Tuesday, April 28, sees the start of the Tour de Romandie, a six day WorldTour-ranked stage race held in the western French-speaking regions of Switzerland.
With the classics season now over, teams will now be looking ahead towards preparing their top stage racers for the upcoming grand tours. Although the Giro is the next imminent stage race set to take place in a couple of weeks, the Tour de Romandie is more of an early preparatory race for July’s Tour de France.
As such, it is a key race for Team Sky, and they have made the race a specialty of theirs; Chris Froome has won the previous two editions, while Bradley Wiggins was triumphant in 2012.
Defending champion Froome is on the start list again this year, and could do with a strong performance to get his interrupted season back on track. Since getting the better of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in a thrilling encounter to win the Ruta del Sol in February, illness forced him out of the rematch with his Spanish rival at the Tirreno-Adriatico. He returned to racing at the Volta a Catalunya but was clearly still to fully recover, as reflected by his 71st-place overall ranking.
Such a lack of form might raise concerns over his ability to be competitive at Romandie, but it should be remembered that Froome had similar problems with illness last year before exploding back into form and winning the overall.
Among those hoping to end his run of victories here are fellow Tour de France hopefuls Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Both bring reasonable form into the race, Nibali having animated the Ardennes Classics and Quintana on the back of a sixth-place overall finish at the Tour of the Basque Country, and fans and the race organisers alike will be hoping for an exciting pre-Tour showdown between the pair and Froome.
To begin with though the riders will go head-to-head as teams rather than individuals, as stage one will be a team time trial. Breaking the race’s usual template of starting with a short individual time-trial, this stage will add a new dimension to the Tour de Romandie as well as providing useful practice for the team time trial at the Tour, and at 19.2km will be long enough to affect the GC.
Stage two has a hilly profile with a category two climb 15km from the finish and a flat finish that nicely balances the chances between escape groups and sprinters who can get over the climbs. Stages three and four also feature hills but does not look as difficult, so could both end in sprints.
The final two stages will be the key days in the GC battle. Stage six includes four category one climbs, including a mountain-top finish atop Champex-Lac, a 11.65km effort with an average gradient of 7.2 per cent that looks sure to cause big time gaps.
Then there’s the final stage individual time-trial in Lausanne. At 17.3km in length it is a similar distance to the stage last year in which Froome moved into the overall lead on the final day, so could prove decisive once again.
Tour de Romandie 2015: Stages
Stage one, Tuesday April 28, Vallée de Joux – Juraparc, 19.2km TTT
Stage two, Wednesday April 29, Apples – Saint-Imier, 168.1km
Stage three, Thursday April 30, Moutier – Porrentruy, 172.5km
Stage four, Friday May 1, La Neuveville – Fribourg, 169.8km
Stage five, Saturday May 2, Fribourg – Champex-Lac, 162.7km
Stage six, Sunday May 3, Lausanne, 17.3km ITT
Tour de Romandie 2015: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Tour de Romandie: recent winners
2014: Chris Froome (GBr)
2013: Chris Froome (GBr)
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)
Tour de Romandie: Last year’s top 10 (2014)
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
2. Simon Spilak (Slo) Katusha at 28secs
3. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 1-32
4. Mathias Frank (Sui) IAM Cycling at 1-44
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 1-48
6. Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at 1-52
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 1-56
8. Jon Izaguirre (Spa) Movistar at 2-07
9. Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar at 2-15
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ at 2-31