Last week’s stage race may not have wowed television viewers but it was rich in information and ideas. A round-up…
Two time trials meant the race had more solo kilometres against the clock than the Tour de France or Vuelta, and of course in less than a week. Christian Prudhomme turned up the start – always interesting as he’s unlikely to be on holiday – and said time trials can “fossilise” (my translation) the GC of a stage race with some riders able to pull out big gaps (more on this thinking here). Yet the race was decided on the single summit finish when Adam Yates got 21 seconds on Matteo Jorgenson, plus the ten second time bonus, and took the overall lead.
In between the spring classics and a week out from the Giro, the race’s slot on the calendar is bit late for the GC riders who’ve had a busy spring and done the Ardennes; and too late pre-Giro for many of the GC contenders, especially as the weather is often wintry. This explains why there are few star names at the start and why the wow factor is missing.
The subtlety here is the young jersey competition. As said here before, if you put yourself in the shoes of a team manager and imagine you have an ambitious, talented young rider on your books. They want leadership or protected status in a World Tour race, where do you send them first? You’ll use the Critérium du Dauphiné as a dress rehearsal for your Tour de France squad; ditto the Tour de Suisse. Other races don’t suit, Paris-Nice can be all about the crosswinds, Basque Country is Boss Level racing, the end of season race in China’s not much to offer and the BinckBank Tour or UAE Tour don’t really supply the obvious opportunities. The Tour of California used to work for younger riders. Romandie delivers here, it’s what’s called a course limpide in French, a term that doesn’t have an equivalent in English but think “clear, clean” as in a race with few traps, riders are able to make set piece efforts without being undone by crosswinds or narrow farm tracks. Think of a computer game boss level but with the difficulty set to medium than expert. Many big names have won the race, often before they were big.
Here’s the top-11 above, 11 so we can crowbar 18 year old Jan Christen there, the rider has signed a deal with UAE until 2027. It feels like there are young stars than the Carina Nebula. Matteo Jorgenson is reportedly going to Jumbo-Visma, local newspaper HLN in typical style reported this as a reinforcement for Wout van Aert’s classics ambitions with the rider fourth in the E3 Harelbeke joining. Of course he’s a bit more versatile and that’s what should make him an invaluable signing, with time people will be able to pronounce his name: he’s American not Danish or Austrian, and the “Jor” in Jorgenson is like the “Jor” in Jordan. Hopefully cycling editors are pronouncing Max Poole as they order staff to land an interview with a revelation of the spring. Cian Uijtdebroeks is quietly on the way up. Thomas Gloag already won the best young rider competition in Valenciana in February, now he’s among the World Tour and looks like a complete rider although descending trajectories could be improved. Juan Ayuso won the time trial, no bluffing or tactics there. Jayco-Al Ula have been discreet this year but Filippo Zana looks stronger ahead of the Giro. Oscar Onley delivered as well, his work shredded what was left on the front group high on the road to Thyon 2000. Lenny Martinez was 16th in the time trial stage, a very good result for a first year pro who’d be flyweight if he was a boxer and he was helping Pinot on the Thyon 2000 summit finish. Finn Fisher-Black is back after big crash injuries and 9th after team work for Yates. Asbjørn Hellemose gives Trek-Segafredo some cheer in the week they’ve shredded Tiberi’s contracy and seen Giulio Ciccone forced to sit out the Giro.
If the race gives us a glimpse of the future, does the race have a future? At times the local coverage was like a business report, honey to this blog as much as the scenery and sport or at least a substitute on a cloudy day towards a sprint finish. Speaking to Swiss TV, race organiser Richard Chassot said his annual budget is around 4.2 million Swiss Francs (about the same in Euros/Dollars) for the men’s and women’s races. Only he’s operating at a shortfall of about 200-300k Francs and only has reserves for another years or so. So the race is alright for 2024 but needs more funding if it is to survive. It this the sound of an alarm bell? Yes, it was notable this was an open topic of discussion in the race. But it’s also a call to local politicians to back the race which shows of Switzerland’s French speaking half, some relatively small subsidies from the cantonal, ie regional, government and things should be fine.
Egan Bernal continues his comeback, he was spotted being dropped on the climb to Thyon then rode back to eighth place, a steady ride but at a high level. It’s hard to extrapolate too far but the signs seem gradually more encouraging and his pull on the final climb on Sunday helped eject many sprinters. He says he’s down to do the tours of Hungary and Norway, and if they go well, then probably the Tour de Suisse. Can we extrapolate if that goes well then he’s touring France next?
Thibaut Pinot got one of those Pinot results, tantalisingly close but not there. Supporters should note it was an ideal day for him with cold weather and a long final summit finish, his speciality is starting slow on a long climb before getting more aggressive and fast for the final. He’s ready for the Giro.
Among other older riders Damiano Caruso seemed like a flower that bloomed during the race. Ready for the Giro too? Yes, although presumably for his diesel-style racing as he grinds his way to, say, fifth in the third week. Also have to mention Chris Froome who was being dropped before the sprinters on some climbs, perhaps he’s aiming for the Tour de France and able to pass on advice to younger riders last week but absent any communication to this effect it’s a bit like watching an old lion pad around a enclosure in the zoo rather than rule the savannah.
The sprints suited riders called Ethan, with Vernon and then Hayter taking wins. Vernon impressed on Stage 1 when he got over some big climbs that ejected other riders, despite being a big rider although he’s what they call longiligne in French. It wasn’t a dense field so Romain Bardet was hustling for time bonuses at times before Fernando Gaviria won the final stage by launching audaciously early.
All roads lead to Rome, or at least the Abruzzo region and the Giro’s grande partenza. Hopefully nobody else is ambushed by Covid is doing the rounds. Several riders are testing positive ahead of the Giro both in Romandie and elsewhere. Case numbers in Europe are harder to come by but there doesn’t seem to be a wave, it’s just bubbling away, a persistent risk for the peloton. If you were in charge of Quickstep or Jumbo you’d invest in a private jet to get your riders to the start and take every measure to avoid infection.