After a one-year layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic last season, the Tour de Romandie returns on Tuesday, April 27 for six days in the hills and mountains of the French-speaking region of western Switzerland.
Billed as the toughest edition of the race yet, the 75th edition will see the riders tackle 12,500 metres of climbing in less than a week, with mountains aplenty and a hard summit finish to Thyon 2000 coming on day five.
The week will see a number of big names do battle, including Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Miguel Ángel López (Movistar), and Steven Kruijwsijk (Jumbo-Visma), while Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) are also among the starters.
Once an important tune-up for the Giro d'Italia, which kicks off in Turin on May 8, this year's Tour de Romandie sees relatively few Giro contenders take the start, with many opting for the Tour of the Alps and Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) opting for final training rather than racing.
However, wIth the GC men who are riding taking aim at goals later in the season, there is at least a greater chance that those present will be going all out for victory rather than holding something back with May in mind.
The route of the 2021 Tour de Romandie largely follows the cancelled 2020 edition of the race, kicking off with a prologue in the town of Oron near Lausanne.
The opener is just 4.05 kilometres long but comes with a kick in the tail in the form of a climb to the finish, an 880-metre ascent up the Route de Bulle at an average of 7.6 per cent gradient. It's a testing start to the race, though things only get tougher as the days pass.
Stage 1 proper sees the riders head from the UCI's home of Aigle to Martigny, where four laps of a hilly circuit lie in wait. With nine third-category climbs on the menu, it's a challenging day out, concluding with an uphill run to the line.
Stage 2, a 165.7-kilometre run from La Neuveville to Saint-Imier sees the riders head north to take on the toughest day yet, with five second-category climbs on the menu along with the first-category La Vue-des-Alpes to finish, 17 kilometres from the line.
Like stage 1, the third stage takes in a finishing circuit featuring two third-category climbs including a downhill run to the finish from the final hill. Stage 4 is the queen stage of the race, concluding with a summit finish on Thyon 2000 (19.5 kilometres at 7.6 per cent), while two first-category climbs lie in wait earlier on in the day.
The race concludes with a 16-kilometre time trial in Fribourg taking in several hills along the way, including another uphill finish. The stage also features a 700-metre pavé sector early on, adding another challenge for the riders.
A wealth of GC names will do battle at the six-day race, though 2018 and 2019 winner Primož Roglič will not be present.
The 2017 winner Richie Porte is the only past victor to take the start, forming part of a strong Ineos Grenadiers lineup led by Geraint Thomas. Perhaps the biggest threat to Ineos will come from Movistar, with Miguel Ángel López making his debut for the team alongside Marc Soler.
Steven Kruijswijk heads up Jumbo-Visma, while Jack Haig takes the reins at Bahrain Victorious.
Deceuninck-QuickStep have opted for dual leaders in the form of Fausto Masnada and impressive youngster Mauri Vansevenant, while Bora-Hansgrohe are led by Lennard Kämna and Wilco Kelderman.
Elsewhere, 2016 stage winner Ion Izagirre and his brother Gorka lead Astana-Premier Tech, and it's also worth keeping track of Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange), and David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates).
With time trials taking up a third of the stages during the week, it's no surprise that a host of big name testers will be taking part. Winners of the past three time trial world titles will be there in the form of Ineos' pair Filippo Ganna and Rohan Dennis.
The pair will face stiff competition in the form of home favourites Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), Tom Bohli (Cofidis), Stefan Küng (Grouapam-FDJ), plus Jos Van Emden (Jumbo-Visma), and Alex Dowsett (Israel Start-Up Nation). Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious), who won the 2019 prologue, is also competing.
There are few opportunities for the sprinters, with only the strongest men who can survive in the hills likely to prosper during the race. Bora-Hansgrohe bring Peter Sagan and Jordi Meeus, while Bahrain Victorious bring Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus. Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), Dion Smith (Team BikeExchange), and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) will also be racing.
Don't forget to keep an eye out for puncheurs like Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), and Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) on the hilly days, too.
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