The Tour de Suisse and the Dauphine are the two final preparation races ahead of the Tour de France, and to be a part of our TDF team is my goal this season. Since the Tour of California we made some changes to my training and the response has been encouraging. Two weeks is a long time on the road but the Suisse team is a fun group. Roman Kreutziger, Michael Valgren, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, Jay Thomson, Gino Mader, Tom Jelte Slagter, and me.
GP Gippingen: 185 km
This discrete one day race presented opportunities to both score an important result and kickstart the body before Tour de Suisse, the main event. The unpredictable course brought us around eight laps of a steep 2 km climb leading to an uphill sprint. We lined up with climbers to follow attacks and Reini to sprint covering all scenarios. After a brief scuffle, a small breakaway slipped away. The first circuits were nonchalant, but action picked up with three to go. I marked a couple of early attacks along with my teammates, but on the final lap we committed to Reini taking control of the pace with 15 km to go and leading all the way to the finish. I got squeezed off of Reini’s wheel with 1.5 km to go, and since I couldn’t escape to lead him out I tried to stay where I was crossing the line in 18th. Reini unleashed his sprint only to be overcome by two riders in the final 50 meters. He said, “I really thought I was going to win,” but 3rd is an excellent result and a good sign before Suisse.
Tour de Suisse: 9 stages
Stage 1: 9.5 km TT
After standard recon and warm up procedures, I hit the course. I started too hard and dragged myself to the finish with a disappointing time.
Stage 2: 160 km
I’m pretty sure that most of us underestimated the climbs on course, but after the first of three laps we knew the race could explode on the two steep climbs. On the last lap Astana motored up the left side of the peloton and gaps opened in the peloton. Valgren and Roman made the 60 rider selection. I got dropped hard and felt discouraged until the finish, but with perspective and confidence in my preparation looked forward to better days ahead.
Stage 3: 163 km
The most clear sprint day meant rallying around Reini. Sticking together as a team we ripped through the kilometres and with 20 km to go the fight for position kicked off. I’m shocked there wasn’t a crash with all of the sketchy bumping and squeezing happening. In the last ten km Reini floated on the wheels of the other sprinters. I stayed near him defending his position and on standby if he needed help moving forward. With 3 km to go he and Roman shot a gap from right to left. They lost me but moved into perfect position for the final corner into the uphill sprint. He placed 7th. Without any selective points it was hard to tell if I felt any better than the day before, but I think so.
Stage 4: 164 km
Climbs in the last quarter of racing would shell riders. In order to survive them it was critical for Reini to start them near the front. The team organised near the front all day. The climbs hurt and the technical descents stretched out the peloton. TDF champion, Geraint Thomas crashed out. The final ascent cut the peloton in half. I lost position over the crest, but took a few deep breaths on the downhill. With 6 km to go, I blasted up the left side. After every corner I passed a few riders getting closer to Reini and feeling gritty enough to give him a strong leadout. In the last km, however, I was still about ten places behind him. Reini scored another 7th place and as in Gippingen I was 18th. On one hand I’m upset that I wasn’t able to do a leadout in the last km, because that is cool and would have really helped improve the result. But, on the other hand, I’m happy with how I felt and proud of the effort and intent.
Stage 5: 177 km
We started up the last climb of stage 4. There I produced my best 5 minute power of the season. Three riders escaped, but we continued racing hard. I helped position us for climbs as we worked for the final sprint finish. Leading into the finish it was impossible to move an inch as the whole road was blocked with riders, but we stayed as close to Reini as we could and he finished 9th. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on Lake Zurich.
