The breakaway did indeed cause an upset on Stage 8 and saw a powerful blend of nineteen riders establish an unassailable lead; gradually disintegrating until only two men were left out front. It was down to AG2R’s Jan Bakelants and Alexey Lutsenko of Astana who found themselves in a two man sprint to decide the victor in the Swiss capital of Bern. Despite the apparent lack of action amongst the general classification contenders on the day, Geraint Thomas of Team Sky still managed to sneak a total of three seconds advantage out over current race leader Thibaut Pinot. A race against a clock on the final day is set to decide the overall outcome of this year’s Tour de Suisse, requiring Pinot to defend his jersey in an unfavourable position with Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin fancying their chances of overturning the deficit and stealing the title at the death.
The time trial itself is 38.4km of the sort of rolling terrain which the peloton have spent the last week or so battling upon day after day. Yet again the riders have been provided with a relatively flat opening to the stage after the initial descent which starts after 1km and takes them down to the level terrain by the 3km marker. Though several kilometres of flat roads are present for some time, a gentle gradient will begin lifting them up towards the Category 3 climb of Liebewill. Though the ascent itself is short at only 800m in length, the preceding couple of kilometres could make it difficult for some riders to select the right gear and tempo due to the little kicks in terrain which lead to the climb. Considering the average gradient of this short Category 3 climb is 9.25%, anyone who does fail to find the right rhythm as they fight their way to the summit could loose time rapidly.
Around 23km will then remain of the time trial set to decide the winner of this year’s Tour de Suisse, the course will see each rider push on after this as they sprint up another short and sharp unclassified hill; this marks the highest point of the day’s stage. From here a rapid descent then follows before they hit another kick in the terrain, a 1.1km rise which once over the other side shall lead them downhill to just shy of 4km from the finish. After which point the Category 3 Aargauerstalden will bring them up to the final 2.5km run in once its 400m ascent and 4.25% average gradient have been tackled. Several technical corners populate the last couple of kilometres right up to just 200m from the line, meaning some contenders could ship time even at this late stage if they pick the wrong line through the bends.
Current race leader Thibaut Pinot has his work cut out in order to walk away from this race as 2015’s champion, but that is not to suggest he is set to be walked over by the opposition. A talented climber, Pinot will favour this rolling terrain in order to reduce the deficit to time trial specialists on the day, though shall remain aware of how this stage is certainly no mountainous course. Much has been made of his supposed ineptitude against the clock in recent years, whereas a glance through his performances in the last couple of seasons displays a solid ability to place within the top ten when not racing a team time trial or prologue. If you also factor in the ‘magic’ of the yellow jersey when defending the lead, there is little to suggest he will be embarrassed by the abilities of his rivals. He could well fend off Tom Dumoulin’s attempt to win overall, but Geraint Thomas looms heavily behind Pinot and should win the overall today.
Beyond another dose of misfortune, Tom Dumoulin should almost be guaranteed the stage win on the final day at the Tour de Suisse. Only bettered by Tony Martin at last year’s time trial, the Dutchman has grown since then to become the biggest threat to breaking the Martin/Cancellara/Wiggins dominance of the World Championships. His performance in the last week has been extremely impressive, not only demonstrating his time trialling form on the opening day’s prologue, but also sticking with the big name climbers on some of the toughest climbs. The question on the day shall be as to what margin he wins by it seems, Pinot’s 1’14” perhaps within the realms of possibility to catch, but Geraint Thomas is bound to prove a much tougher man to reel in at 50″ to Dumounlin. His showings throughout the entire race and a likely win on Stage 9 should be satisfying enough for the Dutchman, regardless of how close he comes to regaining his yellow jersey at the final time of asking.
Geraint Thomas has paced his efforts at this race very well indeed, maintaing a presence amongst the favourites, yet ensuring he never rode himself into the ground for the sake of a fruitless attack. The Sky rider knows how rare these opportunities to lead the team are and has clearly seized upon this with great effect thus far. His prowess at climbing has grown substantially in recent years and has subsequently been highlighted as the cause behind his diminishing time trial performances; not to say these are poor though. If there is one thing he has proven this year so far, it is how well the Welshman can adapt to differing terrains and disciplines when targeting a specific race. His performance on the queen stage’s ascent of the Rettenbachgletscher should have been almost impossible for any rider previously so heavily invested in the Spring classics, yet Thomas seemed to find little hardship when transitioning from the short efforts which won him E3 Harelbeke to only just being distance by Thibaut Pinot on Stage 5’s summit finish. Today’s time trial course suits him relatively well with a blend of flat passages and short climbs, combing this with his current GC placing, Thomas is clearly the favourite to walk away from here as champion.
For the day’s stage win, Adriano Malori has the potential to push Dumoulin close for the victory, but his showings during this race so far have been rather disappointing. The Italian has progressed like his rival to become a rising name in the time trial discipline, but does not seem to have struck form so far this season against the clock. A course built towards top average speed would have favoured him more, but his climbing is solid enough to cope with the day’s rolling terrain regardless. Should he find himself in good condition, Malori might be the only man able to stick the pace of an extremely motivated Tom Dumoulin on Stage 9.
Fabian Cancellara’s names is written throughout the Tour de Suisse and its time trialling history as of late, but it seems too much for him to add another entry today. The Swiss hero started this race off the back of an infection and had to be prescribed medication in order to make it to the startline; though this did not stop him from just missing out on the prologue victory to Dumoulin. With the Tour de France not far away now, Cancellara will not wish to scupper his recovery from illness by going too deep for the sake of a stage win which has no bearing on the overall outcome. Though his name will no doubt be in the upper mix of the stage’s final classification, even if he had entered this race without having to recover from an illness, the requirements to beat Tom Dumoulin were always bound to be too great.
Though still developing as a time trial specialist, Bob Jungels will be worth watching to monitor his current progress when pit against the clock. The Luxembourg time trial champion is often better on rolling terrain such as this, but the distance here might be a little too much for him right now. His condition at the Tour de Suisse is relatively unknown as it stands, so his showing on the last day will be of definite interest to those wishing to see his talents grow.
Another young rider who is still developing, though seems capable of turning his hand to anything right now, is Michal Kwiatkowski. Despite having lost a large amount of time unexpectedly early on in this race, his form has not been too shaky and the Polish rider certainly appeared in good condition when animating two stage’s with his presence amongst the breakaway. Some would suggest he is riding himself into form at the tail end of this week, if this is the case, you cannot discount Kwiatkowski from a reasonable placing in a discipline which he often performs well at. His biggest difficulties of the day will be the course’s lumpy terrain and possible fatigue from his efforts in yesterday’s large breakaway.
Other names which all have the potential to fill out the eventual top ten on the day include: Steven Morabito, Simon Spilak, Silvan Dillier, Matthias Brändle and Martin Elmiger.
Tom Dumoulin looks poised to take another stage win here in the time trial, obviously riding at such a high level during this Tour de Suisse, where only bad luck seems able to prevent him from winning Stage 9. The biggest story of the day shall be the battle for time between Dumoulin, Pinot and Thomas. There is certainly a strong chance that Thibaut Pinot shall surprise many pundits with his efforts on the day in an attempt to defend his ownership of the yellow jersey, but the victory is likely to be Geraint Thomas‘ for the taking. The Welshman has been tactically astute in this race and has set himself up to take the victory on the final day nicely, requiring a strong performance, but not one which is greatly beyond his abilities right now.
1st Tom Dumoulin 2nd Geraint Thomas 3rd Adriano Malori
Overall Outcome: Geraint Thomas