The Tour de Suisse has traditionally started with a prologue that allows the GC riders to open the first small time gaps and it won’t be any different in 2015. However, the usual technical, explosive course with a bit of climbing has been replaced with a flat stage for the true specialists who will be ready to battle it out for the first leader’s jersey the 9-day race.
Since 2000, only four editions of the race haven't started with a short time trial. The last time the race kicked off with a road stage was back in 2008 when Oscar Freire won a sprint from a reduced peloton to take the first leader's jersey. This year the opening stage is again a time trial but the organizers have deviated from their usual pattern of including a pretty difficult climb and a very technical descent in the route. In recent years the race has often started with the same stage in Lugano which mostly consisted of a climb and a descent but in 2013 they had their first traditional prologue for years. Last year the opener was again a challenging affair with a tough climb but in 2015 the specialists will have the upper hand on the opening day.
At just 5.1km, the prologue in Rotkreuz is pretty short and as it is held on a pretty flat course, it won’t create big time differences. The first part is very slightly ascending before a short descent leads to the final kilometre which is completely flat. There are only three sharp turns on the course which is mostly held on long, straight roads which means that there it is not very technical either. The final turn comes 500m from the line and from there the road only bend slightly to the right as the riders make their final sprint to the finish.
Rotkreuz has not hosted a Tour de Suisse in recent years.
In 2013, the result of the prologue was heavily influenced by the weather as the wind picked up in the second part of the stage. Unfortunately, it seems that luck and starting time will again play a massive role in this year’s opening time trial.
In the early part of the afternoon, it will be a nice, sunny day with a maximum temperature of 25 degrees but in the morning there is a 60% chance of rain which means that the road could be wet for the early starters. More importantly, there is a 70% chance of thunderstorms in the later afternoon when the prologue will be decided.
There will be a light wind from a northeasterly direction which means that the riders will first have a headwind, then a crosswind and then a long tailwind section. In the finale, they will again turn into a headwind.
As the opening time trial of the Tour de Suisse has often included a tough climb, the GC riders have often had a chance to shine on the first day of the 9-day race and even though they have rarely won those stages that have been dominated by Fabian Cancellara, the top end of the leaderboard has often been dominated by overall contenders. That won’t be the case in 2015. With a flat course without too many technical challenges, this is a stage for the specialists who will relish the chance to go for a stint in yellow. Furthermore, most of the GC riders are climbers and they will suffer on this kind of short, explosive course.
The stage will create the first small differences in the overall standings but with the brutal Rettenbachferner and a long time trial still to come, the seconds lost or gained in Rotkreuz are unlikely to play much of a role at the end of 9 days of hard racing. Nonetheless, it will be important from a psychological point of view as many riders will return to racing after a long break from racing and tomorrow’s stage will offer them the first indication of how they are going.
While the GC riders will try to limit their losses, the specialists will be ready to shine. With three turns and only 44m of altitude gains over the 5.1km, this is a stage that is mostly about power. Due to the short distance, the sprinters will also have a chance even though they would of course have preferred a more technical course where they could profit from their acceleration and bike-handling skills. In the end, the top 10 should be dominated by real specialists and fast riders.
In 2013, the wind picked up significantly towards the end of the opening prologue and this created a surprise outcome that saw Cameron Meyer take the win. In fact, none of the late starters were able to make it into the top 15. Unfortunately, the weather may have an impact in tomorrow’s stage too. Some riders may have to do the stage in rainy conditions while others could have dry roads. The course may not be overly technical but on wet roads, one will always lose a significant amount of time in the few turns. On a short 5.1km course, it will be hard to make up for that time loss and so it is impossible to make too many clear predictions about what’s going to happen. Of course the teams will try to handle the situation when designing the start order to have their main riders start at the best possible time but if it is a day of showers, no one can be guaranteed to have dry roads. With the rain set to fall in the second part of the stage, we may have most of the favourites among the first starters but it will be a bit of a lottery to decide when to roll down the ramp (at the time of writing, the start list had not been released).
With that very big reservation, it is still hard to look beyond Tom Dumoulin as the obvious favourite for this stage. The Dutchman has had a steady progress as a time triallist but 2014 was the year when he finally showed his true potential. Dumoulin finished second behind Tony Martin in several time trials – including both Tour de Suisse TTs and the Tour de France TT – and he was third at the Worlds behind Bradley Wiggins and Martin.
