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72nd Tour de Suisse - ProT

Switzerland, June 14-22, 2008

Swiss face-off

By Gregor Brown

72nd Tour de Suisse – Kim Kirchen (High Road), 29, could step up from his second overall in the 2007 Tour
Photo ©: Elmar Krings
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The 72nd Tour de Suisse, June 14 to 22, will be the final big face-off before the Tour de France in July, and with nine stages covering 1,411 kilometres it is a worthy tester. The ProTour race kicks off in Langnau this Saturday and by next Sunday in Bern we will know the names of some of the Tour de France contenders.

Pasquale Fornara dominated the Swiss race in the 1950s, collecting four wins, but it has also been a shining point for Hugo Koblet, Eddy Merckx, Andy Hampsten, Lance Armstrong and – last year's winner – Vladimir Karpets. The 27 year-old Russian, fresh off the Giro d'Italia, will not be returning to defend his title, however, there are plenty of top-notch riders who will it make a good fight on the mountainous parcours.

The race kicks off with a 146-kilometre stage to Langnau that will allow the riders to loosen their legs for the next's day's crunch. The Tour de Suisse throws the Flumserberge at the end of the 197-kilometre stage two; it is a climb that will shatter the classification and see a handful of riders emerge as overall contenders.

Stages three (finishing in Gossau) and four (Domat-Ems) offer chances for the sprinters to bag some wins. Look for Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre), Erik Zabel (Team Milram) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) to be at the front in these stages. Stage five, 190 kilometres covers four categorised climbs, and looks ideal for an escape group before the mountains.

Luxembourg's Fränk Schleck will lead a strong Team CSC
Photo ©: AFP
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Only two categorised mountains make Thursday's stage six, but the 2479-metre Col du Nufenen and the finishing climb of Verbier will cook the riders' legs. Expect about three riders to emerge from this stage as overall contenders. They will conserve themselves on the following day's stage seven – 171 kilometres to Lyss – preparing for the mountain time trial one day later.

It has been seven years since the Tour de Suisse used a mountain time trial, when USA's Lance Armstrong topped the Crans Montana first on his way to win the overall race title. Could the winner of this year's test go on to win the Suisse overall and then the Tour de France? The first step will be surviving the last stage – a 168 kilometre run to Bern that should be destined for an escape group.

Last year's second place finisher, Kim Kirchen (High Road), will be one to watch as he is full of confidence coming from his win in Flèche Wallonne. He will be wise to keep an eye on fellow Luxemburgers Fränk and Andy Schleck of Team CSC and Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Cunego, winner of the Amstel Gold Race and the 2004 Giro d'Italia, might just be the one to repeat Armstrong's 2001 feat.

Other overall contenders include Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), Andreas Klöden (Astana), Joaquím Rodríguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Thomas Dekker (Rabobank), Bobby Julich (Team CSC), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott).