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Photo: Trek Factory Racing




30.04.2015 @ 15:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Michael Albasini continued his love affair with the Tour de Romandie when he powered clear to a comfortable stage victory in stage 2. He will get a chance to make it two in a row in tomorrow’s third stage which is another hilly affair but the easier terrain should make it more manageable for the sprinters to survive and they will all have marked this day out as one to target.


The course

Most of the fast finishers found the first road stage too tough and so they will be keen to shine in stage 3 which should be one for the riders who usual excel in Romandie. The combination of a solid pair of climbing legs and a fast sprint is usually a winning one in the Swiss race and may pay off again in the third stage of the race.


The course brings the riders over 172.5km from Moutier to Porrentruy and is made up of a combination of circuits in moderately hilly terrain. First the riders do a lap of a 31.5km circuit on the northern outskirts of the starting city. After a descending first part, it contains a long, gradual uncategorized climb which makes for a tough start to the stage before the riders descend back to the start. From here they travel along slightly descending valley roads to the Col Ranglers (8.4km, 4.5%) which they will climb from its easiest side before they descend to a flat section that leads to the finish in Porrentruy where they will contest the first intermediate sprint after 69.3km of racing.


The riders will now do one lap of the easiest circuit which is mostly flat and only contains the category 3 Cote de Bure (1.8km, 7.4%, max. 10%) at the 80.8km mark. At the end, they will cross the finish line for the first time and from here 66.7km remain. They are made up of two separate circuits that will see the riders tackle a total of three climbs but the riders won’t cross the finish line in between the two loops.


The first circuit is the hardest and contains the category 2 climb Col de la Croix (4.8km, 6.3%, max. 10%) before the riders go up the category 2 Col des Rangiers (5.0km, 7.2%, max. 10%) from its steep sides. From there, they descend back to Porrentruy where they will contest the final intermediate sprint with 36.7km to go before they finish the race by doing another lap of the circuit with the Col de Bure. The top of the climb comes with 25.1km to go and the final part is pretty easy. A short flat section leads to a long, gradual descent to Porrentruy before the riders reach the mainly flat final 4km. The final turn comes just 400m from the line and leads to the finishing straight which is slightly rising with a gradient of 2.25%.


Porrentruy last hosted the race in 2010 when Marco Pinotti won the short 4.3km prologue to become the first leader of the race. Four years earlier, it was the scene of one of Chris Horner’s first big wins in Europe when he managed to distance Jörge Jaksche and Alexandre Moos by 5 seconds to win stage 2 and take the overall lead while riding for Davitamon-Lotto. The city also played host to a memorable stage in the 2012 Tour de France when a young Thibaut Pinot won a tough stage in his debut Tour de France after he had passed Fredrik Kessiakoff close to the finish.



The weather

The riders have had dry conditions for the first two stages and a few days ago it seemed that they would have to face rain for the final four days. However, the weather forecast has changed and now it seems that Thursday may be the best day of the entire race.


In fact, it will be a beautiful sunny day and the temperature at the finish will even reach a maximum of a very pleasant 16 degrees. There will be a moderate wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will have all kind of wind directions on the first circuit and a headwind as they head to Porrentruy. There will be a cross-headwind on the Cote de la Bure and on the descent before the riders turn into a tailwind for the run-in back to Porrentruy. There will be a tailwind on the two category 2 climbs and a headwind as they go back from the Col des Rangiers to Porrentruy.


The favourites

Michael Albasini is tailor-made for the Tour de Romandie as his fast legs and great climbing skills mean that he always has lots of opportunities in the Swiss race. Hence, it was no major surprise that he continued his winning streak by taking the first road stage of the 2015 edition of the race. In fact, one can only wonder how he had to wait until 2014 before opening his account in his home event as he has won stages in almost every one-week stage race on the WorldTour.


Albasini may get another chance tomorrow but he will find tougher opposition this time around. Today his main challenge was to survive the final climb which could turn out to be a bit too hard for him. Tomorrow the biggest obstacle is the fact that the easier terrain will make it more manageable for the few sprinters who have travelled to Romandie and they have all marked stages 3 and 4 out as their goals for this race.


It makes no sense for a pure sprinter to be at the start in this race as there are no completely flat stages and so the sprinters in this race are all able to climb. This means that there are several fast guys who will be able to handle tomorrow’s climbing and we should see a much bigger field in the end.


That also means that it will be very hard for the breakaway to stay away. Traditionally breakaways have a pretty good chance in Romandie as the hilly terrain makes the stages very hard to control and there is a clear chance that a strong group can make it in this stage. However, Trek and Giant-Alpecin are here with a clear focus on the sprints and this will make it tough for the escapees to stay away.


Bigger time gaps have now opened up and this means that Orica-GreenEDGE don’t have to work too hard. They only have to be on their toes in the early part to make sure that a dangerous rider doesn’t get clear in a small group and then they can just keep the situation under control. However, Albasini may be keen to get another stage win and it would be no surprise if they also assist in the chase.


Today the breakaway went away surprisingly early but we expect a bit more action in the early part of stage 3. The first section is pretty tough and perfect for attacks and so we should see a pretty animated start. If a strong group gets clear, it will be hard to bring it back.


However, they are unlikely to get much of an advantage. Giant-Alpecin and Trek have both made this stage a goal and after Sky have done the early work, they will probably hit the front. They know that they can’t go too fast up the climbs in the finale and so they need to keep the break within a reasonable distance.


The Cote de la Bure is steep but pretty short and this means that many sprinters will be able to make survive if they start the climb in a food position. The real challenges are the two category 2 climbs which could turn out to be too tough for them. This is where some teams may try to make the race hard to get rid of the fastest finishers.


