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As soon as the final stage of the Dauphiné queen stage has ended (around 17.00 CEST), you can follow the hilly second stage of the Tour de Suisse on CyclingQuotes.com/live

Photo: Tinkoff - Saxo

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14.06.2015 @ 17:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The opening prologue created the first small time gaps in the overall standings and now it is time for the GC riders to move into survival mode for the next few stages. However, the opening road stage may create a surprise opportunity to go on the attack as a very hard climb in the finale will make it an uncontrollable and unpredictable affair that can both be dominated by GC riders or allow some of the strongest classics riders to come to the fore.

 

The course

The 2015 Tour de Suisse does only include one stage in the high mountains and so the moderately hilly opening road stage suddenly gets the role as the second hardest of the entire race. It’s another stage starting and finishing in Rotkreuz but unlike the opening prologue which was completely flat, the route ventures into the hilly terrain east of the city. This means that the riders will face a total of four pretty tough climbs and 1872m of climbing during their ride in the central part of the country. However, the climbs are all too far from the finish to make a difference between the GC riders and instead the classics specialists will be looking to make their mark right from the beginning of the race.

 

At 161.1km, it is a pretty short stage that both starts and finishes in Rotkreuz. It is made up of two circuits that will both be covered twice and both include a tough climb. The first one is 58.6km long and mostly includes flat roads along the shores of the Zugersee and Agerisee lakes. However, the riders will briefly head into the hills to connect the two lakes as they go up the category 2 Dorfstrasse climb (5.4km, 4.8%). It comes in the early part of the circuit and will last be tackled with 88.1km to go.

 

The riders will cross the finish line for the second time after the end of the second lap and from there only 44.8km remain. They consist of two laps of a 22.4km circuit on the southern outskirts of Rotkreuz. Again it is a mostly flat affair but like the previous circuit it includes a tough climb. The category 1 Michaelskreuz is 4km long and has an average gradient of 8.9% which makes it a very tough challenge. The top comes just 12.7km from the finish and the final part of the stage is made up of a gradual descent before the riders get to the final 5km which are almost completely flat.

 

It is a pretty technical finale. The riders will turn left with 1.8km to go and then turn left in a roundabout 700m later. The final right-hand turn comes 500m from the finish and is almost a U-turn that will require the riders to almost come to a standstill. From there, the road bends slightly to the right before the riders get to the 200m finishing straight.

 

Rotkreuz has not hosted a stage finish of the race in recent years.

 

 

 

The weather

Today the riders escaped the forecasted rainbut things will only get worse for the first road stage of the race. It may not be raining heavily at the start but a light drizzle will turn into torrential rain very quickly. The riders won’t get any chance to escape the wet conditions as it will be raining cats and dogs for the rest of the stage. The maximum temperature will be 23 degrees.

 

In the first part of the stage, there will be a light wind from an easterly direction but it will pick up slightly and turn around to come from a westerly direction for the second part of the stage. This means that the riders will mainly have a headwind in the first part of the final circuit and then a tailwind and on the climb and on most of the descent. They will turn into a cross-headwind for the final flat kilometres until they get to the flamme rouge from where there will mainly be a crosswind.

 

The favourites

On paper, the Tour de Suisse will be decided in three stages: the opening time trial, the queen stage on day 5 and the final time trial. If one has to select another stage that could potentially do some damage in the overall standings, it will be natural to point to tomorrow’s first road stage.

 

The stage is not a high-mountain stage and doesn’t feature any long climbs but no one should underestimate Michaelskreuz. It may not be very long but with an average gradient of 8.9%, it would be one of the hardest climbs if it was tackled in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Going up that climb twice inside the final 50km will be very tough and the steep slopes have the potential to blow the race to pieces.

 

However, the final part of the stage is flat and as the GC riders will be keeping a watchful eye on each other, it won’t be easy for any of the overall contenders to make a difference. As many of them are returning to racing in this race, they will be eager to test their legs on a solid climb to check how they are going and some of them will probably try to attack in the finale. The ascent will be hard enough to do some damage but there will be time for a regrouping to take place. Hence, this stage will probably end up as an important test race for the main contenders but it won’t have much of an impact on the final overall standings.

