Tour de Suisse: 10 riders to watch

The Tour de Suisse often feels like the lesser cousin of the Critérium du Dauphiné but this year's race received a boost when the Tour de France was bumped back a week to accommodate the FIFA World Cup. With that in mind, a much heavier concentration of Tour de France hopefuls have turned to the Swiss race to hone their form ahead of July.

The eight-day race begins this Saturday, June 9, with an 18-kilometre team time trial, and features more than 16,000 metres of climbing, plenty to test the riders ahead of the Grand Boucle. It’s not just GC riders in Switzerland over the coming week, with some of the top sprinters set to do battle on the tough terrain.

Cyclingnews has put together a list of 10 riders to watch for the 2018 Tour de Suisse.

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

The BMC squad were bullish when they announced their line-up for the Tour de Suisse, claiming their strongest-ever stage race team. Indeed, they have some serious firepower in the squad with Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet and former Suisse stage winner Tejay van Garderen. It is Australian Richie Porte, making his Suisse debut, who will lead the charge in the fight for the overall title.

Porte has been getting used to life as a new father after the birth of his first child only a few days ago, but he must now gather his focus as he heads towards the Tour next month. Porte last raced in April when he finished third at the Tour de Romandie but he'll be hoping for more here.

As well as Van Garderen and van Avermaet, Porte will also have the backing of Alessandro De Marchi, who comes off the back of the Giro d'Italia. BMC Racing definitely have the power, but the proof will be in the pudding and other teams will expect them to work.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Where Porte is making his race debut, Peter Sagan returns to the race for the ninth consecutive season. The Tour de Suisse has been a very happy hunting ground for Sagan over the years, bringing him a record of 15 stage victories – two of which he took in last season's race.

This season has brought just three wins so far this year, but one of those was an emphatic victory at Paris-Roubaix. Sagan's last race was the Tour of California where he claimed a run of top-five finishes, unable to topple a supreme Fernando Gaviria. He will face the Colombian again in Switzerland and the race will be a good opportunity to see how the pair matches up ahead of the Tour de France.

Simon Spilak (Katusha-Alpecin)

Defending champion Simon Spilak is one of the few general classification riders not building up towards the Tour de France. This, perhaps, makes him more dangerous as he's not too concerned about peaking too early at Suisse. Spilak is a curious rider, who steers clear of the Grand Tours in favour of focusing on one-week racing. Swiss races have proved particularly fruitful for the Slovenian.

Spilak has won the Tour de Suisse twice in the last three years, finishing ninth in 2016, and has also won the Tour de Romandie in the past. Spilak's performances thus far in 2018 have been thoroughly middling with 12th at the Volta a Catalunya and 11th at the recent Baloise Belgium Tour his best results to date. However, given his past Suisse performances, it would be remiss to rule him out, and with Ilnur Zakarin racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Spilak will have sole leadership.

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)

Last year's Dauphine winner Jakob Fuglsang has opted to ride the Tour de Suisse this season as he prepares for a tilt at the Tour de France title. This will be his first time at the Tour de Suisse since his 25th place at the 2012 race.

Always a consistent performer, Fuglsang’s win at last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné was a major breakthrough for the 33-year-old. With Fabio Aru gone onto pastures new this season, the scrap for leadership roles throughout the year have been much more readily available for Fuglsang, and he has delivered.

Third at the Volta a la Comunitat a la Valenciana, fourth at the Ruta del Sol and fourth at the Tour de Romandie, plus a stage win, is a decent haul for the Danish rider.

Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors)

Quick-Step Floors have selected a team full of potential stage winners, plus one GC hopeful, but it is Fernando Gaviria that stands out amongst the strong line-up. The 23-year-old has continued his meteoric rise through the sport in 2018 with seven wins already to his name.

Gaviria has not raced since his three-stage grab at the Tour of California after spending time at an altitude training camp, like many of the others at the race. Gaviria seems almost impossible to beat as he prepares for his first Tour de France but there will be plenty of teams looking to cut him down to size over the coming week.

