Overall victory is Ineos Grenadiers’ to lose
With no Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) or Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), this year’s Tour de Romandie is Ineos Grenadiers’ to lose.
Although their star stage racer of the season so far Adam Yates won’t be riding, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte look set to co-lead, and will be seen as the men to beat. Both riders were in great form at the Volta a Catalunya, where they finished second and third respectively behind Yates, in what was an unprecedented podium clean sweep for the team.
The time trial-heavy route, which features two stages against the clock together totalling 20km, will suit both riders, while a strong line-up of domestiques featuring Rohan Dennis, Filippo Ganna and Andrey Amador are well-equipped to control the race on the key stage four mountain top finish at Thyon 2000, as well as during some potentially tricky hilly stages preceding it.
With so much going in their favour, perhaps the more pertinent question is not if they’ll win the race, but which of their riders will? Ineos Grenadiers’ approach this season has generally been not to select a single outright leader for everyone to rally behind, and instead let the road decide. Whatever happens, both have an exceptional past record riding for Ineos as both leaders and super-domestiques, so they should form a formidable duo.
GC stars hoping to rediscover their top form
The absence of many of the peloton’s most in-form riders will give an opportunity for other currently misfiring stars to get their season going.
Steven Kruijswijk, for instance, hasn’t looked himself since last summer, but will lead Jumbo-Visma’s GC challenge in Romandie. Though Sepp Kuss could deputise should Kruijswijk still not be up to speed, the team will be hoping that their marquee Dutchman returns to his best with the Tour de France now just a couple of months away.
For Movistar, Miguel Ángel López is at last set to make his first appearance since signing for the team. The Colombian hasn’t raced since crashing out of the opening stage of last year’s Giro d’Italia in October, after his start to the season was further delayed by a Covid positive, so he perhaps can’t be expected to compete for GC again just yet.
His Colombian compatriot Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) also rides with form currently eluding him, while Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) once again starts a WorldTour stage race hoping to see some kind of improvement as he continues his rehabilitation.
With these riders all lacking form, the GC contenders are likely to come from elsewhere. Froome’s teammate Michael Woods looked on fire at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, so could be a contender for overall victory, while Ion Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) will both appreciate the time trialing kilometres.
Meanwhile Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott), Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) and Ben O’Conor (Ag2r-Citroën) are all good bets for top ten finishes.
Sagan seeking stage wins on a favourable parcours
It’s been a while since Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the star sprinter of a stage race, but a favourable parcours plus the absence of some of the top fastmen and puncheurs means he could be poised for some success in Romandie.
The Slovak has shown glimpses of his best this season, stealthily finishing fourth at Milan-San Remo as well as taking a stage win at Volta a Catalunya, and could now be back to his roaring best having taken time off racing since the Tour of Flanders.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) is the other headline sprinter set to line-up, but he continues to struggle for form. Aside from him, not many riders other than Dion Smith (BikeExchange) and the Bahrain-Victorious duo of Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus would fancy their chances against Sagan in a sprint — but look out for young British talent Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), who could win a sprint if he continues his early-season form.
Looking at the parcours, it’s easy to see why the top sprinters opted to stay away. There are no flat stages at all, with stages one, two and three all featuring hilly parcours that look likely to end with a puncheur winning from an attack or a reduced bunch sprint.
While the aforementioned riders could all win in the latter scenario, there are plenty of quality puncheurs who could try to put in some dangerous attacks on these stages. Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech) and Diego Uliisi (UAE Team Emirates) are all ones to watch in this respect, although all are, for various reasons, struggling for form.
Hirschi coming into form just in time for home race
Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates) is the new star of Swiss cycling, and the 22-year-old will race on home roads for the first time since his star-making turns at last year’s Tour de France and Ardennes Classics.
After delaying his start to the 2021 seasons following a surprise transfer from DSM to UAE Team Emirates, Hirschi took a whale to get going, with underwhelming performances at both Itzulia Basque Country and Volta a Catalunya.
But at Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the weekend, he once again looked like the same rider who so impressed last season, riding really strongly in the finale to help teammate Tadej Pogačar take victory, and sealing a sixth-place finish for himself — his highest of the season so far.
That suggests he’s ridden himself into top shape just in time for the Tour de Romandie, and will therefore be a top tip for stage wins. All three of the opening road stages look within his capabilities, either from an attack or a small group sprint. Riding in his home country, Hirschi could be the star of the race.
Time trial stars assemble for two stages against the clock
With a 4km prologue to open the race, and a 16km time trial to end it, many of the world’s finest practitioners of racing against the clock will gather in Romandie to compete for stage wins.
World champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) will, of course, be the man to beat. The Italian has been sensational in time trials since the end of lockdown last year, and already has two victories to his name this season — although his unbeatable aura at last took a hit at Tirreno-Adriatico when his long winning streak against the clock at last came to an end.
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was one of the men to beat him that day, and will, along with his Swiss compatriot and Paris-Nice stage winner Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo), be extra-motivated riding on home roads.
Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) will also be a top contender in both stages, while experienced Brit Alex Dowsett (Israel StartUp Nation) are interesting outside bets.
Ganna’s main competition could, however, come from his own team. As well as GC hopefuls Geraint Thomas and Riche Porte, former double world champion Rohan Dennis will surely fancy his chances, especially after taking a stage at Volta a Catalunya last month.