogne-Liège Vincenzo Nibali didn’t seem to be in tip-top condition. He tried to attack a couple of times, but he didn’t have the legs to get a solid gap. The lumpy stages in this race favor opportunistic riders and I would be surprised not see Nibali at least try to get away towards the end of some of stages. At this point of the season, I doubt the proud Italian will be able to win overall. Still, I’m sure he will do what he can do animate the race.

Seeing how this race is most likely going to be settled in the time trials, Tony Martin is a dangerous outsider. The German has proven to be in great shape lately and he has a clear advantage on the final day. The biggest test for Tony Martin will be stage 3 with four category 1 climbs. It’s not likely that he’ll be able to stick to the favorites, but I’m sure he won’t give up without a fair try.

For other riders who are good on the climbs and strong against the clock, look to Jean-Christophe Peraud, Stef Clement, Andrew Talansky and Rohan Dennis. For a super-joker look to Ion Izagirre. The Movistar rider has been training a lot on this time trial bike and he may be the surprise of this race. Without an uphill finish, I doubt Izagirre will lose much time to the big favorites. In Ruta del Sol, he finished 3rd in the opening prologue and earlier this month, he finished 7th in the final time trial of Vuelta al Pais Vasco after having been working hard for Alejandro Valverde throughout the race.

Riders like Nicolas Roche, Rafal Majka, Rigoberto Uran, Mathias Frank and Thibaut Pinot are all in good shape right now. However, I doubt they will stand a chance in the time trials.


Tour de Romandie 2014

Stage 1

Tour de Romandie 2014

Stage 2

Tour de Romandie 2014

Stage 3

Tour de Romandie 2014

Stage 4

Tour de Romandie 2014

Stage 5

Tour de Romandie 2014

Follow the race
This year, I won’t be doing daily stage previews. Instead, I’ll share my favorite and outsider picks for each stage on Twitter, using the hashtag #tdrpreview. For live coverage of Tour de Romandie 2014, go to steephill.tv.