With the Spring Classics almost in the rear view mirror, attentions turn to stage racing with the 2017 Tour de Romandie beginning on April 25.
A final start list has yet to be issued but Chris Froome (Team Sky), Richie Porte (BMC Racing,) Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale Drapac), Rafal Majka (Bora Hansgrohe) and home-favourite Michael Albasini (Orica Scott) are all down to take part. While there is a dearth in Giro d’Italia GC challengers – this race used to be seen as the perfect final tune-up – there is still a blend of Tour de France contenders and the odd Giro hopeful, such as Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Ilnur Zakarin (Team Katusha Alpecin), in the mix. The Russian will line-up alongside Simon Spilak, who always shines in the race and has a GC win – 2010 – and three stage wins to his name.
With Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) ruled out through illness, the field lacks star quality in the sprints. However, one of the revelations of the Spring, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Merida), is down to start and he will fight it out with the likes of Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), and Moreno Hofland (Lotto Soudal) for the one stage suited to the sprinters.
Froome seeking first win of 2017
Froome, a two time winner of the race, will start as favourite, while the defending champion, Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) warms up for the Giro d’Italia at the Vuelta Asturias. Froome has not won a race in 2017 and will be eager to get off the mark having been inconsistent throughout the year. The longer time trial on stage 5 certainly suits him, and the mountain stages are his bread and butter. Few of his typical Tour de France squad are at the race, though Mikel Nieve, Kenny Elissonde, and David Lopez will offer support.
The race also sees Porte and van Garderen race together for the first time since last year’s Tour de France and, although they arrive at Romandie with different long-term goals, they will both want to make an impression. Porte was strong but inconsistent in Paris-Nice, and van Garderen has Rohan Dennis snapping at his heels when it comes to leadership for the Giro.
The race has a decent climbing contingent to it with Louis Meintjes (UAE Emirates), David de la Cruz, Bob Jungels (both QuickStep Floors), Roman Kreuziger (Orica Scott), Robert Gesink (LottoNL Jumbo), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek Segafredo), Warren Barguil and Wilco Kelderman (both Team Subweb) all provisional starters.
The six-day race kicks of in Aigle, home of the UCI, with a 4.8 kilometre individual prologue. The point-to-point route has a middling rise halfway through, but the technical corners may provide more of an obstacle, especially if it rains - and it almost always rains at the Tour de Romandie.
The first road stage sees the race leave UCI HQ and head south on a day that will significantly shape the complexion of the overall standings. After a relatively flat start, the profile includes two third-category climbs before the second-category climb of Vex. That ascent in itself only acts as a warning for what’s to come, with a short but testing climb coming at La Rasse - which peaks out at 9.6 percent - before the significantly more difficult category 1 finish into Champery, where stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France concludes. The final climb is the longest of the stage, by far, stretching out to 14.4km, but although it starts with 8 per cent sections it quickly events out to a more tepid 3-4 per cent.
With the opening road stage set to create sizeable time gaps, the following day from Champery to Bulle could be ideal hunting ground for a stage-long break to succeed. The day begins with the race plummeting down from Champery and, with three mid-range climbs as the race heads north for the first time, sprinters thin on the ground, and a tough uphill spike towards the end, this could be a stage for several opportunists.
Stage 3, which starts and finishes in Payerne, is more sprint-friendly but the fast-men will need to survive the four categorized climbs that litter the middle sector of the 187km stage.
Stage 4 will see the climbers and the GC hopefuls duke it out for the second mountain stage of the race with the 163.5km slog from Domdidier to Leysin. The four climbs of the Jaunpass, Saanenmoser, Col du Pillon and final ascent to Leysin are all positioned inside the second half of the stage and the terrain flips between bearable and severe. None of the four climbs stretch out to longer than 7km but the 10.5 per cent pitches on the Jaunpass will stretch the peloton towards breaking point, while the final climb – 4km in length – averages around 8.5 per cent before the final kilometre levels off at a more manageable 3.4 per cent.
The final stage sees the race head west to Lausanne and Lake Geneva for a 17.8km individual time trial. There’s more climbing than in the first chrono, with around 300m of ascent before the shallow descent towards the finish.