After a couple of days which saw the strongest men of the peloton drawn to the frontline, Stage 4 now offers the sprinters an opportunity to make their time here worthwhile. Plenty of big name riders are present at the Tour de Suisse and the outcome could offers us some insight as to the potential battle for the green jersey at this year’s Le Tour de France.
A 193.2km course links the towns of Flims and Schwarzenbach, offering a relatively calm start today the day with an opening passage of flat terrain until the 60km marker. At this point life suddenly gets a lot harder for the peloton as they are tasked with tackling the 8.9km ascent of Wildhaus. The Category 2 climb is likely to see a serious shelling of the peloton as the strongmen look to shatter their faster finishing rivals on the 6.8% average gradient, before they even catch sight of the finish.
Just shy of 125km will still be left once the leaders have hauled themselves over the climb, after which they will ride onto the finishing circuit at 82km remaining which will comprise the day’s finale. The Category 3 Husenstrasse is the main feature of these laps, a 1.8km ascent which is ridden at an average gradient of 5.7%. The latter stages of these laps include rolling terrain which eventually strikes flat once again with less than 10km separating them from the finishing line. Though not present upon the stage profile, another 1.2km climb is present during these final 1okm of the race, the 3% gradient dragging onwards to the 7km marker, at which point they roll down to the flamme rouge and hit the run in at 900m; which is raced entirely uphill at a constant gradient of 3.4%. In total this 29.2km circuit shall be used twice, once the peloton have passed the finish line for the first time at around 58km remaining.
Though Peter Sagan displayed a strong demonstration of form to win on the previous day, Stage 4 looks to be a more favourable finish for his faster rivals. That does not mean it is easy to dismiss the Slovak rider’s chances though, he truly favours riding this race as part of his Tour de France build up and a running total of 10 stage wins proves that Sagan’s familiarity with this race always leaves him a danger.
Alexander Kristoff is the favourite for many due to his prowess on this draining terrain, but specifically the finishing circuit and uphill finish which looks set to grind down the majority of his opponents. The Norwegian has been in incredible form during the year and will certainly seize upon the opportunity here to stretch his legs and take a win ahead of a likely appearance at Le Tour de France. If all remains together as they pass under the flamme rouge, Kristoff will be the man to beat on a finish which even he would struggle to design more favourably.
Another strongman sprinter who should be able to cope with the day’s demands is the German powerhouse John Degenkolb. His spring campaign proved extremely fruitful, seeing him walk away with a historic double of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. Though Kristoff might be strongest throughout the day, Degenkolb is likely to be the stronger of the two in a sprint finish and has often outgunned his rival in similar surroundings. Degenkolb will need to ensure his line of sight is not mobbed by Katusha, but assuming he can survive the day and find a clear passage to the finish, the German could be unstoppable.
Orica-GreenEDGE could decide to invest their efforts into supporting their sprinter Michael Matthews, a man who put in a spirited performance yesterday and was only found lacking very late on. The support is certainly present if he decides to contest the stage, but the draining finishing circuit might prove too much for the Australian; this season has seen unexpectedly impressive showings at Milan-San Remo and the Giro d’Italia though.
Possibly the only team with two realistic options in a sprint finish is Lampre-Merida, the Italian team having turned up at Tour de Suisse with Davide Cimolai and Niccolo Bonifazio. The former suits this uphill finish well, but is likely to find this winning opportunity slightly too soon in regards to his developing form. The latter is clearly closer to race winning condition and possesses a sharp finish, but the rising star could see himself swamped by stronger rivals on the difficult drag to the line.
Ahead of his campaign to take Le Tour’s green jersey in the coming weeks, Mark Cavendish will seek to demonstrate a level of form before he leaves the Tour de Suisse and finish his final tune ups before the grand départ. Not much is made of his climbing ability, but he remains one of the best in regards to sprinters and should be present at the finale. Though the finish is uphill, the Brit has often remarked that he is the fastest regardless of the gradient, a belief which secured him the rainbow stripes on similar terrain.
José Joaquin Rojas could certainly prove a threat on Stage 4, his form is evidently growing after managing a solid 10th place on Monday. He often comes to the fore after an attritional day and will certainly deem this stage a worthwhile opportunity to sink his efforts into. Given he is not the fastest man on this list, Rojas will need to ensure he is well placed as they enter onto the finishing straight, if he manages this he could pull off a surprising win.
Others who stand a chance of featuring in this challenging finish include Arnaud Démare, Matteo Trentin and Jurgen Roelandts; all of which have the potential of being some of the fastest in a testing bunch kick.
As ever, the Tour de Suisse has the potential to ratchet up the intensity and shell many contenders on this list before the riders can even begin to think about the finish. Assuming that the likes of Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb survive the day, it could be a showdown between the two dominant forces of the Classics this season. Though Kristoff has been in imperious form all year, the recent return from high altitude training could see Degenkolb in better shape and with a sharper sprint to take the win. Peter Sagan is ‘Mr.Consistent’ and will doubt be present within the top 5, but a faster selection of rivals should put the win beyond the Slovak today. The most interesting man to watch shall be Mark Cavendish, at 30 years old the Manxman is supposed to be tailing off nowadays, but many within the sport suggest he is perhaps in the form of is life currently.
1st John Degenkolb 2nd Alexander Kristoff 3rd Mark Cavendish