Thursday, 16 June 2011

Tour de Suisse Stage 5

(Originally published Wednesday 15th of June 2011)


It's another day for the sprinters today with a long, flat(ish) course of 204km. However, this being Switzerland, even the flat stages are peppered with a few respectable climbs to make sure the rider's knees take the abuse that all cyclists know and love and Stage 5 is no different - there's a Category 3 and three Category 4 climbs lurking out there today ready to catch those who expend too much energy of maintaining a high pace as well as four uncategorised climbs of reasonable size. One, in fact, is very nearly as high as the Cat 3 and with just 20km from summit to summit will no doubt catch a few people out. Like yesterday the stage finishes with a circuit, looping for 40km or so around Tobel-Tägerschen but at least keeping to a steady altitude rather than the climbs and descents that must have tortured the leaders fighting for the finish in Stage 4.


Staffelegg Pass - doesn't look like much, does it? That sign reads 621m, though!
Starting where yesterday left off at Huttwil, the route travels downhill for 25km before a small climb at the 35km mark then 10km on the flat before reaching the first proper climb in the form of the Cat 3 Staffelegg Pass at an altitude of 621m and featuring a dangerous intersection at the summit, scene of many accidents when the Pass is open to traffic. There'll only be bike traffic as the Tour passes through, of course, but even the terrifyingly efficient Swiss clean-up crews can't be guaranteed to get every spot of oil and broken glass.


Next comes a fast descent into the village of Hornussen, designated in its entirety a Swiss Heritage Site and not to be confused with the peculiar Swiss sport of the same name which resembles a cross between golf and baseball and which takes its name not from the village but from the noise made by the puck which, traveling at up to 300kmph after being hit with a wooden bat, creates a buzzing sound said to sound like a hornuss (hornet). It no doubt stings like one too if you don't get out of the way fast enough. The route then takes in an uncategorised climb of around 133m (bigger than both of the upcoming Cat 4s) up to Mönthal, site of a Bronze Age fortress and a few still-standing Middle Ages houses dating from the 14th Century. There follows a reasonably flat section of some 50km, with the day's first Cat 4 - a short but steep climb of 103m  thrown in for good measure. There's a couple of climbs up to almost the same altitude later on but with much gentler gradients, so this ought to be where the same sprinters who made the most of Stage 4 can shine once they've picked up bidons and musettes at the 100km mark. There's an Hors-Categorie climb of 803m in the last 25km of tomorrow's Stage 6 and then the 2383m Flüela Pass to contend with on Friday, so they may as well grab whatever glory they can right now!


Hornusson in winter.
A Cat 4 climb of 153m marks Freudenberg before the riders hit Tobel-Tägerschen for the first time and embark on a 40km circuit taking in a very steep Cat 4 climb at Eschlikon, a plateau at 600m around Balterwil and the final 15km back to Tobel-Tägerschen.


The weather for Huttwil looks set to be bright, sunny and warm at 20 C with light wind, Tobel-Tägerschen later on this afternoon ought to be much the same with a little more cloud, but little chance of rain. The forecast is thunder and rain tomorrow which, when combined with that killer of an HC climb at the end of the stage, ought to make it a truly horrible experience for the riders. So that's a must-watch then.


There's a high probability we'll see a Hushovd v. Sagan battle again today.
Predictions for today? Sprinters again. We suspect the overall classification will change little, but the stage winners' board may get shaken up a bit. Thor Hushovd will no doubt fancy another go at victory, but whether or not he can beat Peter Sagan for the second day in a row is hard to say. Marco Marcato will fancy another good result but when you have Óscar Freire, at 35 still one of the world's most feared sprinters, right behind you (Marcato and Freire finished in a group yesterday, thus recording the same time with Marcato just crossing the line first) you really need to work hard.

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