Tour de Romandie preview

The Tour de Romandie – a six-day stage race which runs from Tuesday 24th April until Sunday 29th April – started in 1947 in the French-speaking part of Switzerland to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Swiss Cycling Federation. Due to its varied parcours it’s long been used for fine-tuning form ahead of the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. It’s also an excellent opportunity to see who’s in form, and who’s not.

It’s a WorldTour event, and Switzerland’s largest race after the Tour de Suisse, so all the ProTeams will be riding in its 66th edition, along with wild-card invitees Saur-Sojasun and Europcar. A quick scan of the event’s history shows that many of the sport’s greatest names have won here, including Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Laurent Jalabert and three-time winner Stephen Roche.

What kind of race is it?

The Tour de Romandie is a favorite amongst the professional peloton because of the mix of lowland stages, Alpine passes and testing time trials. Set in the beautiful cycling landscape of western Switzerland, the Tour de Romandie has form when it comes to producing Grand Tour winners.

The race traditionally starts with a prologue, includes a stage for the sprinters, a queen stage in the high mountains and concludes with an individual time trial on hilly terrain: something for everyone. Unsurprisingly, the winner and several of the top-ten finishers are usually excellent time trialists. The most recent winners of this race are:

2007: Thomas Dekker (Rabobank)

2008: Andreas Kloden (Astana)

2009: Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas)

2010: Simon Spilak (Lampre)

2011: Cadel Evans (BMC)

What happened last year?

Cadel Evans (BMC) won the 2011 edition, having taken the lead in the penultimate day’s time trial, on his way to becoming the first Australian to win the Tour de France. This was Evans’ second overall win in this race – he also won in 2006. The podium was completed by Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) – both notable time trialists.

Tour de Romandie 2011 Podium l to right Martin, Evans, Vinokourov (image courtesy of UCI)

Tour de Romandie 2011 podium (l to r) Martin, Evans, Vinokourov (image courtesy of UCI)

Jonathan Castroviejo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) unexpectedly beat US time trial champion Taylor Phinney (BMC) by less than a second on the 2.9km flat, technical prologue course in Martigny to claim the most important win of his short career on the eve of his 24th birthday. Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad) was third and friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) fourth.

Stage one’s winner was also something of a surprise. Escape artiste extraordinaire, Pavel Brutt (Katusha) took both the stage victory and top position on general classification after powering away from his fellow breakaway companions on a cold and windy day to solo to victory in Leysin.

Stage two’s breakaway was caught in the final moments when Damiano Cunego (Lampre) shot out of the peloton on the last climb of the day to take victory over Evans and Vinokourov. The following day saw Vinokourov take a controversial win into Neuchatel  – Mickael Cherel (AG2R) unsuccessfully claimed he’d been impeded – from a three-man break 3km from the finish instigated by Martin, thereby foiling the sprinters’ plans.

David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) claimed the win ahead of Richie Porte (Saxo Bank-Sungard) in the undulating 20.1km time trial. Evans struck a decisive blow in the race for overall victory by leapfrogging over his rivals to seize the leader’s yellow jersey.

Ben Swift (Sky) won the sprint on the final stage ahead of Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Davide Vigano (Leopard-Trek). While the last day was full of attacks and counter-attacks, BMC kept the race under control, reeling in the last break 6km from the finish. Thereafter Sky took over to set up Swift.

Matthias Brandle (Geox-TMC) won the sprints jersey, Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) secured the mountains jersey, best young rider went to Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Cervelo, which was also the best team.

1. Cadel Evans (BMC) 16:51:49

2. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) +0:18

3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +0:19

4. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) +0:31

5. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +0:41

6. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) +0:51

7.  Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack) +0:52

8. Pavel Brutt (Katusha) +0:58

9. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo) +0:59

10. David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) +1:00

This year’s race

Ouchy Waterfront, Lausanne (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Ouchy Waterfront, Lausanne (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The lightning quick 3.34km prologue starts at Parc de Milan in Lausanne, next to the home of title sponsor Vaudoise Assurances. From there the riders follow straight, well-paved roads before two 90-degree turns onto the Quai d’Ouchy where they will race past the Olympic Museum on one side and the lake on the other. However, I don’t expect any of them to take much notice as they’ll be travelling at average speeds of 50kph.

