As forecast by Spokenforks yesterday, Peter Sagan did indeed spoil the chance of any such party for the sprinters, utilising the technical finish to his advantage and delivering a potent acceleration late on to take yet another career victory at Tour de Suisse. The Slovakian’s account is by no means closed at this year’s edition and Stage 7 offers him yet another opportunity to exploit his current vein of form and pocket a hat trick of stages in 2015. With a finale which should see the toughest of the sprinters rise to the top once again, Sagan will instead have to switch from technical ability to brute strength and determination to win this contrasting challenge.
The remaining stepping stones towards the final day’s individual time trial should all favour the strong sprinters and classics riders who have signed up to contest 2015’s Tour de Suisse. Stage 7 offers yet another jagged day’s profile, though it does fail to reach anything greater than 800m during its entirety from Biel to Düdingen. The 164.6km route which links the start and finish towns encompasses four categorised climbs, but should guarantee a bunch kick of sorts; even if the composition is likely to alter given the uphill run to the line against a 4% gradient. It is upon two laps of the Düdingen town centre which we shall saw all four climbs feature, as the teams attempt to break one another’s hopes by upping the pace and shelling the more lightweight sprinters out the back of the peloton.
Once again the day shall open with a reasonably long period of flat, this time providing the peloton with 60km of simple riding to get themselves up to speed and ticking over nicely. Despite the profile clearly displaying a transition to rolling terrain after this period, it is not until the riders pass through the day’s finish for the first time after a little over 90km of racing, that they shall begin the 36.8km circuits which comprise the finale and contain all four categorised climb present on Stage 7. The Category 3 Freiburgstrasse is first on the agenda, a short 1.1km ascent which will do damage if its 6.3% average gradient is ridden at an intense tempo late on. After this, the pack sweep down momentarily before squaring up to the Category 3 Hauptstrasse, a mysterious ascent which lacks any level of documentation beyond its supposed distance of 4.1km, though it is believe to possess gradients around 6% – 8%; any such climb’s attributes are magnified by the high speed with which the peloton shall begin the run in.
Having repeated this double header for the second time, the bunch have almost 20km to get their act together and ensure the teams’ selected men for the day are moved into position ahead of the finale. The road remains rolling and features four roundabouts during the last couple of kilometres to add to the anxiety. This is followed by several turns ahead of the final uphill 800m, eventually exiting onto the finishing straight with 500m remaining. Though the straight is long enough for many of the top sprinters to get up to speed, they shall have to compete with a steady 4% gradient which should add a few wildcards into the mix as the battle for victory on Stage 7 is ignited.
The impressive form which Peter Sagan is so clearly in right now makes him the obvious favourite for a more difficult sprint finish which could see him triumph once again this week. As mentioned previously, his speed is not at the same level as the likes of Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb or Alexander Kristoff for example, but his technical skill to position himself and strength means a win on Stage 7 is plausible. The longer finishing straight certainly diminishes his odds of winning, though the tricky concluding 2km will be favourable as they navigate several turns and four roundabouts before the riders catch sight of the finishing straight. Another advantage for Sagan is the possibility of the attrition rate increasing during the town centre circuits; he is one of the strongest of the sprinters once life gets more testing on short climbs before the finish and could even ask his teammates to push the pace if he feels everyone is rolling over these ascents too easily.
John Degenkolb has taken stage wins on uphill finishes before and has the brutish force to stay in contention despite the wearing hills which shape the finale. He should be confident of being at the fore when entering the 500m run to the line, a straight which would allow him to start his sprint and reach a maximum speed if all plays out well. Degenkolb’s speed is possibly unrivalled on this terrain, making him a real danger to the hopes of Sagan if he manages to exit the final corner in a good position. With the incline and finishing straight’s length, the German strongman has a real chance of winning here should he be on form.
Usually Alexander Kristoff would be labelled as key favourite on this type of stage finish, but with his form so far at the Tour de Suisse leaving plenty to be desired, there is a chance he might not even be in the mix to contest the win. Despite this apparent absence of form right now, he still managed to muster an impressive third place finish yesterday, regardless of the fact it failed to suit him well at all. Many of his victories have come independently of a well drilled leadout team to, the Norwegian being well versed in looking after himself in the midst of the maelstrom which often decides these sprints. His efforts on the previous day could leave him somewhat short on potency though, possibly reducing his odds of winning, despite being the fastest man against the gradient alongside Degenkolb.
