The GC riders got the chance to save some energy during a mostly easy ride yesterday but they will need all their resources in today's final stage which will be the single most crucial stage for the final overall standings. The Tour de Suisse often ends with a time trial - usually a rolling one with some nasty hills and sometimes even a mountain time trial - but this year's race against the clock is highly unusual. Consisting of two different parts which favour two completely different types of riders, the time trial will be won by a rider with great versatility and it will be a dramatic and spectacular end to a race that has so far been an open and unpredictable affair. Starting at 16.05, you can follow the crucial time trial on CyclingQuotes.com/live.
The organizers usually finish off the national tour with a crucial stage and that is also the case this year as the race's traditional long time trial will be held on the final day of racing. The race against the clock usually takes in a hilly, undulating course but this year's route makes for an interesting mix between a time trial for the specialists and a mountain time trial. The first 16,5km of the 26,8km stage from Bad Ragaz to the top of the Flumserberg are completely flat and suit the big, powerful riders. That will all change in the final part as the final 10,3km take the riders to the top of the Flumserberg. The climb is a really tough one and has an average gradient of no less than 9,0%, thus making it one for the pure climbers.
The climb is a regular one without any flatter recovery sections. The hardest part starts 6,5km from the top and during the next 5km, the average gradient is almost 10%. The final kilometer is a little bit easier as the gradient is only 7% but it does not change the fact that this ascent is one for the pure climbers. On the other hand, the first part is one for the true time trial specialists as it consists of a long, flat road and the riders will even have to deal with a headwind.
The Tour of California had a similar time trial but on that occasion, the final climb was only 2,6km long. Furthermore, the first part was not dead-flat but took in some rolling terrain, thus making the transition from the first to the second part less extreme. Nonetheless, many riders still chose to do the first part on a time trial bike and the second part on a road bike, with stage winner Tejay Van Garderen being one of the few exceptions.
The American was actually convinced that a bike change would have allowed him to save a few seconds but he felt the risk of something going wrong was too big and so he chose to ride the entire stage on his time trial bike. Today none of the two sections are negligible and so all riders with any ambitions will make a bike change at the bottom of the climb. You will simply lose too much time if you ride the long flat headwind stretch on a road bike and it will be almost impossible to tackle the steep Flumserberg on a time trial bike.
This will make for some interesting action as race rules prohibit cars from passing their riders. Hence, the mechanics cannot move ahead to prepare the change and will only be allowed to stop as soon as the riders actually come to a halt. This makes it more likely that something does not go according to plan and the mechanics will play a much more crucial role than they usually do in a time trial.
Let's start our discussion of favourites by making one thing clear: time trial specialists like Fabian Cancellara have no change at all today! The quadruple world champion could very well go all out to set the best time at the intermediate check at the bottom of the climb but he will probably not even bother trying to hold his advantage on the final climb. However, we are not unlikely to see specialists like Cancellara, David Millar, Alex Rasmussen and Patrick Gretsch test their legs on the first part of the course.
As this stage requires great versatility, the winner will be one who is both a good time triallist and a strong climber. This puts Tejay Van Garderen right at the top of the list of favourites. The American is one of the best time triallists in the world and has proved so on different courses in the past. He was 4th at the world championships, 4th in the first long time trial in last year's Tour de France and won the time trial in the recent Tour of California which were all held on hilly routes. On the other hand, he finished 7th in the final time trial of last year's Tour which was a mostly flat affair.
Among the GC riders, he should be the best in the first 16km flat section and he should take an advantage over his rivals into the climbing part. He climbed solidly on Friday but is clearly not the strongest climber in the race, that honour going to either Rui Costa or Thibaut Pinot. This time he will, however, only be reliant on his own speed and he usually struggles on the climbs because he goes too deep too soon. In a time trial, he can keep his own tempo, thus avoiding the pitfalls that have so often been his undoing in the mountains. We doubt that he will be the fastest of all on the Flumberberg but he will not be far off. Combining the two sections, he should set the fastest overall time and could very well move himself onto the overall podium in the process.
