For those wishing to avoid a particularly testing edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of this year’s Tour de France, many have chosen to ride the historic indicator of summer form; the Tour de Suisse. With a strong field containing a blend of time trial specialists, strongmen and sprinters; the opening day’s prologue should see many stake their claim to the first yellow jersey heading into the following nine stages. The absence of Lampre-Merida’s Rui Costa means we are destined to see a new champion of the race for the first time since 2012, the former World Champion having won this consecutively for the previous three years.
At a short, but potent, 5.1km in distance, the prologue in Rotkreuz will require a total emptying of the tank by any rider who wishes to stand a chance of winning this first challenge of the Tour de Suisse. Not long enough for the thoroughbred time trial experts, yet too long for the sprinters, the names which comprise the final top ten on the day are likely to be a unique mix for a WorldTour race against the clock. A relatively flat affair which fails to reach more than 450m at its highest peak, the intense point-to-point ride contains little technical challenges and is concluded with a pancake flat final kilometre which possess a 500m finishing straight. The course itself should fancy those who can get up to speed rapidly and put down as much power as possible during its brief entirety; a situation which means the idea of pacing will vanish out the window for plenty riding for the win.
A small handful of renowned time trial riders are present at this race, seeing them picked as the favourites for this blast around Rotkreuz’s prologue. The most well known by far is the Swiss national hero Fabian Cancellara, coming here after a disappointing Spring campaign which saw his tilt at the monuments stymied by injury. The Trek-Factory Racing rider has won a total of 16 prologues during his impressive career, five of which were all won at the Tour de Suisse. In March this year he came within a whisker of adding another to his palmares, but was edged out into second place by Adraino Malori at Tirreno-Adriatico. He fell ill during this week, but a course of antibiotics has left the Swiss rider deeming himself fit enough to ride the Tour de Suisse and is now sure to start. Cancellara is a class act, making it difficult to exclude him totally from fighting for the win, but with a less than desirable build up to this prologue, perhaps he will have to settle for the minor placings.
Adriano Malori has risen to be one of the most consistent time trial specialists in the peloton as of late, cementing his hopes of being a contender for the rainbow stripes come September’s World Championships. His sole prologue win came earlier this year when beating Cancellara by a second at Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as also winning two longer time trials this year when racing the Tour de San Luis and Circuit Cycliste Sarthe – Pays de la Loire. Malori will consider this a worthwhile litmus test of his form and condition approaching the summer, making it likely he shall give it everything to take the win which would place him in yellow.
Many pundits are expecting a closely fought duel between the Italian Malori and another rising time trial star; Tom Dumoulin. The Dutch rider has already finished third at the World Championships despite only now being 24 years old, while also having already got the better of some of the best against the clock. Perhaps the biggest indicator of his development as a rider has come in his performances alongside Tony Martin, one of the world’s finest in this discipline seeing his advantage over the Dutchman diminish almost race upon race. Though perhaps a longer and more technically demanding course would have placed the win firmly within his hands, Dumoulin still remains one of the key protagonists to fight for this prologue.
Away from the pure time trial riders come a mixture of mountain men, classics specialists and sprinters; Michal Kwiatkowski perhaps being the most likely to muscle his way into contention for this race. The Polish rider seems able to turn his hand to any discipline within cycling so far and not only has a good record against the clock in general, but already possesses three wins in prologues. The most recent of these wins coming at Paris-Nice this year, beating specialists Tony Martin and Rohan Dennis. As an overall contender for the Tour de Suisse, Kwiatkowski may decide to not bury himself too deeply in this opening affair, but will be aware that this is one of his best chances of taking the jersey during the tour itself.
Another overall hopeful who could chart well in this 5.1km race against the clock is Welshman Geraint Thomas, a rider who at one point was extremely consistent in this discipline. However, as he has developed as a rider, Thomas’ focus has shifted upon the ability to climb more than anything else, possibly leaving him short on power for this sort of hell for leather charge through Rotkreuz. Regardless of this, his form this year has been eye-catching to say the least and will no doubt look to seize upon his leadership opportunity at the Tour de Suisse with a solid time.
Home interests are also represented by Swiss team IAM Cycling and their Austrian rider Matthias Brändle, a man who won the Baloise Belgium Tour‘s prologue just last month when beating Rohan Dennis to the victory. The course on that day probably played into his hands more favourably due to the amount of corners and bends, meaning his more thoroughbred rivals were left bereft of opportunities to really lay down the speed on some clear straights. The Austrian rider will be approaching a peak in his form as he hopes to make the Tour de France selection, a big motivator for giving it everything in pursuit of the yellow jersey here.
Bob Jungels is another force against the clock, but the distance and course does not quite suit the Luxembourg rider as much as he would like. Despite this, he performed very well on a relatively similar 7km prologue at the Critérium International this Spring, bettered only by a second after a surprising performance from an in form Fabio Felline. Jungels is building for a likely Tour de France selection, though this might come somewhat too soon for him to be at peak condition, however he shall remain a likely name to feature in the top ten.
Beyond those mentioned above come an interesting mixture of sprinters who could find themselves higher up the placings than expected. Michael Matthews is one of two such riders who has form when competing in this sort of test, a reasonably consistent competitor despite being a sprinter; his form this year should see yet further improvement. Third place at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico prologue was Greg Van Avermaet, a strong performance which left him finishing two seconds behind Malori and only one behind Cancellara. A fifth place at the Baloise Belgium Tour during its prologue this year also confirmed his ability, making Avermaet well worth watching in today’s competition.
A longer and more demanding course would have made Tom Dumoulin the man to beat, but the prologue looks to be a much closer affair than expected. Though Fabian Cancellera has the class and history at this race, a recent course of antibiotics should result in a loss of top end ability for the Swiss rider heading into the race; though he remains a contender regardless. Factoring in form, ability and suiting to the course, Adriano Malori seems the man most likely to walk away with the victory on day one of the Tour de Suisse. Assuming he can put out the watts in such a short period of time, Malori should find himself in yellow by the end of the day.
1st Adriano Malori 2nd Fabian Cancellara 3rd Tom Dumoulin
Outsider: Michal Kwiatkowski