Our selection of riders to watch out for during the 2016 edition of the Tour de Suisse (June 11-19)
The nine-day WorldTour race features plenty of climbing and two time trials, so favours a true all-rounder who can climb and be strong against the clock.
We pick out 10 key riders that we think will be worth watching out for during the race, either for the overall victory, stage wins or entertainment.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
There has been plenty said about Welshman Geraint Thomas stepping up a level this season to become a stage race leader in his own right at Sky. The Tour de Suisse, then, is a key race for Thomas. A good performance here will prove that he is building form to confirm Sky’s commitment to making him a firm ‘plan B’ should Chris Froome falter or fail at the Tour de France. Thomas has form at the Tour de Suisse – he was a close second behind Simon Spilak last year, and is more than ready to step up on the podium.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo)
It’s hard to look past Fabian Cancellara claiming the two time trial stages of the 2016 Tour de Suisse in what will be his final appearance in his home tour before retirement. Cancellara won the race overall in 2009, and although a repeat GC performance may be beyond his grasp in 2016 against better climbers and at the age of 35, you can bet that if he wins the opening stage he’ll hang on to the leader’s jersey for as long as possible.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing)
With newly-appointed BMC team-mate and fellow/rival Tour de France contender Richie Porte battling Chris Froome and Alberto Contador in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tejay van Garderen leads the way for the men in red-and-black in Switzerland. The American has made a solid start to the year, with a time trial stage win already in the bag during the Vuelta a Andalucía, where he also placed second overall. Van Garderen needs to do well in Switzerland to float his name to the top of BMC’s list for Tour leader – a fact he’ll be acutely aware of.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
No one has done more to dispel the notion of the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’. World champion Peter Sagan goes into the Tour de Suisse as current leader of the WorldTour and winner of the Tour of Flanders. The race’s hilly stages are natural terrain for Sagan, and he views the race as a ‘tune-up’ before the Tour de France, where he will once again be front-runner for the points classification. Sagan has ear-marked stages two, three and four for potential wins – he has won at least one stage in the race every year since 2011.
Watch: Geraint Thomas – where it all began
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge)
Australian Michael Matthews returns to the Tour de Suisse, where he won stage four last year ahead of Peter Sagan. He is one of the few riders who can match the world champion, having the ability to tackle significant climbs and still keep something in the tank for a sprint finish. Like Sagan, he should figure on stages two, three and four.
Simon Spilak (Katusha)
Thanks to a strong performance in last year’s final time trial, Simon Spilak took the overall Tour de Suisse win from Thomas by just five seconds. However, that was the Slovenian’s last victory, as he has spent the following year without a win. Two top 10 finishes this season at the Tour de Romandie and Tour of the Basque Country do show that he’s in decent shape, but it could be a tall order to beat the likes of Thomas and van Garderen.
Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida)
Portuguese rider Rui Costa goes into the Tour de Suisse as the most successful rider in the event, having won three consecutive editions between 2012 and 2014. Costa has had a solid-yet-unspectacular start to the year, with a rash of top 10 places but no victories. The 29-year-old can still climb and his time trialling ability is decent enough – but it is doubtful that he can overcome an on-form van Garderen or Thomas, and his Lampre-Merida team may also lack the firepower to support him.
Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep)
Czech talent Zdenek Stybar heads up an eclectic line-up of riders for Etixx-QuickStep that is focussed more on stage victories rather than overall honours. Perceived as a one-day specialist, the former cyclo-cross world champ excels over punchy terrain and can make this translate into a solid performance in week-long stage races too, as his seventh place overall at Tirreno-Adriatico confirms. Always a danger man in an escape group.
Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep)
On paper, emerging Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria is the strongest finisher in bunch kicks. However, the Tour de Suisse doesn’t have much in the way of flat and fast stages due to the hilly terrain, so the 21-year-old may be out of his comfort zone contesting finishes against the likes of Sagan and Matthews. It will be interesting to see how he fares.
Frank Schleck (Trek-Segafredo)
The days of Frank Schleck being a stage race contender seem to have long faded, and his overall victory in the 2010 Tour de Suisse almost feels like it belongs to a different rider entirely. A quiet start to the season was hampered further by a collarbone break at Fleche Wallonne, so his form is likely to be rocky. Nonetheless, expect to see Schleck getting into a break in the mountains – and he could just make it stick, like he did to win stage 16 of the 2015 Vuelta a España.