Peter Sagan was edged out by Alexander Kristoff for the victory on Stage 7 of Tour de Suisse, reversing his apparent struggles at the race to rediscover his imperious spring form and secure a win. Whereas on the previous day Sagan was victor thanks to his ability to navigate such a technical finale, on Stage 7 he came unstuck due to exiting the final position which left him stifled with 300m remaining as the Norwegian Kristoff unleashed his sprint to the line. Stage 8 offers a similar course which should favour the puncheurs who possess the required guts and determination to survive the rolling Swiss terrain and leave enough power in the tank to conquer finale and walk away from Bern with a win in the bag.
A 152.5km route will take the peloton on an out and back race which starts and finishes in the Swiss capital of Bern. The day includes four passes of a categorised ascent which features on a city centre circuit intended to wear down the big names and set the strongest riders up for the harsh finale which will crown the winner in Bern. Four laps of the 38.7km city centre circuit comprises the entire day’s racing, despite the first 90km failing to feature a recognised climb upon the stage profile, the terrain maintains a rolling style for the entirety of the 152.5km. Overall there are four recognised climbs upon the final lap of the city centre circuits, which should ensure a reasonable shelling of contenders as the tempo is increased ahead of a difficult fight for the line.
With a little over 20km remaining, the peloton shall summit their penultimate climb which is the 800m Liebewill; likely to crack some legs with an average gradient of 9.25%. Despite the climb summiting here officially, the reality is that the uphill run shall continue for several kilometres further until they break the 700m altitude mark and begin dropping down with around 15km separating them from the finish in Bern. Less than 4km shall be left to conquer as the frontrunners square to the finale climb before the finish line, the Category 3 Aargauerstalden likely to function as a springboard for somebody attempting to get away late on. Though only 400m in length and possessing a relatively tame 4.25% average gradient, its impact upon the outcome is bound to be dictated by the intensity at which it is ridden. Once completed, the last 2.5km are almost entirely flat, yet will test the abilities of this targeting a win, due to an array of technical turns late on. A total of six corners are present after the last climb, all of which are bound to be tackled at high speed and fought shoulder to shoulder upon in order to gain primary position for any possible sprint.
A winner here shall not only need the strength to maintain a good position in the last 2.5km, but the ability to navigate so many technical corners late on could be the difference between a win and minor placings. The finishing straight itself is a total of 200m in length, making it an attractive prospect to any rider who bolsters a potent acceleration which can see them exit the corner and gain an advantage which cannot be cut in such a short period of time.
Once again the Tour de Suisse has managed to create a finale which is likely to prove hard work to control for those wishing to set up the finish for their punchy sprinters. If a breakaway times its move well and possess the right composition of talented riders, there is a good chance of a move making it all the way to the line on Stage 8. However, given the amount of classic specialists, sprinters and puncheurs who could all dominant here, it seems that the common interest will be to ensure that a bunch kick decides the outcome in Bern. With this in mind, Peter Sagan looks to be the favourite yet again to commit to a charge to the line and attempt to reverse his fortunes from Stage 7 in order to finally gain his hat trick of wins at this year’s Tour de Suisse. The Slovak champion is perhaps the most in form rider at the race currently and has once again demonstrated his reputation for being the most consistent man when it comes to sprint finishes. Short climbs which are not excessively steep and numerous corners which place positioning above speed mean Sagan’s proven skill-set places him right at the fore to challenge for the win on Stage 8. If his team manage to reduce the amounts defensive efforts required of Sagan late on, leaving him well placed and fresh ahead of a likely bunch sprint, the incumbent wearer of the black jersey has a solid chance of winning once again here.
As stated throughout the week, Alexander Kristoff appeared to be lacking any noteworthy form and was subsequently a surprise victor when beating Peter Sagan to the win on Stage 7. Despite congestion behind him causing Sagan to alter his sprint a likely aid to his victory, Kristoff managed to stick the pace and manoeuvre himself into position to take advantage of a favourable finale. Katusha invested plenty into setting their leader up for the win and if they appear in numbers once again on the front of the peloton, it comes as an ominous warning to anyone else hoping to win in Bern. Throughout this season Kristoff has managed to go beyond expectation on numerous occasions, so despite the technically demanding run in not suiting him on paper, there must be caution when ruling out the strongmen entirely in his attempt to make it two wins on the bounce in Switzerland.
