After the nip and tuck of the opening few days, the Tour de Suisse reaches what will almost certainly be the decisive point of the race today [Wednesday] as it heads for the Rettenbachferner summit finish.
Rising to 2,765 metres above the Austrian resort town of Sölden, the climb is rated one of the toughest in the Alps thanks to an average grade of 10.7% over 12km. Consequently, it is very much on the radar of FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, who lies fifth overall, just 15 seconds down on race leader Tom Dumoulin.
“There’s only one really true mountain stage here, but this is a proper col. I’m going to try to win it on Wednesday,” Pinot told L’Équipe prior to the start of the Swiss stage race.
On the back on his victory at Champex-Lac in the Tour of Romandy last month, where he distanced the likes of Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali and ended a victory drought that extended to more than two seasons, the Frenchman will start as favourite for victory on the Austrian glacier. That status is boosted by the lack of outstanding climbers within the Tour de Suisse peloton.
Pinot explains that the decision to miss last week’s more mountainous Critérium du Dauphiné was taken in order to enable him to race alongside FDJ sprinter Arnaud Démare prior to the Tour de France.
“There weren’t a lot of sprint stages [at the Dauphiné] for Arnaud. It’s useful to be able to ride together here in order to iron out any issues before the Tour,” Pinot explains. “We realised last year that the fact that we had never been together created problems. He didn’t know my way of riding and vice versa.
“I often ended up on my own, in echelons or most obviously on the stage over the pavé. We found it difficult to accommodate and understand each other when racing.”
Pinot, who says that 80% of FDJ’s Tour team is in Switzerland, admits he watched the intense battles at the Dauphiné with a degree of longing to have been there. But he points out, “I like the fact that there are only two weeks between a race of this kind and the Tour. The gap from the Dauphiné is a bit too big.”
Professional cycling’s return to the Rettenbachferner is long overdue. It was a favourite destination for the now defunct Deutschland Tour, last featuring in 2007 when David López, now of Team Sky, won the stage, ahead of Jens Voigt, Robert Gesink and Damiano Cunego.