13-21 June 2015
While some riders use the Critérium du Dauphiné to prepare for the Tour de France, others will be fighting for glory in Tour de Suisse. On a very undulating route, we can expect some great racing within the following nine days. You can see profiles of all the stages at the end of this preview.
As usual, Tour de Suisse starts out with a prologue. The 5.1 km around Risch-Rotkreuz won’t create big time differences but it’s still important for the GC riders to do well. Stage 2 includes the short but steep ascent on Michaelskreuz, which is to be covered twice. With just over 10 km to go from the top, we could easily see important changes in the GC already on the second day of racing. If you perform well in the prologue and don’t lose time on stage 2, you might end up in the leader’s jersey at the end of the day. Stage 3 has been modified a bit. The first 40 km of flat terrain have been cancelled. Therefore, the riders now start climbing right from the beginning, which makes for a very hard and fast day in the saddle. Two climbs await the riders on the last 20 km. They are not very steep but they are certainly hard enough for some riders to launch an attack.
Stage 4 may provide the first sprint finish of the race. However, it won’t be a typical bunch sprint as the last 900 meters kick up with 3-4 %. The queen stage of this year’s Tour de Suisse comes on day five. Not only do the riders have to cover over 230 km on the bike, they also have two very difficult HC-climb to overcome. The last 13.3 km of the stage are uphill with an agonizing average gradient of nearly 10 %. If you’re not on top of your game today, you’re GC chances are over.
Both, stage 6 and stage 7 are good for the sprinters. The last 800 meters are uphill on stage 7 but most likely, it’ll still end in a sprint. Stage 8 is a very tricky one. It takes place on a 38 km lap around Bern with numerous small climbs. The last ascent comes just 3 km from the finishing line. The GC riders will be hoping for a quiet day in the saddle before the time trial but this may turn out to be a very difficult stage. Sunday’s time trial takes places on the same circuit as the riders will have covered the day before. The terrain is very undulating and after eight hard days of racing, a strong rider can really make a big difference against the clock today. For the last two years, the overall winner of Tour de Suisse didn’t wear the leader’s jersey at any point until the end of the last stage. It won’t be a surprise if the same thing happens this year.
The first three riders on each regular road stage are awarded 10-6-4 bonus seconds, while the intermediate sprints each offer 3-2-1 seconds.
Given how the Astana riders have been racing recently, it’s no wonder that the Kazakh team also has one of the top favorites for Tour de Suisse this year. Jakob Fuglsang hasn’t won anything this season but he has been very strong nevertheless. His new Norwegian coach, Inge Jarl Clausen, claims that Fuglsang is better than ever before. He’s much lighter than he has been in the past. Only 64 kg, which is five kilos less than his previous GT weight. It will be very interesting to see what he can do in this race. During the Giro d’Italia, team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said that the plan for Jakob Fuglsang was to win Tour de Suisse in order to arrive at the Tour in the best possible condition. At Astana’s recent altitude training camp on Teide, Fuglsang proved to the strongest riders of them all. The Dane rarely ever has a complete off-day. He’s amongst the best riders uphill and he’s very strong against the clock as well. If Jakob Fuglsang is as strong as the reports let us to believe, he’ll be very difficult to beat in Tour de Suisse this year.
Personally, I have very high expectations for Thibaut Pinot. The young Frenchman took a big step up the ladder when he finished 3rd overall in the Tour de France last year. Since then, he has worked hard to prove that it wasn’t just due to the lack of top favorites. On his best days, very few in this race are able to match Pinot on the climbs. This season, he finished 6th on the mountaintop finish in Tirreno-Adriatico in March before winning the queen stage of Tour de Romandie last month. He will be one of the top favorites for stage 5. Thibaut Pinot has also improved a lot against the clock. In the five time trials he has done this season, the FDJ captain hasn’t been out of top20. Naturally, the big goal is to reach peak condition for the Tour de France next month. However, Tour de Suisse isn’t just a warm-up race for Pinot. He is here to win overall and the difficult course definitely suits him.