All the pressure is not on the young Colombian with Philippe Gilbert and Enric Mas in the squad. With serious strength in the form of Tim Declercq, Yves Lampaert and Iljo Keisse, a win in the opening team time trial is a definite possibility, too.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

Nairo Quintana has raced much less than most in his build-up towards this summer's main event. The Movistar rider has just contested 20 days of racing with the Vuelta al Pais Vasco his last competition at the start of April.

He finished second at both the Colombia Oro y Paz and the Volta a Catalunya before taking fifth in Pais Vasco. Quintana will be pleased with what he has been able to do so far but he'll want a stronger performance in his debut Tour de Suisse. It's not just his rivals from other teams that Quintana will want to beat but his teammate Mikel Landa too. The pair has been trying to stamp their authority on the team's Tour leadership with comments in the press but it’s their legs that will need to do the talking here.

Mikel Landa (Movistar)

It is hard to note one of Movistar's leaders without naming the other with either just as likely as the other to take home the overall win. Mikel Landa left Team Sky at the end of last season after feeling as he had to compromise his own chances more than he wanted to. His move to Movistar has put him into another inter-team GC battle, but one that he stands a stronger chance of succeeding in.

Landa and Quintana have raced just once together this season at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and it was Landa that came up trumps there, taking second place behind Primoz Roglic in the overall standings. Landa extended his spring campaign beyond Pais Vasco with a support ride at the Ardennes before taking a break.

With Alejandro Valverde potentially out of the picture this summer due to illness, Landa and Quintana will have to duke it out among themselves. It will be down to the calming influence of Eusebio Unzue to ensure that his two stars work for rather than against each other.

Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb)

Like Quintana, Michael Matthews comes into the Tour de Suisse light on the racing miles after a mixed start to the season. He fractured his shoulder in his first race but returned to finish seventh at Milan-San Remo. He left the Vuelta al Pais Vasco early but took a morale-boosting fifth at Flèche Wallonne before going on to win the Tour de Romandie prologue, but quit after stage 3 due to fatigue. His second place at Eschborn-Frankfurt was his last race before he headed to altitude.

The Tour de Suisse is a chance for Matthews to get the ball rolling against strong competition after more than a month out of racing. Sunweb team are aiming for victory in the opening team time trial and will balance his ambitions with that of Wilco Kelderman, but he has some strong backing Nikias Arndt and Edward Theuns set to support him in Switzerland.

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo)

With Alberto Contador making a late call to retire at the end of last year, Bauke Mollema shoulders the general classification hopes of Trek-Segafredo this season. In recent years, Mollema has preferred to use the Dauphine as his final race ahead of the Tour de France but the change in the calendar has lured him back to the Swiss race for the first time since 2014.

Mollema finished third on that occasion, behind Rui Costa and Mathias Frank, but the competition will be much tougher this time. A stage win at the Coppi e Bartali is the highlight of Mollema’s season so far, plus a seventh place overall at Paris Vasco. Joining Mollema in Trek's line-up for Suisse are Classics riders John Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven, two riders who could prove vital for him in the opening week of the Tour de France and potential stage winners in Switzerland.

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal)

The Tour de Suisse will mark the final race in this current block of racing for Tim Wellens and is a chance to go out with a bang. Illness forced Wellens out of the Giro d'Italia early after mopping up a stage win in the opening week. He returned to racing briefly at the Hammer Series in Limburg and didn't seem to have lost much of the form he held at the Giro.

It remains to be seen if he has been able to keep that going into the Tour de Suisse, but if he has, then he will be tough to contend with. His recent record at the Tour de Suisse has been so-so but we can expect him to try and mix things up in the tougher sprint finishes, of which there are several to choose from, and maybe place himself in a breakaway or two later in the week.

Lotto Soudal also has Andre Greipel in their line-up, who has enjoyed a very successful return to racing after crashing out of Milan-San Remo in March.

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