There is little doubt that it is a matter of time before Dumoulin can realistically challenge Martin on the biggest scene and in fact it may already happen in 2015. The Giant-Alpecin rider has done very little time trialling this year. He fell ill before Paris-Nice and so was far from 100% in that race. His only other time trial came at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco where he defied expectations by winning on a course that was littered with very hard, extremely steep climbs and dominated by pure climbers. This clearly indicates that he has both improved his climbing and TT skills.
Dumoulin has done very little racing in 2015 and the Tour de Suisse marks his first race since the Ardennes classics. However, his big goal is the first stage of the Tour de France and so he should be in very good condition at the moment. Unlike Martin who has never been a great prologue rider, Dumoulin is very strong also on short courses and he actually first made a name for himself in the short time trials. Last year he was second behind Martin in the first stage of this race and crushed the opposition in the Tour of Alberta prologue. With the Rettenbachferner on the course, the GC is no goal for him so he will be fully focused on the time trials. Having trained hard for the Tour de France TT, he will be ready for this kind of short effort and so must be the man to beat.
His biggest rival is likely to be Adriano Malori. Like Dumoulin, the Italian is one of the future time trialling stars and it is just a question of time before he can beat the best in the biggest races. While he still struggles a bit in the very long time trials, he is very strong on short, flat courses as he proved in 2014 when he beat all the TT giants in the short, flat Tirreno-Adriatico TT. Later in the year he won the short final time trial at the Vuelta. This year he won the technical prologue and was second behind Cancellara in the final TT at the Italian race.
Malori will be a key rider for Movistar at the Tour de France – mainly in the team time trial – and he has carefully been building his conditions. Unlike Dumoulin who is also very strong on technical courses, Malori is more powerful and needs fewer corners to really shine. This course doesn’t pose many challenges from a technical point of view and should be to his liking. There is little doubt that we are in for a huge battle between Malori and Dumoulin in Rotkreuz.
Peter Sagan is a former winner of the Tour de Suisse prologue as he beat big favourite Cancellara in 2012. However, that stage was held in Lugano and included a short, steep climb and a technical descent, making it perfectly suited to the Slovakian. This year’s course is more about power on the flats than acceleration and bike-handling skills and so it is less suited to the Tinkoff-Saxo leader.
However, Sagan is a very good prologue rider and the Tour of California indicated that he has finally returned to form after a few years of suffering. In that race, he crushed the opposition in the short, technical time trial and he looked like his former self on the climbs as well. Compared to the American TT, this stage is shorter which should favour Sagan, and less technical which should be a disadvantage. He probably lacks the power to fully match Malori and Dumoulin in this kind of test but if he has really returned to 100%, he may create another surprise.
Michal Kwiatkowski is one of the most versatile riders in the peloton but he first made a name for himself as a time triallist. He remains an excellent rider for races against the clock and he is especially very good in prologues where he can make use of his explosiveness and bike-handling skills. This year he won the Paris-Nice prologue and last year he was the fastest in the Tour de Romandie prologue, proving that he is very hard to beat in these kinds of tests. He hasn’t been at his usual level in 2015 but his time trials have mostly been on par with his best performances. He hasn’t raced for a while and has been building condition for the Tour de France. Unlike last year, he is unlikely to be fatigued as he has done less racing and he may come into this race flying. The course is probably a bit too non-technical to really suit him but another Kwiatkowski win is definitely a possibility.
Fabian Cancellara has dominated the Tour de Suisse prologue in the past and even though he is no longer the time triallist he once was, he still seems to be the best prologue rider in the world. He made a lot of technical mistakes in the Tirreno-Adriatico prologue but was still only beaten by Adriano Malori by a very tiny margin. In the final time trial in that race he confirmed his skills when he beat the Italian and so he remains one of the best time triallists in the world.
However, Cancellara has had a very bad build-up to this race. He only made his comeback after his E3 crash in the Tour des Fjords and he missed the GP Kanton Aargau yesterday due to illness. That made him a possible non-starter for this race and he is unlikely to have recovered in time to be really competitive in this stage. As he was also riding poorly in Norway, he really has to turn things around to win this stage.