Simon Spilak almost always performs well on Swiss soil. When he’s in peak condition, he’s one of the best riders in the world for these kinds of hilly one-week stage races with a difficult time trial. The Slovenian has finished 2nd overall in the Tour de Romandie the last three years in a row. The weather forecast isn’t promising for this Tour de Suisse, which is expected to start out in rain. This is good news for Simon Spilak. While many suffer in bad weather, Spilak usually pulls off his best performances in rain and low temperatures. He’s not the best climber in the race, but he’s very strong and he knows how to keep a high pace. If he’s still within striking distance for the time trial on the final day, Simon Spilak may break the spell and win his first stage race since 2010.
To do well overall in Tour de Suisse you need to be a strong climber and good against the clock. Still, if you are an exceptional time trialist and solid on the climbs, you’ll have a pretty good chance to make top5 as well.
Geraint Thomas surprised many when only his teammate Richie Porte was able to follow him on Croix de Chaubouret in Paris-Nice earlier this year. Thomas finished 7th overall in the French one-week stage race before he changed focus completely and went on to tackling the cobblestone classics. Now Thomas is back in stage racing mode once again. Tour de Suisse is one of his personal goals this season. It serves a rare opportunity for him to prove his worth as a future GT contender. I think stage 5 will be too difficult for the Welshman but with Sergio Henao, David Lopez and Kanstantsin Siutsou at his side, he should be able to minimize the time loss. Thomas will hope to get a good start to the race with a great result in the opening prologue. In top condition, he’ll be one of the favorites to win it. A flat time trail on the last day would have served Thomas better but he should be able to do very well on this undulating route. If he doesn’t lose too much time on the climbs, Geraint Thomas might end up on the final podium.
The same goes for Michal Kwiatkowski. It will be a tall order for the current world champion to follow the best riders on stage 5 but due to his incredible time trial abilities, he’ll be able to take back quite some time on the final day. Kwiatkowski is also one of the top favorites for the prologue. He’s, furthermore, very fast on the line. It won’t be a surprise to see him snatch a few bonus seconds while contesting for the win on the many undulating stages.
Another Polish rider with a solid chance of a big result in this year’s Tour de Suisse is Rafal Majka. He did very well in Tour de Romandie, where a poor tactical decision cost him not to fight for the stage win the day Pinot won. Still, Majka finished 7th overall due to a surprisingly good time trial. Afterwards, Majka said he would now focus on winning Tour de Suisse before heading to the Tour de France to support Alberto Contador. Unless something unexpected happens to Contador in the race, Tour de Suisse is probably Majka’s only chance to win a prestigious WT stage race this season. He must be very eager to perform well.
For other strong outsiders for the general classification, look to Robert Gesink, Warren Barguil, Bob Jungels, Frank Schleck, Ion Izagirre, Jurgen van den Broeck and Domenico Pozzovivo who makes his comeback after crashing out of the Giro d’Italia. As always, we also have an army of Colombian climbers ready to make the race hard as soon as the road starts to rise. It would be a surprise not to see Julian Arredondo, Darwin Atapuma, Sergio Henao, Esteban Chaves and Winner Anacona attacking on the climbs.
For pure sprinters, there is probably only one chance to shine in this race. However, there are many good stages for fast and punchy riders to leave their mark. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews and John Degenkolb going up against each other. It will be extremely difficult to pick a winner amongst these three phenomena. Matthews has won a stage and worn the leader’s jersey in six out of the last seven stage races he took part in. With a good prologue, he’ll have a solid chance to extend this outstanding record within the first couple of the days of the race.
Alexander Kristoff is here too, hoping to prolong his long list of victories in 2015. So is Mark Cavendish. The two super sprinters are joined by the likes of Arnaud Démare, José Joaquin Rojas, Kenny DeHaes, Borut Bozic, Grega Bole and the Lampre-Merida duo of Niccolo Bonifazio and Davide Cimolai. Since this is a very hilly race, naturally we have a lot of strong puncheurs at the starting line as well. Philippe Gilbert, Greg van Avermaet, Michael Albasini, Davide Rebellin and Enrico Gasparotto are all capable of winning a stage in Tour de Suisse this year. For the time trials, look to Tom Dumoulin, Matthias Brändle, Adriano Malori and of course the home favorite Fabian Cancellara.