Wednesday’s stage one from Morges has a rolling profile that may well favour the habitual breakaway artists or riders from teams without a Giro or Tour contender. Riders with ambitions on this event’s overall might be happy to let a break dangle for a while. This will be a good stage for spectators as the riders will twice cross the finish line in La-Chaux-de-Fonds in the Jura mountains. If the breakaway is reeled in, the sprinters will be eagerly eyeing the town’s long wide boulevards.

Stage two from Montbeliard in France – home to the sausage of the same name – to Moutier will be an early and useful reconnaissance of stage eight of this year’s Tour de France as the parcours covers much of the same ground including a climb of La Caquerelle. A strong Classics rider carrying good form from the cobbles of Belgium could take this one.

Friday’s stage three will see the riders head to the foot of the Bernese Alps ahead of the following day’s queen stage. Charmey is famous for its Gruyere cheese and Cailler chocolate.

Stage 4: Queen Stage

Stage 4 profile

The 184km queen stage to Sion features cat. 1 climbs at the Col de Mosses, Veysonnaz and St-Martin. After climbing over the Col de Mosses the riders will plunge down into the Rhone valley before climbing back up above the valley floor among the vineyards of the Valais region.

The race will be decided with a concluding time trial on the sunniest Alpine plateau in Switzerland. Crans-Montana is a famous ski resort bestowed with south-facing slopes and an unbroken panorama of the Alps. It will be a stunning finale to this beautiful race.

Who to watch

This race offers mouth-watering prospects, with many teams coming with what might well be either their Giro or Tour teams. Frankly, it’s hard to pick a winner from the array of talent on display. All the most recent winners of the race are taking part, including defending champion Cadel Evans, hopefully recovered from his recent sinus problems. Sky also have an impressive line-up which includes Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Astana will have the in-form Roman Kreuziger, while Katusha have their perennial dark horse, Denis Menchov. AG2R La Mondiale have a strong squad supporting Giro contender John Gadret and including Jean-Christophe Peraud. FDJ-BigMat have riders who might well contend for stages and jerseys, rather than the overall, with Remi Pauriol, Thibaut Pinot and Jeremy Roy. You might anticipate that at some point Roy’s going to disappear down the road, possibly in the company of Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil-DCM, who also have Lieuwe Westra for the overall on their team.

Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

We'll be keeping tabs on Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

The Italians will be pinning their hopes on Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), who showed form in the Giro de Trentino, and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), who didn’t. We know from their results in the Ardennes Classics that Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin are both on song. Andreas Kloden will probably be looking to help RadioShack teammate Jakob Fuglsang, rather than contend for the overall himself. Young Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) will be hoping his Vuelta al Pais Vasco form hasn’t left him.

From the lofty eyrie of VeloVoices Towers, we’ll be keeping a watching brief on the burgeoning form of Europcar’s Tour de France hopeful and last year’s Alpe d’Huez winner, Pierre Rolland. Is the weight of French expectation weighing heavily on those slim shoulders or not?

Race details

April 24th: Prologue – Lausanne, 3.34km individual time trial

April 25th: Stage 1 – Morges to La Chaux-de-Fonds, 184km

April 26th: Stage 2 – Montbeliard (France) to Moutier, 149km

April 27th: Stage 3 – La Neuveville to Charmey, 157km

April 28th: Stage 4 – Bulle to Sion, 184km

April 29th: Stage 5 – Crans-Montana 16.24km individual time trial

The Tour de Romandie starts on Tuesday 24th April and concludes on Sunday 29th. Live action and highlights will be shown daily on Eurosport. For other channels check

Link: Official website

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