Frenchman Arnaud Démare does appear to be resurrecting a certain level of form as this race develops, but he is still likely to come up short against rivals currently in their pomp. This will come as a disappointment for both himself and his FDJ.fr team given how the technical run in and uphill sprint do suit the Frenchman particularly nicely. Should he find himself riding well on the day, Démare should put in a good showing regardless of his injuries from Stage 2, making a top ten placing well within the realms of possibility.
BMC could play two cards with one man, Greg Van Avermaet possessing a skill set which could see him victorious in either a bunch kick or a sprint from a small breakaway. The Belgian classics specialist suits the uphill conclusion well and has already managed a podium placing when finishing third on Stage 4’s uphill battle. Though lacking the speed of Degenkolb or strength of Sagan for example, he could leave with the win if he starts his sprint much earlier or successfully picks the right breakaway which delivers him to the line amongst lesser sprinters.
With Michael Matthews having packed his bags and gone home already, Orica-GreenEDGE might decide to place their hopes upon Swiss favourite Michael Albasini for Stage 7. The finishing circuits could prove attritional enough to bring him to the fore after the faster rivals have been drained, Albasini’s form upon uphill finishes makes him a contender for the win if conditions prove favourable. The finish itself would probably have suited him more if the straight was somewhat longer, so, much like Van Avermaet, his better option might be to join a well timed breakaway.
As we have already witnessed at this year’s Tour de Suisse, even the most innocuous lumps and bumps of a stage profile end up being greatly exaggerated due to the tempo which is set upon them by the frontrunners. A hard race would make the two passes of the town centre finishing circuit reminiscent of a classic, ensuring that strong riders who pack a punch in a sprint could contest the victory. Jurgen Roelandts appears in good form at the moment and was only bettered by Peter Sagan on the previous day, no doubt providing him with the confidence to attempt something on Stage 7. Another name more synonymous with the classics is Sep Vanmarcke, a rider known for his immense strength and ability to turn out a rapid sprint at the end of some of the hardest days in the saddle. A move made upon one of the final climbs could prove dangerous for the peloton; Vanmarcke recognised as an extremely difficult man to drag back even when solo.
A dark horse who remains worth watching in the concluding kilometres of Stage 7 is Katusha’s Daniel Moreno who is evidently in good form at the moment. The Spanish rider has already secured a pair of second places and a sixth place finish behind Michael Matthews as well, clearly demonstrating a high level of race fitness currently. Today’s stage profile might not look horrendous on paper, but we have already seen expectedly calm passages explode under the groaning pressure of certain teams at the start of the week. Moreno is good in an uphill sprint, having taken La Flèche Wallonne thanks to such talents and could seriously fancy his chances against big name rivals. Like many mentioned above, he does not bolster the speed of Degenkolb, Kristoff or Sagan, but if the race proves a lot harder than expected on paper, Moreno could put in a barnstorming effort in the final 800m and steal a march on the big names.
Stage 7 has the feel of a day which could be plunged into chaos within the passing of a second, be it due to tougher terrain than expected or a miscalculation by the peloton which lets a strong breakaway slip off the front. Regardless of the vast array of riders who could all make it into a break and subsequently dominate a sprint finish, the conclusion should be fought amongst the sprinters and their supporting cast of teammates. In this situation there is a strong case to be made for the flying Peter Sagan who appears borderline unstoppable right now; as long as the course is suiting. On this occasion the longer finishing straight does reduce his chances of winning somewhat, but the technically demanding final 2km could level this off to a certain degree for him. Not far behind the Slovakian ace should be John Degenkolb, the immensely strong sprinter likely to have the speed to make him the fastest in the final 500m to the line. The biggest worry for the German is ensuring he makes it into a good position once he has exited the last bend, of which he has the talented support to do just this and would be the hardest man to beat if all goes to plan. A mixture of classic specialist and strong riders will feature around the two mentioned above; Alexander Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Albasini all possessing the skills required to win this finish which could prove more demanding than many expect heading into it. Beyond these, Daniel Moreno warrants a mention as an outside bet, primarily due to his current run of form at the Tour de Suisse, but also thanks to the uphill finish which could see him get a jump on the major sprinters.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd John Degenkolb 3rd Alexander Kristoff
Outsider: Daniel Moreno