It is hard to write about last week's Tour de Suisse without being despondent about Gino Mäder, who died after crashing into a ravine on stage five. The death of the Bahrain-Victorious rider saw stage six neutralised in tribute, and the incident dominated minds over the final couple of days in Switzerland.
However, the racing went on, and the racing will go on. With the Tour de France under a fortnight away, there was a lot to learn from the Tour de Suisse over its seven-raced days.
There was the proper emergence of a new star from Denmark, impressive riding from both Juan Ayuso and Remco Evenepoel, and Wout van Aert building slowly to his form for the Tour. Meanwhile, Ineos Grenadiers were a bit absent again, but perhaps that can be excused due to the serious crash by Magnus Sheffield on stage five, similar to the one that led to the death of Mäder.
Mattias Skjelmose emerges as a new hope from Denmark
All eyes were on one rider from Denmark who has hopes of featuring near the top of the general classification at the Tour de France, while perhaps all eyes should have been on another rider from Denmark who has hopes of featuring near the top of the general classification at the Tour de France.
Move aside, Jonas Vingegaard, step forward Mattias Skjelmose. The former, a dominant winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné just over a week ago, now briefly forgotten, as the latter won the Tour de Suisse on Sunday. Not in quite as dominant a fashion, and it would take an optimistic Trek-Segafredo fan to suggest that Skjelmose has a chance against Vingegaard or Tadej Pogačar, but it was an arrival into the GC conversation for the Dane.
"I thought it was possible," the 22-year-old said. "I always race to win, and I think even if I had a disadvantage in the skinsuit, I proved that my shape is good and that I’m ready for the Tour. I always believed in this."
It was not the first win of Skjelmose's career, that came at the Tour de Luxembourg last year - a race he won overall - but it certainly is the biggest to date. One could say this appeared to be coming, if one looks at the Dane's season to date: a stage win and second overall at the Etroile de Bessèges, a win at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes, second at La Flèche Wallonne in April.
The Trek-Segafredo rider won stage three, which gave him the margin over his GC rivals that he effectively won the race by, before he successfully defended his lead over the following days. One to watch for the top 10 at the Tour, for sure.
Juan Ayuso is properly back
After a very slow start to 2023, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) can firmly say that he is back at the top of cycling. The 20-year-old was the coming thing last year, but due to tendonitis, he only raced for the first time at the Tour de Romandie in April. The Tour de Suisse was the second race of the Spanish sensation's season, and he impressed again.
Ayuso might not have won the GC, as was his and his team's plan, but two stage wins - a road stage and a time trial - is a great return for the Spaniard.
“[My feelings are] a bit mixed," he said post-stage. "Of course, not because I won the stage; it’s the second TT win this year, so I’m happy that I keep improving in this type of racing style. The primary goal was to win the GC, and I came second, so it’s a bit of a pity, but Mattias was super strong, and we have to just congratulate him.
“Of course, I wanted to get the GC to Gino, but also the stage he will be happy for me. Of course, this goes for him. Racing is a bit more on the side. You don’t feel like celebrating. It’s not what comes to you, but I think everybody here gave their best to Gino. Mattias is for sure thinking of him to give the GC for him, and I’m happy to win to try and honour his memory.”
It is unlikely that Ayuso will make UAE's Tour de France team, which will centre around Pogačar, but he would not be a bad plan B for the squad, so maybe...
Wout van Aert fails to meet his own high expectations
Three podium finishes and a top-five in a time trial, and the points jersey, would be the Tour de France preparation for anyone else, but Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is no ordinary rider.
Speaking post-race, Van Aert said that the week was "sobering" and that he couldn't take too much away from the Tour de Suisse, but his goals are obviously bigger than the Swiss race.
“It is somewhat sobering, but on the other hand you cannot draw many conclusions from this,” Van Aert said. “I had a good week. Until we lost Gino, I really enjoyed it. I got a good level, but not my very best level. The feeling I was driving around with, I can't really go on about that yet.
"I hope to take another step forward both mentally and physically by taking some extra rest now. The hard course I was still looking for, I gained here. It was of course also difficult last days on a human level. It will certainly do me good to go home for a while and get out of the racing world.”
Van Aert will be targeting quite a few stages at July's Tour, along with helping his Jumbo-Visma team leader Jonas Vingegaard on GC. The Belgian will hope for better form and luck by the time the race leaves Bilbao.
Remco Evenepoel returns to winning ways, but not dominance
The Tour de Suisse has traditionally been a final warmup race for the Tour de France, which is just 13 days after its last stage. However, some of the biggest names at the Swiss race will not be lining up in Bilbao, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) the most prominent of them.
The Belgian world champion was racing for the first time since having to pull out of the Giro d'Italia, and looked like he had never been away, finishing second on three stages and winning one. However, he was not quite the dominant force that we were used to earlier this year, and he had to settle for third overall.
The 23-year-old has bigger goals on his mind, however, principally the defence of his World Championships title in Glasgow in August, and potentially the Vuelta a España too. As far as easing back into racing, this was far from dipping your toes into the water, more fully diving in. Evenepoel is back.
Ineos Grenadiers left wanting again
The crash of Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) on stage five, in similar circumstances to Gino Mäder, surely impacted the mood within the team over the following stages. That should be taken into account when being critical of the British squad. Thankfully, Sheffield is understood to be recovering from his serious accident.
In recent years, the Tour de Suisse has been Ineos's race, with the squad winning the last three editions through Egan Bernal (2019), Richard Carapaz (2021) and Geraint Thomas (2022). This time around, the team's highest finisher was Tom Pidcock in 22nd place.
Ineos' A-team might have been at the Dauphiné, but that hardly sparkled either. In Switzerland, the team's best result was fourth in the opening time trial, by Sheffield. There must be big plans for the Tour squad, but things do not seem to be going as smoothly as in previous years heading into the biggest race of the year.
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