His biggest rival could be Rui Costa who is also the big favourite to take the overall win. The Portuguese is not a time trial specialist and would have no chance against Van Garderen in a traditional race against the clock. He is, however, able to defend himself in the discipline and most recently finished a solid 13th in the dead-flat Tour de Romandie time trial. On one hand, he will lose time to Van Garderen in the first section but on the other hand, he should use those flat kilometers to distance riders like Mathias Frank, Roman Kreuziger, Thibaut Pinot and Daniel Martin. He proved on Friday that he is one of the two best climbers in the race and if he can limit his losses to Van Garderen in the first part, he could take it all back on the climb. When he last did a mountain time trial in last year's Tour de Romandie, he finished 4th and he clearly knows how to gauge his effort when he is on his own on a mountain like the Flumserberg.
Simon Spilak is steadily building his form for the Tour de France and is clearly not at his best yet. Earlier in his career, he was not known as a strong time triallist but as part of his general improvement this year, his abilities in the race against the clock have also been taken up a notch. His most impressive performance was his 5th place in the flat Tour de Romandie time trial and he even finished 13th on a similar flat course in the Tour of Belgium at a time where he was clearly not even close to his best form. If he can repeat those performances in the first part, he will be a danger man. He has finished 4th and 6th in the Col d'Eze time trial in the last two editions of the Paris-Nice and he has clearly progressed since. He has a mission of moving himself up in the GC from his current 9th place.
On paper, Tanel Kangert should be the biggest threat to Van Garderen as the Estonian is both an exceptional time triallist and a strong climber. Few should have forgotten how he finished 3rd in the long Giro d'Italia time trial and he should make good use of the first flat kilometres. However, the many racing days can now be felt in the Estonian's legs and he has done nothing to hide that in recent days. As he has been solid but non-spectacular in the mountains so far, we doubt that he has what it takes to win today's stage.
A dangerous outsider could be Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman would wish that the UCI would ban time trials as they are certainly not his forte but he has done a lot of work to improve in the discipline. His recent 14th place in a flat Bayern-Rundfahrt time trial shows just how much progress he has done and he will be keen to show that just two weeks prior to the Tour de France. On the other hand, he is a formidable mountain time triallist, having finished 6th in the Tour de Romandie prologue and 8th in last year's Tour de Romandie time trial. If he can limit his losses in the flat part, he could make it onto the podium in today's stage and it would be no surprise if he was the fastest rider to climb the Flumserberg.
Cameron Meyer won the stage 1 time trial and while he was greatly helped by the wind, it is mostly overlooked that he did a splendid performance. He is not a world elite time triallist but he is clearly in peak condition these days. He should set one of the best times at the bottom of the Flumserberg and he proved on Friday that he climbs solidly when he can just set his own tempo and not has to deal with too many changes of rhythm. He will probably not be fast enough on the Flumserberg to win but he could end up on the podium.
Jean-Christophe Peraud has performed strongly all year and mountain time trials are his forte. He has finished in the top 4 in the Col d'Eze time trial twice in a row and thus should be in the mix on the Flumserberg. He would have preferred a hillier first part but he should be able to distance most of his rivals in that part as well. On the other hand, he has not performed as strongly in this race as he has earlier in the season and he clearly struggled on the Albulapass. We doubt that he has what it takes to win but a top 5 should certainly be within his reach.
Roman Kreuziger, Bauke Mollema and Mathias Frank all deserve a mention. None of them are time trial specialists and it will all be about limiting their losses in the flat section. While Kreuziger was strong in the race against the clock earlier in his career - his 2008 Tour de Suisse win was mostly based on victory in a mountain time trial - his abilities have deteriorated dramatically in recent years. On the other hand, Mollema and Frank have both improved and the latter actually finished 9th in the recent Tour of California time trial. Mollema did a fantastic time trial on a hilly, technical course in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco last year but this one is of a different nature. The main objective for all of them should be to finish on the overall podium as it will be difficult to take the win.
Finally, we would like to point to Michele Scarponi and Moreno Moser who could both spur a surprise today.
Starting at 16.05, you can follow the action on CyclingQuotes.com/live.
CyclingQuotes.com stage winner picks: Tejay Van Garderen, Rui Costa, Simon Spilak
Outsiders: Tanel Kangert, Cameron Meyer, Thibaut Pinot
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