In recent years, no race has proven to be a more accurate guide as to who will win the Tour de France in July that the Tour de Romandie (April 29 to May 4).
With remarkable similarity, Cadel Evans (2011), Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Chris Froome (2013) all made Romandie their second stage win title of the season in which they won the Tour. Riders lining up for the 2014 edition will no doubt have this in mind, and an overall victory would be a major confidence boost for anyone who has their hearts set out on wearing the yellow jersey in Paris.
Froome goes into the race as favourite, despite his relatively quiet start to the season. So far the 28-year-old has competed in just two races this year: the Tour of Oman, which he won, and the Tour of Catalunya, where he finished sixth, looking a little off the pace. Of some concern is Froome’s fitness, after he had to pull out of Liege-Bastogne-Liege with a chest infection. With the Tour just over two months away, he cannot afford to lose too many more racing days.
Aside from Froome’s form, the performance of the Sky team as a whole will be particularly interesting. In 2012 they placed a remarkable three riders in the top five (Richie Porte, Michael Rogers and Wiggins), all of whom went on to star in Sky’s indestructible Tour line-up in July. By contrast, last year Porte was the highest-placed Sky rider behind Froome in a relatively lowly eighth place, and would go on to be the only domestique to support his leader in the high mountains at the Tour.
Porte will again line-up alongside Froome this week, but how much support Frome can rely on this July may be signified by the performances of David Lopez and Mikel Nieve this week.
One rider Sky won’t have to test their strength against is Alberto Contador, who has opted not to ride in Romandie. The Spaniard has been the best stage racer this year, with two overall wins (Tirreno Adriatico, Tour of Basque Country) to Froome’s one (Oman). We’ll have to wait for another glamorous head-to-head between the two, but in the meantime it will be revealing to see how Contador’s star teammates who are riding (Roman Kreuziger, Rafa Majka) match up against Sky.
Other contenders include Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Rui Costa (Lampre), both of whom have an impressive record in this race and finished on the podium behind Froome last year. The emphasis on time trials also suits Garmin’s Andrew Talansky, who is looking to kick-start a hitherto quiet year, the on-form Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), for whom overall victory would signify a real possibility of him winning yellow in July.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma) will be favourite for the final time trial and possibly the prologue, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) ought to win the sprint stages.
The route reverts back to its usual formula prior to last year, with a series of flat and hilly stages – and a decisive mountain stage on Friday, featuring four category one climbs – sandwiched in between a prologue and final day time trial.
Tour de Romandie 2014: Stages
Tuesday April 29, Prologue, Ascona, 5.6km Prologue
Wednesday April 30, stage one, Ascona to Sion, 201km
Thursday May 1, stage two, Sion to Montreux, 167km
Friday May 2, stage three, Le Bouveret to Aigle, 181km
Saturday May 3, stage four, Fribourg to Fribourg, 173km
Sunday May 4, stage five, Neuchatel, 18.5km TT
Tour de Romandie 2014: TV Schedule
Digital and satellite channel Sky Sports 2 will be broadcasting live coverage of the 2014
Tour de Romandie
Tuesday April 29, 15:00, Prologue LIVE, Sky Sports 2
Wednesday April 30, 15:00, stage one LIVE, Sky Sports 2
Thursday May 1, 15:00, stage two LIVE, Sky Sports 2
Friday May 2, 15:00, stage three LIVE, Sky Sports 2
Saturday May 3, 15:00, stage four LIVE, Sky Sports 4
Sunday May 4, 12:30, stage five LIVE, Sky Sports 4
Tour de Romandie 2014: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Tour de Romandie: Recent winners
2013: Chris Froome (Sky)
2012: Bradley Wiggins (GBr)
2011: Cadel Evans (Aus)
2010: Simon Spilak (Slo)
2009: Roman Kreuziger (Cze)
2008: Andreas Kloden (Ger)
2007: Thomas Dekker (Ned)
2006: Cadel Evans (Aus)
2005: Santiago Botero (Col)
2004: Tyler Hamilton (USA)
2003: Tyler Hamilton (USA)
Tour de Romandie: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky in 19-24-51
2. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 54 secs
3. Rui Costa (Por) Movistar at 1-49
4. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Sharp at 1-54
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Blanco at 2-03
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale at 2-14
7. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 2-16
8. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 2-31
9. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 2-32
10. Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling at 2-41