 

At the same time, the final climb is way too hard for the sprinters who know that they have no chance in this kind of tough finale. This turns it into a very open and unpredictable affair with several potential outcomes.

 

As an Ardennes specialist, Tom Dumoulin should be able to handle the climb in the finale and he will be keen to defend his position at the top of the leaderboard. The time gaps are still very small so he can’t allow the early break to stay away. Hence, Giant-Alpecin will probably control the first half firmly to make sure that the early break is not too strong and not too big. As the first part of the stage is not very difficult, this task should be manageable.

 

Nonetheless, we can expect a rather aggressive start to the stage. This is one of those stages that have no obvious favourite, and this means that a break may have a chance. Hence, many riders will be keen to make it into the move and they will have the extra incentive of a possible stint in the mountains jersey.

 

However, it won’t be easy to stay away. Peter Sagan definitely wants to win a stage as soon as possible and this one could be an opportunity for the strong Slovakian. Furthermore, he has a chance to take the yellow jersey and if he can slip into the race leader’s tunic, he could potentially defend it all the way to the Rettenbachferner. Hence, Tinkoff-Saxo can be expected to contribute to the pace-setting.

 

The same goes for Orica-GreenEDGE. With Michael Albasini and Michael Matthews both in the team, they have two potential winners of the stage. The same goes for BMC with Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert. Both teams are mainly here for stage wins and they have to take their chances in a stage like this one. Hence, there should be lots of firepower in the chase and so it will be hard for the breakaway to stay away.

 

It will be interesting to see if a few teams want to make it hard the first time up the main climb. As it is not a day for the GC riders, their teams have no real incentive to do so. Tinkoff-Saxo want it to be as easy as possible but BMC may want a harder race to get rid of Sagan. They have a reasonably strong team for this. If Orica-GreenEDGE are backing Matthews, they want it to be easy but if they are gunning for the win with Michael Albasini, it may be a good idea to make the race a bit harder. However, the teams risk blowing up too early and this could leave them with limited resources in what will be a hectic finale. Hence, we expect them to ride rather easily the first time up the climb.

 

If that’s the case, it could be a very good moment to attack. If a strong group gets clear at this point, they will be very hard to catch. Teams like Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE don’t have many climbers in this race and most of the domestiques could be dropped at this point.

 

If a strong group doesn’t go clear the first time up the climb, the second passage will be decisive. The sprint teams want the pace to be as slow as possible but other teams want to attack. It will be very hard for Giant-Alpecin and Dumoulin to control the race and the race leader may have to respond to attacks himself. There is no doubt that there will be a strong selection on this climb and if the GC riders even decide to test each other, we could have a very small peloton at the top.

 

Even if a break doesn’t get clear on the climb, there will be lots of rooms for attacks. Most of the leaders are likely to be isolated at the top and this makes it a perfect moment to attack. The GC riders will of course mark each other closely but classics riders can win this stage with a late move. With depleted squads, team captains like Rafal Majka, Warren Barguil and Esteban Chaves may even have to do some chase work in a quest to set up their fast finishers for a sprint win.

 

The most likely outcome is that it will come back together as the tactical battle for the stage win always favours the chasing group. However, there is a big chance that this stage will be won by a late attack, much like Peter Kennaugh won the opening stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné.

 

The big question is how Peter Sagan will handle this stage. The final climb is tough but in his heydays Sagan won an even harder stage in the 2013 edition of this race. Back then, he was even stronger than most of the GC riders on an even longer, equally steep climb before he did his usual great descent to win the stage.

 

The last 18 months have been tough for Sagan who has been far from his usual level but signs are that he is now back to his best. No one had ever imagined that he would be able to win the Tour of California overall as the race featured a brutal summit finish on Mount Baldy. However, Sagan looked like his former self on that climb and delivered a climbing performance that can probably only be matched by his ride on that memorable day in Swizterland in 2013.

