Thursday 16 June 2011

Tour de Suisse Stage 6

It's the last chance for the sprinters to show their stuff today, and they'll no doubt want to make the most of the first rolling 90 of today's total 158km in order to collect a few points while the opportunity's still there. However, a few points is all they'll be getting because after that comes a couple of tasty Category 3s and then, once they're feeling the burn, Triesenberg - 14.4km at an average gradient of 8.6%, which translates to a vertical kilometre.

The stage begins at Tobel-Tägerschen where, following a brief climb, the riders can look forward to a short downhill cruise before coming to a couple of small lumpy bits with the biggest climb in the first half being just 91m over 15km, an incline so gentle the sprinters will still be at play. It's then downhill all the way to the food station at the 80km point where the climbers are going to want to hit the energy gel hard in preparation for their chance to shine later on.

Freire fans will be seeing the last of the great sprinter today, because the race is all about climbing for the next couple of stages.
5km on from the food station comes the day's first categorised climb, the C3 Kerenzerberg Pass. Although the altitude is relatively low at 743m and the total climb a manageable 311m, it's a steep one with a maximum gradient of 10% and the sprinters, realising the game's up for them for the next couple of days, may well wish they were allowed to use the A3 Autobahn tunnel that passes under the mountain instead. The route back down again is about the same gradient, so expect high speeds.

Freire and friends get one last chance in the coming 35km, a gentle uphill incline rising less than 100m, and then the reins are handed over to the riders with the scary thigh muscles at the start of the St. Luzisteig Pass where the road climbs 198m in around 2km - an average gradient of 9.9% and a maximum gradient of 12% - and where the riders will pass an 18th Century fort still in use by the Swiss Army. If any sprinters have over-egged it today, there's a chance of someone abandoning here. Once again, the road back down is just as steep and wise riders will use it to build up some speed in an attempt to carry them through the 5km section between Luzisteig and Triesenberg during which they'll cross the border into the tiny and stupendously wealthy Principality of Liechtenstein - only Qatar has a higher GDP.

If nobody abandons on Luzisteig, expect at least one of two on Horse-Categorie Triesenberg which is the harshest, hardest climb of this year's Tour. Pay attention because the form displayed by the grimpeurs will be extremely helpful in making predictions for next month's Tour de France which this year will favour the climbers even more than ever. Contador isn't here, but you can be certain he's going to be watching to see how Andy Schleck handles the last 15km - and we should too, because if he looks like he's in trouble you might as well go out and put a bet on Bertie because it'll mean he's a definite for first place in the overall Tour de France classification. On the other hand, if Schleck looks good, Contador needs to start praying to god of snapped chains.

A village as pretty as Malbun would be a welcome sight to any traveler, let alone who has just ridden up a 1km high mountain in the rain.
Predictions - the overall classification, unchanged for the last few stages, will look very different by the end of today as those who have been on top drop away down the list. We don't think Andy Schleck will win today because following his problems in Stage 1 he's just too far down the chart for it to be worth the effort - instead, he'll concentrate on honing his technique and making sure his bike is able to cope with the hard time he'll be giving it in just over two weeks' time - but older brother Frank will probably want to give it a go, which is why he's our tip for first over the line. Then there's Laurens ten Dam, the Dutch climber with a string of Mountain Classification including in the 2009 Swiss Tour de Romandie - second place for today, we reckon. Damiano Cunego, in first place overall, will undoubtedly represent himself well but we wonder of il Piccolo Principe ("the Little Prince") has the strength to go into combat with Schleck and ten Dam. Mauricio Soler on the other hand is a big strapping lad and cut his teeth on the Andes of his native Columbia, where the mountains are higher and harsher than anything the Swiss Alps have to offer - he took King of the Mountains in the 2009 Tour de France too. Bauke Mollema is in the running too, another example of the powerful climbers that the Dutch trainers seem to be able to turn out these days in even greater quantities than the Dutch hippies can roll spliffs. That's five highly capable grimpeurs, all of them in the top ten overall and all in with a chance of taking Stage 6, so expect some close and aggressive racing on the mountain.

The weather's looking good around Tobel-Tägerschen, temperatures staying reasonable until later on (by which time the riders will be long gone) when highs of 27 C are forecast. It's not looking so good for Triesenberg, however - the rain's predicted to remain light until this evening when it'll turn heavy; but we all know how quickly weather changes, invariably for the worse, in the mountains. For anyone who doesn't really want to be there, this won't improve matters at all.

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