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Photo: Sirotti




16.06.2015 @ 16:20 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The course

Until now the sprinters have bided their time but as stage 4 brings the riders to the flatter northern part of the country, they can expect to come into play for a single day before the GC riders will battle it out in Wednesday’s queen stage. However, it won’t be easy for the fast finishers to get a chance to stretch their fast legs in stage 4 as it is a very typical Tour de Suisse affair. The race ends with a few laps of a finishing circuit with a small climb which will force them into survival mode before they can potentially get the chance to test themselves and battle for the win on the uphill finishing straight.


At 193.2km, it is the longest stage in the first four days of the race and brings the riders on a long northerly run from Flims to Schwarzenbach. The first 60km are completely flat but as usual there is no easy day in the Tour de Suisse. The category 2 Wildhaus climb (8.9km, 6.8%) is a pretty tough challenge and could do a lot of damage if it raced at a fast pace.


The summit is located with 124.5km to go and leads to a descent and a flat section that brings the riders to the finishing circuit which they will hit with 82km to go. Before they get to the finish line, they will do almost a full lap, covering a part that includes the main challenge. The category 3 Husenstrasse climb is 1.8km long and has an average gradient of 5.7%. After the top, the next 5km are rolling and then the riders descend until the riders again hit flat roads 9km from the line. There’s another uncategorized climb of 1.2km with an average gradient of 3.0% summiting 7km from the line and then the road is slightly descending all the way to the flamme rouge. With 900m to go, the riders turn right in a roundabout and from there it is a straight road with an average gradient of 3.4%.


The riders get to the finish line for the first time with 58.4km to go and then the riders end the race by doing two full laps of the 29.2km finishing circuit. There’s a small climb right after the passage of the finish line before the riders get to the part they have already covered once.


Schwarzenbach has not hosted a stage finish in recent years.




The weather

The riders have had incredible luck in the first stages of the race. Every day the weather forecasts have predicted rain but until now they have only had a little bit of rain in the finale of today’s stage. Tomorrow the meteorologists again predict a wet day as 8mm of rain are forecasted in Schwarzenbach and it is expected to rain all day. The maximum temperature will be 19 degrees.


There will be moderate wind from a northwesterly direction and it will pick up a bit as the day goes on. This means that the riders will mainly have a cross-headwind before they have a short crosswind section. In the finale they will again have a cross-headwind until they get to the finishing circuit. Here there will be a cross-tailwind on the climb and then mainly a cross-headwind in the second part.


The favourites

Peter Sagan again confirmed that nearly two years of struggles are finally behind when he delivered a splendid climbing performance to win stage 3 in what was a very tough finale. As said in our preview, the main challenge would be to keep things together for a sprint and that was definitely no easy thing. However, an extraordinary Rafal Majka did an outstanding work and played a key role in setting his teammate up for the 10th stage victory in the Swiss race.


With the win, Sagan also moved into third overall and he is now just 5 seconds behind Tom Dumoulin in the overall standings. This means that he is within striking distance of the overall lead in stage 4 which is another one tailor-made for the Slovakian. He just has to finish in the top 2 to get one day in yellow before he will drop out of GC contention in the queen stage.


It is no wonder that Sagan has won 10 stages in Switzerland. The race is littered with lumpy stages that end with a difficult finishing circuit with one or more small climbs. The first two road stages have been prime examples of that kind of stage, and tomorrow is another day for a rider like Sagan.


However, there is a big difference between the last two stages and the one the riders will face tomorrow. Even though there are climbs in the finale, they are a lot easier. While stages 2 and 3 were way too hard for all sprinters except Sagan and Michael Matthews and dominated by GC riders, tomorrow’s stage will be open for a much wider range of fast finishers, meaning that it will be harder for Sagan to come out on top.