 

If he is really back to his best, Sagan will be able to handle this climb, even if the GC rides go fast. Even if he loses a bit of ground, he can use his excellent descending skills to get back in contention and in that case he is very likely to be the fastest rider in the group that could sprint for the win.

 

The main challenge for Sagan will be to keep things together for a sprint finish. In the past, he has often been isolated in these finales and then he has been forced to respond to attacks. This has left him with less power for the sprint and so he has been beaten on occasions where he should usually be the fastest. He was expected to get better support by joining Tinkoff-Saxo but in the finale of this stage he is likely to only have Majka at his side. This may force him to respond to attacks and make himself vulnerable in the sprint.

 

Sagan can hope that some of the GC riders go on the attack as that will provide him with assistance in the finale. Furthermore, Dumoulin will be eager to work to defend his jersey and this could make the difference in favour of Sagan. If it comes down to a sprint, he will love the technical finale and then he will be hard to beat.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE have two potential winners of this stage as Michael Matthews and Michael Albasini can both do well in this terrain and finish it off in a sprint. However, the team played down expectations for Matthews as they entered the race, claiming that he has just finished an altitude camp and is mainly here to prepare for the Tour. Furthermore, the final climb may still be a little bit too tough for the fast Australian.

 

This could open the door for Albasini who is always an excellent contender in his hilly home races. He won a couple of stages in Romandie this year and lots of the stages in this race are suited to him. The final climb may be a little bit too long to suit him perfectly but as an Ardennes specialist he should be able to overcome the challenge.

 

Albasini could potentially go on the attack but he will probably focus on a sprint finish. In the past he has shown that he is very strong in these reduced bunch kicks and he will be confident that he can even beat some of the sprinters. Recently, he showed good condition when he sprinted to second behind Kristoff in Gippingen and in that race he beat the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo, Davide Appollonio, Niccolo Bonifazio and Heinrich Haussler. If Sagan doesn’t make the selection, Albasini will probably be the fastest and after a hard race, he even has a decent chance of beating the fast Slovakian.

 

If the race turns into one for the GC riders, Michal Kwiatkowski is the prime pick. The Pole is probably the most versatile rider in the peloton as he can climb, time trial and sprint at a high level. He suffers a bit in the high mountains but this kind of climb should be to his liking. Furthermore, he is an excellent descender and among the GC riders he is clearly the fastest. Apart from his win in the Amstel Gold Race, the 2015 season has not been as good as he had hoped and he has not been climbing at his usual level. Today he did a poor prologue and may not be at his best. However, this climb should be manageable for him. He has the aggressive mindset to go on the attack in the finale and he can wait for a final sprint to test his legs.

 

Michael Matthews may be known as a sprinter but the Australian is really an excellent climber too. He was the only one who was strong enough to stay with Gilbert on the Cauberg in the Amstel Gold Race and he put his climbing skills on show again in the Giro d’Italia. After he left the Italian race, he has been training at altitude but his team has played down expectations for this race which he will only use to get ready for the Tour. Furthermore, this climb is likely to be a little bit too tough for him so we expect them to ride in support of Albasini. However, Matthews is obviously the fastest of the pair so if he is still there in the end, he may get the nod.

 

BMC have two potential winners of this stage and the main challenge will be to decide who to ride for. Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert both like this kind of Ardennes terrain and they are both in good condition. Van Avermaet recently won the Tour of Belgium overall while Gilbert took two stage wins in the Giro and is now returning to competition.

 

Both know that it will be hard to beat Sagan and Albasini in a sprint so they are likely to go on the attack. With a two-pronged attack of two fast riders, they really have some cards to play, especially if the race is hard. If it comes down to a sprint, they are likely to support Van Avermaet who is the fastest of the pair. That’s what they did at last year’s World Championships and tomorrow they will probably have a similar approach.

 

Enrico Gasparotto is another Ardennes specialist who is very fast in a sprint. In fact, he has been sprinting better than ever at the Tour de Luxembourg where he finished in the top 3 in two bunch sprints. He is clearly in very good condition at the moment and he should find the terrain to his liking. Of course he won’t be able to keep up with the GC riders if they go full gas but if it is a slightly bigger group he will be one of the fastest.

