Yesterday’s Queen stage lived up to expectations and saw an elite group of contenders left in the final 5km to wrestle their way to the top of the fearsome Rettenbachferner. Impressive performances from Geraint Thomas, Simon Špilak, Domenico Pozzovivo and Miguel Ángel López all warrant their own column inches of acclaim, but it was the dominant showing of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot which stole the show and won him both the stage and overall race leadership. It had been a while since we last witnessed such a display from the talented FDJ.fr rider and he stands atop the general classification with an advantage of 47″ to his nearest rival Geraint Thomas. With relatively tame parcours now remaining, it is the individual time trial on Stage 9 which is set to decide whether or not Pinot can keep yellow upon his shoulders. Tom Dumoulin demonstrated immense determination to limit his losses to Pinot and remains a great threat to the overall win while only 1′ 37″ behind in tenth place, but it is the proven time trialist Geraint Thomas who looks poised to seize upon his leadership role here and attempt to take the overall win from Pinot at the death.
Thursday’s Stage 6 offers an immediate contrast to the previous day’s war of attrition between the mountain men, this day is aimed at luring the sprinters out and seeing who has survived the last 24 hours in the best condition. A 193.1km stretch from Wil to Biel should ensure a sprint finish is guaranteed, though rolling in nature upon the profile card, the stage’s early kilometres are the highest points after their departure, so the day should not prove too difficult to control for the sprinters’ teams. One climb is present during the day’s ride, the Category 3 Auensteinstrasse which is only 1km in length, but an energy sapping 8.3% gradient for its entirety. Though that is officially the sole recognised climb, that is not to suggest that the day is lacking in climbing, a total of 1167m being racked up during the stage despite never venturing north of 600m in altitude.
A variety of climbs around 2km in legnth are spread throughout the day, but having not been formally recognised by Tour de Suisse for this stage, there is little data for the peloton to anticipate their efforts. Once all of these diminutive climbs have been tackled, the riders will see the tempo increase rapidly as they ride onto the final 25km of predominately flat terrain. Anxiety will begin to spread throughout the pack as the need for the sprinters to position themselves ahead of this testing finale is paramount. The technical conclusion to Stage 6 is almost a reversed run in; beginning with an extended stretch of flat road which turns left tightly at 800m from the line, the sprinters will then swarm to readjust their position as they exit and then enter the final right-angled turn which sends them streaming right and onto a short 200m finishing straight. The ability to jump from wheel to wheel and a potent acceleration are set to be likely attributes which the eventual winner shall need to possess in order to win Stage 6.
Sprinters are offered little here in regards to a real top speed drag race, the finishes at Tour de Suisse often acting as a greater platform for the classics styled riders and puncheurs instead. Despite today’s technical final kilometre, it is the closest thing the real thoroughbred sprinters have to a dry run of the sprints which they shall be targeting at Le Tour de France in just a few weeks. Hence why Mark Cavendish is the man most fancied to win this stage, coming here in good form and wielding a leadout train which has the ability to deliver him safely into position when it matters most. With two dangerously tight bends once under the flamme rouge, positioning is imperative for those wishing to feature in the sprint, making Cavendish’d sprint train of Mark Renshaw, Michal Kwiatkowski, Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar priceless. The short 200m sprint could see Cavendish struggle to get up to speed fast enough, but the Brit is renowned for the ability to hold a gap, rather than continually pulling away from his rivals.
John Degenkolb is certainly in good form this year, taking both Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix during the sprint, but is likely to find this short, technical finish not to his suiting today. The German does own a solid leadout at this year’s Tour de Suisse, so has the potential to exit the last bend in a good position, but often finds himself without support in the final moments before he starts his sprint. A longer sprint after the corner would have offered him a greater chance of winning, allowing him to empty the tank and burn off his opponents before the line. He remains a danger despite the poor course for his abilities, where a messy finale could see him placed higher than expected and once he hits the front at full gas the win might be his.
This race has already proven that Peter Sagan has rediscovered form since leave the Tour of California after a dominant showing. Though Sagan does not have the raw speed to beat a rider such as Cavendish, this tricky finale which exits onto such a short finishing straight could level the playing field somewhat and the Slovak rider would be dangerous to underestimate given recent showings. A leadout is less of an imperative for Sagan too, a man who has taken several wins when riding solo in the finale and surfing wheels before hitting the front. If he can get the jump on his bigger named sprint rivals after the final corner, Peter Sagan could certainly win this tricky stage finish.
This stage fails to suit Alexander Kristoff, but even if it did, making a case for the Norwegian would remain a difficult task given his apparent struggles at this attritional race. He prefers a real battle for the line, often against a gradient and a much longer run at the line which allows him to get upto maximum speed. A certain level of support should be present for Kristoff as they approach the finish, a luxury which has often been absent, despite taking major victories in the last year; so he could be better positioned than expected after the last turn. This season has seen him regularly perform beyond expectation and to feature competitively at the end of Stage 6 would perhaps be one of the most impressive so far.
Once again Lampre-Merida have two options in Niccolo Bonifazio and Davide Cimolai, but could be left scratching their heads as to who is best to support on Stage 6. The young Bonifazio clearly possesses the required technical prowess and potent acceleration to win this stage, but has not looked comfortable the last couple of days in the saddle; if he has recovered then he should be well back by the team. Should Bonifazio appear ropey, Davide Cimolai can step in and offer the team a reasonable alternative, he would prefer a more difficult conclusion to the stage in regards to terrain, but the complicated finish might play out favourably for him regardless.
The last man to cross the line home yesterday was Arnaud Démare, a sprinter who would certainly be considered a strong contender if form was more apparent right now for the Frenchman. Technically testing finales are well within his abilities and the short finishing straight would allow him to utilise is rapid acceleration to get the jump on his rivals before they can begin closing him down. If he is in a better condition than expected on the day Démare, has everything to make him a real threat to the rest of the contenders.
A messy fight for positioning as the peloton hit the final bend could see some unexpected names placed at the fore with only 200m remaining; Jasper Stuyven, Tom Van Asbroeck and Jurgen Roelandts perhaps able to find themselves in the eventual top ten.
Mark Cavendish is the fastest man here, but is bound to have preferred a stage finale more suiting to his attributes. Regardless, he will not wish to have ridden the Tour de Suisse to simply walk away empty handed, so will no doubt invest everything into winning Stage 6. His team support is extremely talented and should guarantee him the required pacing in the concluding kilometres that it will be a struggle for anyone else to swamp him before the last bend. His biggest concern could come from Peter Sagan who has been approaching great form ahead of Le Tour de France and will be a threat on a stage finish which is more about positioning and acceleration than top sprint speed. Sagan has often found himself chasing Cavendish’s wheel, but Stage 6 could end up being the perfect opoorutnrit to remedy this frequent situation. Beyond those two, a real mixture of riders could fill the minor placings, but both John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are bound to manage a threatening charge to the line if all goes well in the last kilometre for themselves and their leadouts. A real dark horse for the stage win is Frenchman Arnaud Démare, a rider who is tailor made to take this victory, but his form is absent at the moment and he looks to be suffering from yesterday’s demands and a crash earlier in the week.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd Mark Cavendish 3rd John Degenkolb
Outsider: Arnaud Démare