This also means that Tinkoff-Saxo won’t have to carry all the responsibility in tomorrow’s stage.  This is the first big opportunity for Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb and their teams should be keen to work for them. Depending on his feelings, Mark Cavendish may want to give it a go and so Etixx-QuickStep may also lend a hand. Orica-GreenEDGE should also be targeting the win with Matthews in this kind of uphill sprint so we should see a great alliance between the many sprint teams.


This also means that the early break won’t have a chance. Everybody probably knows that the race will be firmly controlled and so we can expect the break to be formed pretty early. The headwind won’t make it much easier for the attackers and we can expect a pretty small group to get clear.


Giant-Alpecin will set the early pace before the sprint teams will join forces with them. The first key point is the Wildhaus climb which is too tough for most of the sprinters. However, it comes too early to make a difference but it would not be a bad idea for teams like Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE to ride pretty fast to tire out the faster sprinters.


The early break will probably be brought back on the finishing circuit where the race will get dynamic. The Husenstrasse climb is not very hard and should be manageable for most of the sprinters, including Mark Cavendish, and the subsequent uncategorized ascent is not very tough either. The main challenge is definitely the uphill finishing straight. The average gradient is 3.4% but it is steeper in the first part before it levels out near the line.


We don’t expect the fast finishers to be distanced on the finishing circuit and instead the main issue will be how fatigued they are at the end. Again it would be a good idea for Tinkoff-Saxo and Orica-GreenEDGE to ride fast on the climbs to tire out their rivals. We may see a few attacks but with plenty of interest in making it hard and setting up a sprint, it will be very hard for anyone to stay away.


This means that it is likely to come down to an uphill sprint and the peloton is loaded with riders who excel in that kind of challenge. One of them is Alexander Kristoff. The Norwegian has had a slow start to the race and has been saving energy for the stages that really suit him. He will get plenty of opportunities this week and the first one comes tomorrow.


Kristoff may not have shown anything in this race but he is clearly in very good condition. He won the GP Kanton Aargau which is a very hard one-day race. He suffered on the climb but made it into the reduced bunch that sprinted for the win. Furthermore, he was riding strongly in the Norwegian races where he won numerous races and he has only improved since then.


The final climbs suit Kristoff well as they tire out the pure sprinters. Furthermore, the uphill sprint is tailor-made for him. A few years ago he took what was then the biggest win of his career in an uphill sprint in this race and he is generally very hard to beat in those tests. Furthermore, his lead-out train with Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri has proved that it is one of the best in the business and Kristoff is very good at positioning himself. That makes the Norwegian our stage winner pick.


Like Kristoff, John Degenkolb has had a hard race until now. However, his time has now come as he will have lots of opportunities in the final part of the race. Tomorrow’s uphill sprint is perfect for the strong German who shares many of Kristoff’s characteristics.


Degenkolb is undoubtedly in good condition as he has arrived straight from his usual altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada and he will be supported by one of the best trains in this race as Nikias Arndt and Koen De Kort will set him up for the sprint. His main challenge will be to stay with them as he very often loses contact with his lead-out men, especially on wet roads like the ones they will have tomorrow. When it comes to pure speed in this kind of sprint, he and Kristoff are almost equal so it will probably come down to positioning. Kristoff may have the upper hand but if De Kort can make one of his splendid lead-outs Degenkolb will be hard to beat.


We are curious to see how Mark Cavendish will handle this stage. The Brit has been building form for the Tour de France so he should be at a very high level. The climbs are unlikely to be hard enough to challenge him and there is no doubt that he has the best lead-out train at his disposal. On paper he is clearly the fastest rider in this field but in an uphill sprint after a few late climbs things may be different.


Cavendish won his Worlds title in a similar uphill sprint in Copenhagen so he is definitely capable of doing well in this finale. However, he is up against some of the best uphill sprinters in the world. If Etixx-QuickStep can drop him off in the perfect position, Cavendish may be strong enough to hold them off.


