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63rd Tour de Romandie - UPT
Switzerland, April 28-May 3, 2009
By Les Clarke
With the Giro d'Italia looming large in the collective cycling consciousness, the Tour de Romandie is a chance for those with Giro aspirations to show their mettle in stunning Swiss surrounds.
It's a race that's fun to watch because it delivers a little of everything we love about Grand Tours in a week-long, 'bite-size' event where no rider's a certainty until the finish. All this without the chess tactics of a Giro d'Italia or Tour de France, like Alberto Contador's 'injured wrist' at last year's Giro.
It's undeniable that Fabian Cancellara experienced a sub-par Spring Classics campaign as a result of injury and illness that effectively ruled him out of contention for the big occasions. Bad luck in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen ended his chances in that race while he missed the move in Paris-Roubaix. The Tour de Romandie is a chance for the man they call Spartacus to return to the fore.
The perfect setting for that return could be on home turf - Lausanne - the location for the Tour de Romandie's prologue. At 3.1km, it's tailor made for his explosive power and strength. There's very little elevation - that's saved for later in the event - and a commanding display in this part of the race should set him up for a high general classification placing.
A little bit of everything
With no Bradley Wiggins to challenge him, Cancellara is a 'safe as houses' bet to take out the prologue that runs along the Quai de Belgique and Quai d'Ouchy on the edge of Lake Genève.
Stage one makes its way along the lake's edge before heading into the mountains for a gradual uphill pull that culminates in the day's Category 1 climb, the Col du Jaun. It's then time for a descent and a couple of intermediate sprint points before the finishing lap that takes riders to the line in Fribourg. This is the city where Robbie McEwen (Katusha) grabbed his first win of 2008 on May Day last year, so if he's in with a sniff, look out.
This stage could be a lucky dip, however. Mountain bike gun Fredrik Kessiakoff (Fuji-Servetto) and Cervélo's Dominique Rollin could be outside chances if they can get in a move that goes before the roads point upwards. They've both proven how strong they can be off the front, and both carry strong credentials as powerful men, regardless of the situation.
While teams with general classification hopes such as Saxo Bank and Silence-Lotto won't be busting themselves to stamp their mark on the race, any escape group will be given minimal leash to establish itself on the leaderboard. Their day to relax a little comes the following stage, as the sprinters eye their chance at glory.
Stage two is a day made for the likes of McEwen and Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad) - not too much climbing, a slightly undulating final 40 kilometres and a nice drag race to Chaux-de-Fonds. They will be challenged by Oscar Freire (Rabobank), who is building form very gradually following his mishap in the Tour of California and subsequent recovery. This trio will have its work cut out by the likes of Garmin-Slipstream's Tyler Farrar, who is also recovering from a crash, and Juan José Haedo, who has had a quiet start to 2009.
Romandie's stage three team time trial is where the magic happens, and this year should be no exception. Starting in Yverdon, riders steadily climb into the countryside before the descent into Pomy and then back to Yverdon. Andreas Klöden got himself onto the top of the general classification with a strong ride in the individual time trial during last year's edition of Romandie, although the German won't be in Switzerland for this year's race, which plays into the hands of Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Cancellara nicely. Both riders have strong teams to drive them through the 14.8km course.
Don't rule out Thomas Dekker, either. The Dutchman will be technically riding in support of Evans throughout the week, although if the opportunity is there to secure a podium place, he's got the ability to take it. It's a similar situation for the likes of Columbia-Highroad's Tony Martin or Kanstantsin Siutsou - both wonderfully talented with races to win. Could Romandie be one of those races? And Liquigas' Roman Kreuziger shouldn't be left out of the mix - he'll have pace to burn and the ability to back it up the next day.
Category two to sort the contenders and pretenders
Just when you think it may be over bar the shouting, along comes stage four and slaps riders in the face, serving up three Category 1 climbs and a Category 2 toughie. If he puts himself in a good position thanks to the time trial, Evans could be the man to command the loftiest heights of the overall rankings in Sainte-Croix. It would be amiss to rule out the likes of the aforementioned Kreuziger, plus José Gomez Marchante and David De La Fuente as the day's big general classification improvers - both Spaniards are as tough as the terrain on offer in this stage and have proven themselves in the past.
Whoever looks like taking the crown better hang on tight during the final stage, as there's no respite from the climbing, with the Category 1 Col du Marchairuz the defining point in the 150.5km romp to Genève. The tactics employed on this day are obviously going to come down to who is where on general classification, although it's almost a certainty that it will be all-out racing - save the ceremonial last day to the Grand Tours, the Tour de Romandie doesn't need it.