With the Spring Classics season drawing to a close, the World Tour now turns to the hills and valleys of Switzerland for the Tour of Romandie. Cadel Evans will have his work cut out to defend the title he won in 2011, with the winners of the last five editions of the race all present.
The Tour de Romandie provides an important tune up for the Grand Tour specialists, with the Giro d’Italia starting in just a couple of weeks’ time. Some will have their eyes further afield on the Critérium du Dauphiné and, ultimately, the Tour de France.
Australian riders have won the Tour of Romandie three times: Cadel Evans in 2011 and 2006, and The Roar’s own Phil Anderson in 1989.
The official site of the race rather poetically claims that the Tour de Romandie will “offer a nice plot of expression for all categories of riders”. Judging from the route map, the parcours should indeed have a little bit of something for everyone, not least fans of the Swiss scenery.
There will be plenty of intriguing sub-plots afoot as we try to glean more information about who is building good stage race form, and who has his work cut out.
The race begins on Tuesday with a very fast 3.34km downhill prologue time trial in Lausanne, and concludes with a tougher uphill 16.5km time trial on Sunday. In between are four stages of rolling hills, albeit nothing of the difficulty found in the bigger tours.
Stage One will most likely suit the sprinters, with only a couple of Category 2 climbs threatening to break up the peloton, including the Haut de la Cote with 25km remaining. We will almost certainly see some attacks, but the long flattish run in to the finish should give the sprinters’ teams time to bring everything back together.
Stage Two has a similar profile, rolling through two Cat. 2 and one Cat. 3 climb, with a gently climbing final 15km.
Stage Three, with its finish at the top of a climb into Charmey, is likely to provide the first real opportunity for the GC contenders to attack each other, but with one eye on conserving strength for Saturday’s Stage Four from Bulle to Sion.
This stage features three Cat. 1 climbs, the first summit coming just 36km into the stage, and the last at 24km from the finish. The longish descent and flat final kilometres will make it difficult to pinch much time, but the three big climbs will flatten the legs of anyone struggling for form.
The final, uphill, time trial is likely to sort out the podium.
The depth of top riders here is considerable: former winners include Evans, Simon Spilak (2010, following Valverde’s suspension), Roman Kreuziger (2009), and Andreas Klöden (2008). Other major overall threats will come from Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), and Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar).
Cadel Evans’ form is something of a mystery. His win in the Critérium International showed his progress, but his more recent withdrawal from the Ardennes classics with an infection may have set him back a few weeks.
Wiggins was in excellent early-season form, but has not raced much over the past month, so his battle with Evans here will be watched closely.
Kreuziger (Astana) has yet to score a major win this season, with only a third overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, but he has largely left the classics to his (very successful) team-mates Gasparotto and Iglinskiy. His form should be building towards the Grand Tours, but he may be battling his team-mate Janez Brajkovic for leadership, a tension which will need to be well managed by the team.
Team Sky comes to Romandie stacked with high quality time triallists. Apart from Wiggins, Sky has Richie Porte, Michael Rogers, and Geraint Thomas provisionally listed to start, along with a certain Mark Cavendish, whose early-season condition was the subject of considerable scrutiny in British cycling circles.
One real smokey is Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, who was best young rider at the 2011 Tour de France, won the stage up Alpe d’Huez, and rode brilliantly at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He is an exciting rider to watch, and potentially the next big star of French cycling.
GreenEDGE has selected a team with a mix of sprinters (Allan Davis and Daryl Impey) and a cluster of developing stars. Look out for former trackies Luke Durbridge, Travis Meyer and Leigh Howard in the prologue, particularly. This is an important race for GreenEDGE’s development, as several of the younger riders haven’t experienced much professional stage racing.
However, the attention of the cycling world will be on the grand tour contenders. It’s not long until the really big races start, after all.