The only interest with a genuine interest in doing that are Orica-GreenEDGE but they don’t really have a strong squad for the climbs. Only Ivan Santaromita, Simon Yates and Simon Gerrans can make the stage hard on the ascents and then they need to maintain any gaps in the flat headwind section after the climbs. That’s a pretty tough ask and so they are unlikely to give it a try.


With a headwind on the Cote de la Bure, it will be very hard for anyone to get clear and even though we may see a few attacks and Sky may move to the front to keep Chris Froome safe, we expect most of the sprinters to make it to the top of the climb with the peloton. The final part is pretty easy and this should give plenty of room to chase down remnants from the early break and any late attackers and so a sprint from a pretty large field is the most likely outcome.


In that case, Giacomo Nizzolo is our favourite to take the win. The Italian has had a slow start to the season as he was set back by injury but he gradually found his form in March. He is one of the sprinters who can survive some pretty tough climbing and he used those skills to win the tough one-day race GP Nobili.


A crash took him out of contention for the cobbled classics but since then he has been training for the Giro at altitude and he seems to be in very good condition. Yesterday his team praised his performance in the team time trial and he looked very strong on the final climb. He was not too far back in today’s stage and with that kind of form he should be able to handle tomorrow’s challenges. Furthermore, he is surrounded by a team that is almost fully dedicated to him and that will be important in the hectic finale. Finally, he is great at positioning himself and he likes this kind of uphill sprint. Nizzolo is our favourite to win the stage.


His biggest rival is likely to be Luka Mezgec. The Slovenian is a great climber and usually he can survive even harder terrain than Nizzolo. Like his Italian rival, he is preparing for the Giro and he claims to be in very good condition at the moment. He looked strong in the team time trial but was a bit further back in today’s stage.


However, today was not really a goal for Mezgec and he will dig a lot deeper tomorrow. He may be slightly less suited to an uphill sprint than Nizzolo but he can count on a full team to support him. He relies a bit more on his team than Nizzolo but if they can position him well, he has the speed to win the stage.


Gianni Meersman is perfectly suited to the Tour de Romandie and he has made this race and the Volta a Catalunya a happy hunting ground. Two years ago he won two stages in this race and he will be keen to repeat the success in stages 2 and 3.


Meersman was not in great condition in the beginning of April but he has clearly ridden himself into form. He was strong in the team time trial and today he was not far behind the best. Among the sprinters, he is the best climber and he will definitely be there in the finale.


Meersman loves this kind of uphill sprint but on paper he is not as fast as Nizzolo, Mezgec and Viviani. His biggest asset is his strong team and with Tony Martin and Julian Alaphilippe, he may get the perfect lead-out. If that is the case, he will be hard to pass in this kind of finish.


On paper, the fastest rider in this race is probably Elia Viviani. However, Sky’s main goal is to win the overall with Chris Froome and so the Italian may have limited team support. Riders like Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Peter Kennaugh and Luke Rowe are great lead-out men but they may be more concerned with their captain than their sprinter.


Viviani is a solid climber who has won a hard stage in the Dauphiné and even though he may not be at Nizzolo’s and Mezgec’s level, he should be able to survive the challenges. Unfortunately, he is not very good at positioning himself and he usually relies very much on his team. It remains to be seen if they will support their fast Italian but if he manages to get into a good position, he is the fastest.


On paper, there are faster riders than Albasini in this race but last year the Swiss proved that he can even win pretty big bunch sprints. With his experience and great positioning skills, he has an advantage compared to some of his rivals and he is clearly in great condition. The uphill sprint should suit him well and he can rely on Simon Gerrans to lead him out. Compared to the sprinters, he will be fresher in the finale and this makes him an obvious contender for this stage too.


Cannondale-Garmin got close to the win today as Ramunas Navardauskas gave Nathan Haas the perfect lead-out. However, the Australian was not fast enough and tomorrow the roles may be reversed. Navardauskas has won a sprint in a past edition of this race and by making it into the lead group in today’s stage, he showed that he is in great condition. He has improved his sprinting a lot and he even finished third in the final stage of the Tour de France in 2014. Unfortunately, he positions himself pretty poorly and so this technical finale may not be tailor-made for him.


Finally, we will select a few jokers. Tosh van der Sande is the Lotto Soudal sprinter in this race and he will be keen to test himself in this stage. He got lots of confidence when he won the bunch sprint for fourth in stage one in Catalonia and he has made these hilly races a target. Today he showed great condition and he climbs really well. He is definitely not a pure sprinter and there are many riders who are faster than him but if he gets into a good position, he may deliver a surprise.


Tom Van Asbroeck hopes to make his grand tour debut in the Vuelta a Espana and he is in this race to improve his climbing. There is a big chance that this event is a bit too hard for him and that he will never get a chance to sprint. On paper, he is one of the fastest though and he is great at positioning himself. If he is there in the finale, he will definitely be one of the favourites.


Manuele Mori is usually working for his teammates but he may get a chance in the sprints in this race. He is definitely not a pure sprinter but he has a decent kick, especially in this kind of uphill finish. His main goal is to protect Rui Costa but if he is allowed to take his chance in the sprint, his experience may be enough to give him a good result.


If Meersman is not up for the challenge, Etixx-QuickStep may be riding in support of the in-form Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman likes these uphill sprints and he can count on a great team to support him. Today he reacted too slowly when Cannondale passed him in the finale but if his team can deliver him on the front, he may take his first WorldTour win in this stage.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Giacomo Nizzolo

Other winner candidates: Luka Mezgec, Gianni Meersman

Outsiders: Elia Viviani, Michael Albasini, Ramunas Navardauskas

Jokers: Tosh van der Sande, Tom Van Asbroeck, Manuele Mori, Julian Alaphilippe, Angelo Tulik



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