Stage 6: 120 km
As rain poured outside the bus we joked and laughed, because what else can you do before a full gas downhill start in the rain? My roommate, Gino, and I wanted to be in the breakaway with a 9 km summit finish at 10%. When the neutral zone ended, I followed the first attack flying downhill. In the first roundabout the rider ahead of me in 2nd position slid out on the wet road spiking my adrenaline. He’s fine. Close call. I jumped and jumped and after about half an hour twenty five of us had a gap. We pulled our advantage out to four minutes. Three riders sprinted for the first KOM with 40 km to go. They held a slight advantage on the downhill. All of the sudden the rider ahead of me pulled his brakes and swerved right. I nearly smashed into him. We’d all missed a turn. We got back on course but then the three riders had a 40 second advantage. Teams with multiple riders in the breakaway chased. When they caught the leaders, I hoped those who’d done the bulk of the chasing might be tired. With 15 km to go, I attacked. Two riders joined me, but we only pulled out a 20 second advantage before being caught. We were two minutes ahead of the peloton. Then I made my biggest mistake of the day, attacking in the first km of the final climb. A measured effort would have been wise. I blew up big time. As the fragmented peloton dragged me back I recovered hoping to contribute something to Roman. The gradient never eased. When Roman passed he was in the zone so I didn’t break his concentration and just got myself to the finish.
Stage 7: 217 km
The longest stage included two giant passes finishing with a 40 km uphill drag to the top of the Gotthard Pass the last 9 km of which are 9% and paved with cobblestone. Again, Gino and I wanted to be in the breakaway. It amazed me how many times our first year pro and local hero, Gino, attacked. After 60 km we hit a small climb. Six riders made a gap and Team Ineos blocked the road. Gino’s voice came over the radio, “can I go after them?” The next minute he squeezed passed Ineos and made it to the leaders. Chapeau! Team Ineos and Bahrain kept the strong break close. After a hard start the rest of the day felt extremely uncomfortable. Snow melt atop the first high pass made me cold for the first ten minutes of descending to lower altitude. We protected Roman heading into the selective pitches of the Gotthard. With 9 km to go I came off the lead group of 20 but saw Roman lose contact just ahead of me. I caught him and helped pace him. It was probably for less than two km of pacing but it felt like ten! We picked up Gino from the breakaway and he lead the way. Roman finished 24th and is 24th overall. I placed 28th on the stage.
Stage 8: 19.2 km TT
A few technical turns broke up the flat effort. Medium altitude thinned the air making the speed higher but breathing harder. I finished 43rd, not a great TT but even my feelings were significantly better than the opening TT.
Stage 9: 101 km
With three enormous passes over 7000 feet (2100 meters) of elevation packed into a short stage, we had another time trial on the menu. Km 0 sat at the base of the Nufenenpass. I followed the first attack. It felt a bit reckless going over my limit for the first five minutes with so much climbing ahead, but what was there to lose? For fifteen minutes I was in a twenty rider group with Gino and Roman. Ineos rode a steady abysmal pace behind. Eventually a “peloton” of around thirty riders formed behind a few different groups of three or four riders ahead. I had to keep reminding myself not to look up and be overwhelmed by the snow covered switchbacks above. Immerse yourself in the suffering here and now, not that to come. Master the pain or it will master you. Forty five minutes later I crested the Nufenen just behind the “peloton.” I rejoined the group on the downhill hitting 68.5 mph (112 kph). A quick left turn at the bottom and we began the Gotthard pass, the final climb of stage 7. On the first half the pace was just perfect for me, but then I saw Astana take over and soon bodies were everywhere. On the Furka it was basically every man for himself. Just get to the finish. It’s great to get a day like that in the legs, and also great when it’s over!
I’m currently on a train back to Lucca and reflecting on how overwhelming the whole system was when I first moved to Europe at 21 years old. Not that navigating a train station is a massive accomplishment, but I’ve come a long way! Overall, Suisse was a beautiful race. We were extremely lucky with the weather. Roman’s 22nd overall was a good test for him and step forward after his crash in the Ardennes. The teamwork was good, the atmosphere was fun, the racing was quality, and there are a lot of positives to carry forward. Fingers crossed for the TDF selection.