The 2021 Tour de Suisse begins on Sunday, with a slightly shortened edition offering eight days of racing that includes two time trials, undulating lowland hills and, of course, high-altitude mountain passes.
As such, most of the riders on the will be racing with a view to that three-week trip around France, but not all of them. The start list this year is a varied affair, and we've picked out five of the names worth keeping a close eye on over the next week or so.
Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo Visma)
This isn’t about results or reclaiming his former standing at the top of the sport; Dumoulin’s return to competitive cycling is a victory in itself and one that cannot be underplayed.
A few months ago, when he made the shock but brave decision to step aside, it looked as though his road career was over. However, after taking time out from the spotlight, the Dutchman is back. It doesn’t matter if he comes 20th or 120th in Switzerland; the simple fact that he’s back within the peloton is all that matters.
The 30-year-old isn’t just an inspiration for his achievements on the road but hopefully other riders who are struggling with pressure, mental health, and anxieties can now look at Dumoulin as an example of what’s possible if you reach out for help.
Form and fitness are really immaterial at this point – although a rousing performance would be incredible. Just having Dumoulin happy and racing again is something that will warm everyone within the sport.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)
Egan Bernal’s win in the Giro d’Italia has set the Ineos Grenadiers juggernaut rolling as the team look to complete the holy grail of winning all three Grand Tours in one single season. The Tour de France, for the obvious reasons of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, remains the toughest nut to crack and while Geraint Thomas is in fine fettle at the Dauphiné, it’s Richard Carapaz who stands out at the Tour de Suisse.
The 28-year-old is yet to reach his best form in 2021 but there were enough flashes last year to suggest that he could be the rider to bring the Tour title back to the British team. He was second to Roglič at the Vuelta but had his season altered and reshaped at almost every turn last year.
It is possible that Ineos may head to the Tour de France with both the Dauphiné and Suisse crowns under their belt – a position that would at least give the Ineos bosses food for thought when it comes to deciding on their best card for Tour leadership.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Outside of mountain biking, we’ve not been treated to Van der Poel racing since the Tour of Flanders back in April. That seems like age ago but the Tour Suisse represents a key stepping stone for the 26-year-old as he lines up for a Tour de France debut later this month.
What to expect from Van der Poel is somewhat hard to predict. When he says he’s a lead-out man he goes on long range breaks and, while the GC isn’t in view, there are certainly stages in which the Dutch rider will stamp his brand of racing on proceedings.
This is Van der Poel we’re talking about and the racing is never dull when he’s on song.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep)
Like Van der Poel, we’ve not seen Alaphilippe on the road since the spring classics and, like Van der Poel, the Frenchman’s spring ended with a second place. Since then, Alaphilippe has kept a relatively low profile, only surfacing to rule himself out of the Olympic Games in Tokyo as he dials in his preparation toward a rainbow jersey defense.
There’s been another shift, with the world champion also forgoing the Critérium du Dauphiné for the first time in his career as he makes a debut in Switzerland. The two time trials in Suisse, coupled with the mountainous terrain, will test Alaphilippe’s mettle ahead of the Tour and it will be interesting to see if he targets stages or the overall standings.
He hasn’t finished inside the top-10 of a WorldTour stage race since finishing fifth in the Tour de France back in 2019 and ending that duck would be a welcome confidence boost ahead of his home Grand Tour.
Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange)
It may be a long time since we have seen Esteban Chaves with his Grand Tour podium form on board, but the rider who scooped up second in the Giro d'Italia and third in the Vuelta a España in 2016 has been showing some spark so far in 2021.
He took his first victory since 2019 on stage 4 of Volta a Catalunya with an attack on the final climb and came sixth overall. The Colombian rider, who is in a contract year, was also in the top-10 at La Flèche-Wallonne and Itzulia Basque Country.
Given he's been performing respectably over one week, there's some hope that when the mountains arrive we may again see a hint of that world class climbing form.
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