If winning the Tour de Romandie is an omen for the Tour de France in July, then the race organisers can already start to iron the Sky transfers on the maillot jaune. Chris Froome picked up an excellent win at the six-day Swiss stage race, finishing above Simon Spilak and Rui Costa in the general classification after leading from the first stage – and following in the footsteps of 2011 and 2012 winners Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, who both went on to ride themselves into yellow in July.
Chris Froome (Sky) couldn’t have started more perfectly, as he won the short 7.45km uphill prologue. He came in six seconds ahead of Garmin-Sharp’s young American talent Andrew Talansky, with RadioShack-Leopard’s Robert Kiserlovski finishing third, a further seven seconds in arrears. Time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) struggled on the climb, and he could only finish 16th, 29 seconds behind Froome.
On the sprinter-friendly stage one, Froome maintained his lead, with the race culminating in a bunch sprint. It was a rather chaotic finish on narrow roads, with Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) the fastest finisher. He narrowly edged out Italian duo Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), after Sky worked hard to reel in a breakaway of Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and ensure that Froome would carry the lead into stage two.
Stage two saw the yellow jersey come under serious pressure for the first time as the racing got slightly hillier. Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Brandle made up a three-man break for much of the day, though when they were caught on the final climb Pierre Rolland (Europcar) made a solo move which forced Sky to up the tempo to catch him. The pace split the bunch, and four more riders tried to get away. But the teams who still had sprinters near the front didn’t let them escape, and they were caught in the closing kilometres. Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) sprinted to a surprising victory ahead of Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), while Meersman had to settle for third place. The GC remained unchanged at the top.
There were three climbs in the final 40km of stage three, though Sky worked hard to control the race and ensure that no one was able to open up an insurmountable advantage. Once again the race ended in a bunch sprint, and the impressive Meersman took his second stage win ahead of Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE). Froome maintained his six-second lead over Andrew Talansky, though Meersman’s win saw him move ahead of Kiserlovski and into third overall, nine seconds behind the leader.
Despite Meersman moving closer to Froome, he wasn’t causing a sleepless night for Sky. They knew he wouldn’t be able to cope on the queen stage that was next on the agenda. It was shortened due to snow, though it meant an unscheduled uphill finish. An attack from former Romandie winner Simon Spilak (Katusha) on the final climb was the trigger for Froome to make his move, and the duo soon found themselves as the only leaders. With 3km to go the gap was over 40 seconds, with Spilak eventually taking the stage. He moved up to second on the GC, 47 seconds in arrears of Froome, while Rui Costa‘s (Movistar) third place on the stage moved him up to third overall, 1:20 back.
That left Froome with a comfortable margin ahead of the final time trial around Lake Geneva, which was unsurprisingly won by Tony Martin. Froome finished third on the stage, 18 seconds behind Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida) and 34 seconds behind Martin. He extended his GC lead to 54 seconds, with Spilak finishing second, and Costa third.
Analysis & opinion
With this victory, attention obviously turns to Chris Froome‘s chances at the Tour de France in July. After all, it’s probably not coincidence that the last two winners of this race – Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins – have gone on to wear the maillot jaune in Paris. However, there are risks in expecting the same from Froome just yet. Many other Tour favourites haven’t ridden Romandie this year, and with there still being a couple of months’ worth of preparation for the grande boucle to come, this race only serves to reaffirm Froome’s status as a strong contender.
Another interesting talking point from this race is the form of Simon Spilak, who has excelled throughout his season so far. The Slovenian is still only 26, and moved from Lampre to Katusha ahead of last season. His biggest result is a win at this race in 2010, though frustratingly he hasn’t pushed on to become a serious challenger in week-long races since. Until now. He’s finished fourth at both the Vuelta a Andalucia and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, as well as sixth at Paris-Nice. Seemingly riding himself into excellent form, he’s certainly a name to watch.
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 19:24:51
2. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +0:54
3. Rui Costa (Movistar) +1:49
4. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) +1:54
5. Wilco Kelderman (Blanco) +2:03
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +2:14
7. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +2:16
8. Richie Porte (Sky) +2:31
9. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:32
10. Marcel Wyss (IAM) +2:41