Saturday 18 June 2011

Tour de Suisse Stage 8

It's the penultimate day of what has been a great Tour de Suisse - we honestly can't see why this race doesn't get the attention the Vuelta and Giro do - and the sprinters will be glad that Stage 8 is completely different to Stage 8 and its vast climbs. Today is all about speed with long, flat sections around 400m above sea level, a couple of uncategorised 200m ascents and one C4 and a manageable C3 towards the end of the 167km parcour.

Mark Cavendish comments sarcastically about the rain in Tübach but is chipper on Twitter, saying "Lovely day for a bike race! Upside, should be a bunch sprint." British fans will be hoping to see the Manx Missile demonstrate the capability that earned him his nickname today and the flat finish at Schaffhausen should be to his liking. However, he's got to deal with those hills first and they're just big enough to spoil the fun.

Romanshorn, despite lying at an altitude of more than 400m in a landlocked country, as the feel of a seaside town due to the docks on Lake Constance where fishing vessels provide an important source of food and income.
The first climb comes just 1.8km after the start and though not huge, with an ascent of 196m in under 5km the mountain specialists and all-rounders will take up the lead for a while. Once topped, it's a long downhill run over 32.2km which should spread out the pack a bit. It's still early days at this point, but anyone who feels up to it may start putting on the pressure with a breakaway attempt before reaching the second respectable uncategorised climb of 200m up to Romanshorn on the banks of Lake Constance. Then there's a quick bit of descending and, but for a brief blip at Altnau where remains of a Neolithic culture dating to 5500 years old have been discovered, it's a flat run all the way to the food station at 94.2km.

It's much the same all the way for the next 32km until the first of the day's visits to Schaffhausen, but with a few hazards in the form of level crossings, narrow roads and an undefined hazard at 105.2km it's not a section to be taken lightly - especially when traveling at the high rate the Tourists will be maintaining. Schaffhausen was an independent city state during the Medieval period and despite accidental bombing by the USAF on April Fool's Day 1944 (oh, how the locals laughed) has retained many very fine old buildings in the traditional Swiss Alpine style. If you're watching on television, make the most of any local interest to catch the cameraman's eye because they'll be concentrating on the rider at the front next time the Tour hits town.

More flatlands, narrow roads and another hazard bring us up to sharp bend into Rheinfall, the largest waterfall in Europe and quite possibly the most spectacular too, which brings holidaymakers and their wallets in droves to the area. Then it's a short climb followed by a couple of fast sprints (at 132.7km and 142.3km) before the first proper climb of the day, the 177m Category 3 Oberhallau. An equally steep descent affords little let-up before Cat 4 Siblingerhöh at 560m. The actual ascent is just 89m, but after spending so much of the last 154km trying to keep up with the sprinters few of the climbers will make it to the top without at least minor suffering. Once back down, the real sprinting will start - it's flat all the way over the final 11.7km back to Schaffhausen on a road with few complications other than a tight bend 0.4km from the finish line. This is where we may see Cavendish prove why he's got such a formidable reputation and, with a bit of luck, take the stage winner honours. However, the thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon in the region may mess things up a bit.

On average, 700 cubic metres of water flow over the Rheinfall every second in summer.
The weather looks set to be fairly horrible for most of the day, with heavy rain in Tübach and thunderstorms likely to leave the roads slippery around Schaffhausen even if they've died out by the latter part of the afternoon.

Predictions: we were even less accurate yesterday than the day before, but it's that unpredictability that keeps stage racing interesting. We thought the top five would be Cunego, Kruijswijk, Frank Schleck, Mollema and finally ten Dam in fifth. As it turned out, none of them were even in the top ten; somewhat surprisingly as each of them is a strong climber who should have performed well on a course dominated by the vast Flüelapass - we did at least have a Schleck in there, though - the high altitude horror brought the expert mountain man Andy Schleck out of hiding and he took an opportunity to show everyone what Contador will have to contend with in the Tour de France.

Will Cavendish show us why he's called the Missile today?
Now, this is just a hunch and may be down to wishful patriotic thinking rather than studious examination of form, but we think Mark Cavendish will shine today, and we think that as a result he's going to be the first over the line. We'll hope for Ben Swift of Team Sky to make a top ten appearance too, but this is less likely. Second place is a difficult one to describe because so many riders will be after it. Oscar Freire may be one of the older riders, but he managed second in Stage 5 which was, broadly, a similar one to today; but Peter Sagan, Tejay Van Garderen, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Marco Marcato (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th in Stage 5) are all going to be jostling for a piece of the action too. Then again, at this late stage in the Tour, some of the sprinters further down the ranks might be wanting to have a go on the podium too. Oh well - we'll have a stab at it: Cavendish for 1st, Marcato for 2nd, Freire for 3rd, Linus Gerdemann for 4th (perhaps encouraged by team mate Schleck's success) and Van Garderen for fifth.

We were correct in our guess that yesterday would see abandonments: Daniel Sesma, Mirco Lorenzetto, Danilo Di Luca, Jeffry Louder and Philip Deignan all fell by the wayside. Provided there's no accidents or illness today, there's every chance that everyone who sets out will make it to the end today.

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