Peter Sagan won today’s stage and is clearly in very good condition. However, tomorrow’s easier finale suits him less. He likes the late climb and the uphill finishing straight is definitely in his favour. Furthermore, he is great at positioning himself and the wet roads should be an advantage. However, when it comes to speed, he is usually not fast enough to beat the likes of Kristoff and Degenkolb. Furthermore, he would have preferred a more technical finale. Nonetheless, it won’t be impossible for the in-form Slovakian to make it two in a row.


Arnaud Demare has had a bad start to the year but now his legs have finally come around. He won two stages in the Eneco Tour and he will be keen to carry that momentum into this race. He likes these kind of uphill sprints – just recall how he won a much harder sprint in the Eneco Tour a few years ago – and he is supported by a strong lead-out train with Sebastien Chavanel and William Bonnet. Unfortunately, he misses key lead-out man Mickael Delage and that could be costly as he will be up against some of the best trains in the world. Demare is often very poorly positioned and this is probably what will prevent him from winning. However, he definitely has the speed to do so.


Michael Matthews delivered a splendid climbing performance in today’s stage but in the end the finale was a bit too tough for him. However, he proved that he is in good condition. He is likely to leave the race early and tomorrow may be his final chance to win a stage. He likes uphill sprints and has a strong lead-out man in Daryl Impey. However, he may miss the final turn of speed to beat the really fast guys.


Lampre-Merida have two potential winners of this stage. Niccolo Bonifazio and Davide Cimolai both excel in this kind of tough sprints. On paper, the uphill finishing straight suits Cimolai a bit better. When he is at 100%, he is very strong in these finales as he proved when he won a stage in Paris-Nice. However, Bonifazio seems to be in better condition at the moment and was the designated captain in GP Kanton Aargau where he did well to finish fourth. It will be hard to win in such a classy field but he should be up there.


Jose Joaquin Rojas showed that he is in very good condition when he finished 10th in today’s stage. He is no pure sprinter and has his best chance when the sprint comes at the end of a hard day. Hence, tomorrow’s stage should suit him and this year he has been sprinting very well, topping it off with a stage win in the Tour of Qatar. Unfortunately he probably misses the final turn of speed to win the stage.


Jempy Drucker is another specialist in uphill sprints. The stage also suits him BMC teammates Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert but he is faster than his two teammates who will have no chance against the specialists in this race. Hence, it would be a good idea for the American team to back their Luxembourger who showed good condition in the Tour of Belgium.


Jurgen Roelandts rarely gets the chance to sprint for himself but in this race he is the designated Lotto Soudal leader for the sprint stages. He is definitely no pure sprinter but he can do well when the sprint comes at the end of a tough race. The uphill finishing straight suits him well and he is strong in wet conditions. He won’t win the stage but he should be able to deliver a good performance.


Trek have Jasper Stuyven as their sprinter in this race. Like Roelandts, he is more of a classics rider than a real sprinter but he should find this kind of finale to his liking. He tested himself in a few Vuelta sprints last year and proved that he can do well against the fastest riders. He has Fabian Cancellara to lead him out and that is a huge advantage.


Borut Bozic and Grega Bole are both solid sprinters who are at their best when the sprint comes at the end of a hard race. Hence, they should find this stage to their liking. They are not fast enough to win in this field but they are capable of a top 5 if they can position themselves well.


Finally, Matteo Trentin deserves a mention. If Cavendish finds the going a bit too tough, Etixx-QuickStep may be backing their Italian who won a stage in this race one year ago. He is very strong in reduced bunch sprints and will be supported by a very strong Etixx-QuickStep team if he gets the nod.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alexander Kristoff

Other winner candidates: John Degenkolb, Mark Cavendish

Outsiders: Peter Sagan, Arnaud Demare, Michael Matthews

Jokers: Niccolo Bonifazio, Davide Cimolai, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Jempy Drucker, Jurgen Roelandts, Jasper Stuyven, Borut Bozic, Grega Bole, Matteo Trentin



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