Home support shall be out in force for Orica-GreenEDGE’s Michael Albasini who should feature once again at the pointy end of a day’s racing which plays to his strengths. The biggest issue for the Swiss rider shall be gauging which is the most worthwhile endeavour between that of a sprint finish or joining a possibly successful breakaway group. Throughout the week he has stretched his legs and given pundits a reasonable indication of his current form, which combined with this fitting stage, should make him a real contender for the win. His team could look to make the final 20km or so particularly handwork for his rivals as they shall be aware that in the limited 200m sprint to the line, many other riders possess a sharper acceleration than Albasini, making a thinning of the pack advantageous for the Swiss rider. A tactually astute racer, if the race unfolds favourably for him, it is difficult to see him losing once placed in the perfect situation.
Sep Vanmarcke finally provided a showing of his form on Stage 7, a particularly interesting insight in the wake of a disappointing classics campaign for the Belgian. This series of circuits could be reminiscent of the bergs which populate his home nation, possibly inspiring him to try something late on as a solo breakaway rider. As mentioned before, Vanmarcke is a very difficult man to pull back once he has decided to give it everything to escape the peloton, even more so on terrain which looks favourably upon his talents. Despite the finale possibly being too tough for him when it comes to winning the stage, it seems likely that he will show his face and make life harder for the favourites regardless.
The course for Stage 8 is particularly suiting to the attributes of Greg Van Avermaet of BMC, the Belgian rider known for his ruthless blend of speed, strength and determination to hold off his pursuers. He has a great chance of winning if he chooses to join a breakaway on the day, as it is unlikely that he will find any escapees faster than him upon this rolling and technical finale. If he decided his odds are winning are better off amongst a bunch sprint, Avermaet certainly has the potential to surf through the bunch and place himself in the first five riders or so before hitting the front and accelerating sharply over the last 200m. Given the course being so favourable for the Belgian classics specialists, it seems difficult to imagine that he has not marked this as a serious target before his likely participation at Le Tour de France.
Etixx-Quickstep have failed to make their presence here felt much so far and could decide to give it everything ahead of the final day’s time trial which holds limited hope in terms of a win for them. On Stage 8 they might look upon Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar as two men worth backing to feature within a decisive breakaway which makes it to the line first. Both are able to commit to a high work rate in order to stay away and are equally skilled when it comes to navigating a tricky run in which features tight bends and a brief climb within the final 10km. If one of these riders makes it into a move with riders such as Michael Albasini or Greg Van Avermate, the peloton will certainly have their work cut out in order to prevent them deciding stage honours amongst themselves.
Davide Cimolai turned out an unexpectedly good performance to gain a third place finish on Stage 7, adding to his case for possibly going yet further on today’s stage. The Italian usually survives these sorts of testing days in the saddle and should find the benefit of a lead out reduced somewhat due to the twisting nature of the finale; bringing him further into contention.
Though a strong time trial performance is always likely from the Swiss rider, Fabian Cancellara will be aware that stage honours upon the final day are likely to be won by the those sitting within spitting distance of the yellow jersey right now. Instead, Cancellara may decided to switch focus and attempt to steal a march on the favourites during the technical run into Bern; a course which would make the classics legend a difficult man to catch.
The city centre circuits which form the day’s racing could prove to be the foundations of a conclusion which proves extremely difficult to control when it matters most. Assuming that the sprinters’ teams manage to drag any dangerous breakaways back within their grasp, Peter Sagan will once again be the favourite to find a safe passage through the last 2.5km and sprint to victory upon the short 200m finishing straight. Yesterday showed that Alexander Kristoff can summon up the strength to contest a win at this Tour de Suisse when the course is favourable, even despite his form appearing shaky during the week so far. A harder day should see Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Albasini come to the fore, knowing that starting an early sprint before the line comes into view, could mean the head of the bunch is chasing them round the deciding corners with little luck. Both Avermaet and Albasini also have the potential to join strong breakaway forces, likely to attract interest from Zdenek Stybar and Sep Vanmarcke.
1st Peter Sagan 2nd Greg Van Avermaet 3rd Michael Albasini