Another rider that has been set back by illness, is Matthias Brändle. The Austrian is building condition for the Tour de France and he showed great form when he beat an in-form Rohan Dennis in the Tour of Belgium prologue. This proves that he has taken another step up in the time trials and he should now be able to contend for the wins even in the biggest races. However, he fell ill on the final day in Belgium and this forced him to miss the Dauphiné. Instead, he will be riding in Switzerland. If he has recovered well from his illness, he has the form to be among the best.
Geraint Thomas goes into this race with a rare chance to see how far he can come in the GC at a WorldTour race and he will be keen to get it all off to a good start in the prologue. The Welshman was once one of the best in this discipline as he nearly won the 2012 Giro prologue and won the 2012 Tour de Romandie prologue. Since then, he has focused more on his climbing and he has lost the edge in these short tests. As he is building for the Tour de France, he may be a bit too light to shine in this short, flat stage. On the other hand, he is undoubtedly in excellent condition and this could bring him far in this stage.
Bob Jungels is building form for his Tour de France debut and he should do well in the opening prologue in this race. There is no doubt that he is a great time triallist but he has had mixed results during his professional career. However, he has delivered some notable performances, most notably in last year’s Dauphiné where he was third behind Froome and Contador in the opening time trial. This year he won the Etoile de Besseges TT and was second in the Criterium International TT which were both held on short courses. He would probably have preferred a hillier course but as he should be close to his best condition he will be in the mix.
Martin Elmiger has clearly benefited a lot from his decision to join the IAM team. This year he has been stronger than ever before and finished in the top 10 in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. After his post-classics break, he is already back in good condition as he proved when he finished fourth in the Tour of Belgium prologue. The Swiss has often been among good in the Tour de Suisse prologue and now he is obviously a lot stronger. He will be eager to shine in his home race.
Michael Matthews may be known as a sprinter but he is also a very good time triallist on short, flat courses. In the past he has won the Tour de Slovenie time trial which is more like a prologue, and this year he was 8th in the Paris-Nice prologue. He left the Giro early to be ready for the Tour and he should be among the best in this stage.
Daniele Bennati is another sprinter who is very strong in short flat time trials. He has won the TT at Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and has finished second in the Tirreno-Adriatico TT and those two tests are pretty similar to the one he will face tomorrow. Due to health issues, he hasn’t been racing a lot this year but he showed good condition in California. Now he will be even better and he should do well in this stage.
In the past, the time trials were always the weak point in Greg Van Avermaet’s impressive arsenal but that has now changed. The Belgian has suddenly turned into a prologue specialist as his top results in the Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Belgium TTs prove. He would have preferred a more technical course but if he can confirm his newly found skills, he could create another surprise.
His teammate Jempy Drucker is another solid prologue rider. The Luxembourger was in the top 10 in the Tour of Belgium prologue and his skills as a sprinter make him perfectly suited to this kind of effort. Since joining BMC, he has taken another step up in this discipline and his performances in Belgium prove that he is riding well at the moment.
As opposed to this, Jerome Coppel goes into this race with lots of doubts. The Frenchman hasn’t raced since he crashed out of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in early April. However, he has been training well in the last few weeks and hopes to earn a spot on the IAM Tour de France roster in this race. He has no GC ambitions but will try to do well in the two time trials. In the past, he has done some very good prologues and if he already back in good condition, he could deliver another good performance tomorrow.
We are curious to see how Alexander Kristoff will do in this stage. The Norwegian has never been a TT specialist but he has done some remarkable time trials in the Three Days of de Panne. This year he was even third in the final stage of that race and since then he has spent time in a wind tunnel as he has realized that he has a potential in this discipline. This stage will be a chance for him to prove that his efforts have made him improve.
It is always a bit of a gamble to pick Moreno Moser as a contender for a stage win. The last two years have been horrible for the Italian who has been unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were created by his great start to his career. This year he has been slightly better even though he is still far from his former level. He claims to be feeling good as he builds conditions for the Italian championships and if that’s the case, this stage should suit him well. Even when he has been riding poorly, he has occasionally done some good short TTs and he may be capable of another good ride tomorrow.
CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Tom Dumoulin
Other winner candidates: Adriano Malori, Peter Sagan
Outsiders: Michal Kwiatkowski, Fabian Cancellara, Matthias Brändle, Geraint Thomas, Bob Jungels
Jokers: Martin Elmiger, Michael Matthews, Daniele Bennati, Greg Van Avermaet, Jempy Drucker, Jerome Coppel, Alexander Kristoff, Moreno Moser
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