The build-up to the Tour de France intensifies this weekend with the Tour de Suisse. Starting on Sunday June 12th (less than three weeks before the Grand Depart in Copenhagen) and finishing a week later on the 19th, it’s one of the most important and exciting of the stage races traditionally used to fine tune preparations ahead of the Tour.
Having been held since 1933, it’s also one of the most prestigious stage races of the season by its own right as one of the oldest, longest and hardest in the WorldTour, with the mountainous terrain of the Swiss Alps being its defining characteristic.
Stage one – Küsnacht > Küsnacht (178km)
Rather than the usual prologue, the 2022 Tour de Suisse will begin with four laps of a circuit in Küsnacht. It's a circuit that features two testing, category three-ranked hills. If a sprint does decide the stage it’ll be from a reduced bunch, and the climbs could see a breakaway succeed.
Stage two – Küsnacht > Aesch (199km)
Like yesterday, this is another day of undulating roads that will be difficult to control. Although lots of small rises come during the stage (both categorised and uncategorised), the result will likely be determined on the category two Challpass, a 6km climb averaging 5.5% that’s crested 14km from the finish.
Stage three – Aesch > Grenchen (177km)
In terms of elevation, this is the hilliest stage of the race so far, with over 3,000 metres gained in total. But the parcours differs in how the toughest climb — the category one Côte au Bouvier— is out of the way halfway into the stage, making it likely that either an early break of decent climbers will succeed, or the race will settle down for a bunch finish.
Stage four – Grenchen > Brunnen (191km)
It’s hard to find any flat roads in Switzerland, but the organisers have found enough to give the pure sprinters a chance to win stage four. That said, a viciously steep 2.8km climb averaging nearly 9% features close enough to the finish (15km) could scupper their chances.
Stage five – Ambri > Novazzano (193km)
Returning to some of the roads in Mendrisio where Cadel Evans was crowned world champion in 2009, stage five ends with three laps of a hilly circuit that will again suit the puncheurs. The short, Pedrinata climb which averages an 8.2% gradient is the key point of this circuit, and unlike the previous stages, the finish is also uphill.
Stage six – Locarno > Moosalp (180km)
This is the queen stage of the Tour de Suisse, which will have a bigger impact than any other on the fate of the GC. Whereas the previous stages have mostly suited puncheurs, the two massive mountains tackled today will be where the pure climbers emerge as the frontrunners for overall victory.
The first, the Nufenen Pass, is the highest road pass in the whole country at about 2,500m high, but it’s on the 7.5% slopes of the 17.6km Moosalp summit finish where the stage — and possibly the overall winner — will be decided.
Stage seven – Ambri > Malbun (196km)
The second of back-to-back mountain stages, the finishing climb at Malburn is more than difficult enough to see fireworks in the GC battle. The lengthy category one Lukmanier Pass will wear the rider's legs down early on, but all the attacks will be reserved for 12.8km, 8.4% summit finish.
Stage eight – Vaduz > Vaduz (25.6km ITT)
For the first time since 2018, the Tour de Suisse will end with a time trial, this time hosted across the border in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. At 25.6km it’s long enough to cause some significant changes in the GC, and suits the specialists with a mostly flat parcours.
Ineos Grenadiers might not be bringing the defending champion Richard Carapaz, who is resting after sealing a podium finish at the Giro d’Italia, but they nevertheless boast the strongest line-up in the race. Dani Martínez, Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates will all be present as they make their final preparations ahead of the Tour de France, and how they form here may help determine which is their leader for the team’s push for yellow in July. Image: SWpix/Emma Wilcock
By contrast, all of Jumbo-Visma’s main men are at Critérium du Dauphine, leaving Sepp Kuss and Rohan Dennis as outside GC contenders instead, while the absence of Tadej Pogačar may mean that Marc Soler has a rare chance to lead the charge for UAE Team Emirates.
One team that does look strong enough to challenge Ineos is Bora-Hansgrohe. Aleksandr Vlasov rode superbly to win the Tour de Romandie during the spring, and will again be joined by Sergio Higuita, who assisted him that race, and also got the better of Ineos and Carapaz earlier this season to win the overall at the Volta a Catalunya. Image: SWpix/Zac Williams
As always, Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) will attract much attention, and for good reason. Although the kind of big mountains that feature towards the backend of this race has often been the young prodigy’s downfall, he seriously impressed with his climbing at the Tour of Norway recently. If he’s still anywhere near in contention after those stages, he could make up a lot of ground in the final time trial.
Ion Izagirre (Cofidis) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) will also benefit from the time trial, although there are questions surrounding the latter’s form due to a lack of racing this year. Thibaut Pinot continues his comeback for Groupama-FDJ, and Mikel Landa will also ride, although fatigue from the Giro d’Italia may see his teammate and Tour de Romandie runner-up Gino Mäder lead Bahrain-Victorious instead.Image: Getty
Even if Israel-PremierTech’s duo of Michael Woods and Jakob Fuglsang don’t have the climbing legs to ride for GC, they’re among the riders who could chase stage wins on the race’s many punchy stages, along with the likes of Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r Citroën) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers).
And, although the hilly parcours has put off many of the top sprinters, there are still a handful of better climbing ones who are riding, most notably Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), who will be returning to the WorldTour races for the first time since March.
With none of the Slovenian stars to bother them, and a pair of uncomplicated mountain top finishes set to determine the GC, the stage is set for Ineos Grenadiers to control the race as they used to in their heyday. And of their three potential leaders, Dani Martínez is the one best poised to take victory. The Colombian has come into his own as a GC leader this season, having won the Itzulia Basque Country in April.
Cover image: Getty