 

Jose Joaquin Rojas is another sprinter who climbs extraordinarily well. The Spaniard has finished fourth in Paris-Nice and been in the top 30 in big mountain stages in grand tours. Furthermore, he is pretty fast in a sprint and this year he has actually sprinted better than usual, winning a stage of the Tour of Qatar in a world-class field. Unfortunately, he rarely wins these sprints where he seems to be one of the fastest.

 

Grega Bole got a lot of attention in the Giro d’Italia when he finished in the top 20 on the big Mortirolo stage. Unfortunately, he crashed two days later and he suffered through the final few stages. He has recovered in time for this race but it remains to be seen whether he still had that excellent condition he showed in Italy. If he has, he will be hard to drop in this terrain and then he obviously has the speed to win.

 

If it comes down to a GC sprint, the only rider who could probably beat Kwiatkowski is Daniel Moreno. The Spaniard gets a rare chance to ride for himself in this race and he has often been good at this time of the year. Unfortunately, the last two seasons have been pretty meagre and he still needs to show that he can return to his best. However, this stage is of course no big challenge for him and he will hope for a very small group to sprint for the win as it would make him one of the fastest.

 

Arthur Vichot has had a disastrous season and after he failed to live up to expectations in the Ardennes classics, he underwent blood tests to find out what was wrong with his condition. Apparently, they showed nothing and so it remains to be seen whether he can return to his former level. This stage will be a good test as he is strong in this terrain and has a very fast sprint.

 

For a late attack, look out for Geraint Thomas. The Welshman was targeting the overall win in this race but after he learned about the Rettenbachferner climb, he adjusted his expectations. Now his main goal is to win a stage and he won’t ride too conservatively. He will be inspired by Peter Kennaugh’s coup in the Dauphiné and could try a similar move in the finale of this stage. He is pretty fast in a sprint if he has a few riders at his side but he may not be allowed to go clear as he is still regarded as an overall contender.

 

Tom Dumoulin is in the yellow jersey and of course this will make him a marked man. He will probably have to do a lot of controlling in the finale but he may still be keen to test himself in the sprint. The Dutchman is very versatile and has a nice turn of speed at the end of a hard race. If it comes down to a small group, he should be ont of the fastest.

 

Lars Petter Nordhaug will also be eager to go on the attack in the finale. The Norwegian was disappointed with his performance in the Tour of Norway and will be keen to make amends in this race where he can potentially earn himself selection for the Tour de France. He should find this terrain to his liking and he is reasonably fast in a sprint if he can make it into a breakaway in the finale.

 

The same goes for Eros Capecchi who is one of several Movistar GC contenders in this race. The Italian is no longer sprinting a lot but he is actually pretty fast. He won’t test himself in a bigger sprint but he could go on the attack in the finale and then outsprint his companions.

 

Zdenek Stybar and Moreno Moser could both be among the fastest if a small group ends up sprinting for the win. However, the Czech will probably ride in support of Kwiatkowski but he will be keen to attack in the finale. The final climb is probably a bit too tough for him but as he has been building condition for the Tour, he is likely to have improved his climbing. With his great bike-handling skills, he could go on the attack on the descent and then finish it off in a sprint. Moser is hugely inconsistent but he can finally rediscover those legs he had a few years ago, this stage is tailor-made for him.

 

Finally, John Degenkolb deserves a mention. On paper, the final climb is too hard for him but the German keeps surprising in the hills. He is arriving straight from a training camp at altitude and there is no reason to expect that he has not added another level to his climbing. He will have to dig very deep and avoid a big fight between the GC contenders. If the stars align, it won’t be completely impossible for him to win this stage.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Peter Sagan

Other winner candidates: Michael Albasini, Michal Kwiatkowski

Outsiders: Michael Matthews, Greg Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert, Enrico Gasparotto, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Grega Bole

Jokers: Daniel Moreno, Arthur Vichot, Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Eros Capecchi, Zdenek Stybar, Moreno Moser, Jan Bakelants, John Degenkolb

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