A brutally tough edition of the Tour de Suisse will see a lot of Tour de France hopefuls contest the three summit finishes and two time trials which will likely determine the overall winner.
11 Jun 2016 - 10:54 AM 

The 2016 edition of the Tour de Suisse has seen organisers decide to push things in favour of the climbers, with the time-trialling kilometres curtailed from last year and more climbing finishes added.

The almost sadistic climb of the Rettenbachferner has been retained from last year for the hardest stage of this edition with the climb of 11 kilometres at 10.7%, it is rightfully regarded as one of the hardest in Europe. 

Take into account that the climb comes at the end of a 228 kilometre stage and will be the third consecutive mountain-top finish of the race, and you start to get an idea of why the climbers will be a lot happier this year.

The Tour de Suisse always has a battle with the Criterium du Dauphine for the attendance of the top riders who will be going onto to compete at the Tour de France. 

The conventional wisdom is that the longer Tour de Suisse often finishes too close to the start of the Tour for a proper recovery and form tapering, but it is really a matter of personal preference and it is little surprise to see a strong field of contenders here. 

There may not be any of the 'Fab Four', but organisers will be very happy with the calibre of rider they have attracted.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) will go into the race as the big favourite for the overall as he ramps up his preparation for the Tour de France. The rangy American has a fairly consistent pattern to his season planning, he normally starts the year well, before becoming a bit more anonymous mid season and then bursting back onto the scene at this stage to hone his form. He normally races the Dauphine, but with team-mate Richie Porte there, it makes sense to split their forces at this stage. 

Geraint Thomas (Sky) has built himself into a general classification rider over the last few seasons and now seems to have fully made the transition this year. He took a very impressive win in Paris-Nice where he faced down the threat of Alberto Contador and he sacrificed a lot of his Classics form to be good at this time of year instead. He came agonisingly close to winning this race last year, finishing just five seconds off the top step of the podium in second.

The man who beat him was the under-appreciated Simon Spilak (Katusha). He is an unassuming sort of rider that regularly performs very well in the week-long tours, but as he rarely races the Grand Tours, he doesn't have the same cachet as a Froome or Contador. Instead, Spilak focuses on races he can win and often arrives in peak form to events where others are looking to build up. He particularly excels in poor conditions and in races with time-trialling kilometres so he won't be as happy with the moves to favour the climbers, but it be unusual for him not to be right there in contention for the win.

Three-time Tour de Suisse winner Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) is returning to his favourite race after an experimental season last year where he went to the Dauphine. Without a win yet to his name this year, it has nontheless been a very strong season for the Portugese star, with consistent high placings in stage races and the one-day events. On paper, the course looks too hard for the all-rounder who is typically one for the hilly rather than mountainous stages. He has consistently defied expectations at the Tour de Suisse however, with his wins in 2012, 2013 and 2014 all coming against top-quality climbers and it would be silly to write him off. 

Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) announced himself with a pair of Vuelta stage wins in 2013, but hasn't come on as much as many would have hoped since then. He has displayed flashes of class and it is maybe too much to expect from a 24-year old to consistently challenge the top riders, but he will looking to make his mark here. He only has 15 race days under his belt this season, with his last result an impressive sixth in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He's coming straight from an altitude training camp so hopefully he can jump straight back into the mix with a good showing here.

The race arguably has its biggest names in the sprinters and opportunists that have turned up. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and yound sensation Fernando Gaviria (Etixx-QuickStep) will battle it out in the early sprint stages and probably the opening prologue as well.

Retiring great Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) will also throw his hat in the ring for the win there and will no doubt be active at his home race. Another ageing Swiss rider is Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), who boasts an enviable record when he races on Swiss soil taking six stage wins in the Tour of Romandie and three at the Tour de Suisse. He's one who looks to be getting better as he goes, nearly snagging an unlikely win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year before taking the final stage of Romandie in a reduced bunch sprint.

It will be very interesting to keep a close eye on who is going well here, because whilst it has been a while since the Tour de Suisse has produced a Tour de France winner, riders who are going well here often animate the race come July in France.