A race that is often overlooked due to its placement on the calendar, Anthony Tan found the 64th edition of the Tour de Romandie one of the most intriguing in years. Just don’t tell him it was a surprise.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

The Tour de Romandie, a race that due to its placement between the end
of the Spring Classics and the start of the Giro d'Italia and that I
first covered in 2005, has the tendency to get a little overlooked.

Not this year.

'Surprise', 'surprise move' or 'surprise win'
are annoying and overused terms in sports reporting and cycling is no
different, but many of these vocab-limited commentators can't helped but
be perpetually amazed by the feats of Slovak sensation Peter Sagan this

'Shocking' is perhaps a better word to describe the
20-year-old wunderkind's neo-pro year, whose bricklayer physique,
gorilla-like hands and preternatural strength appear to make him better
suited to woodchopping than pedalling circles all day long.

Despite being a junior world mountain bike champ in 2008, when a stagiaire
contract with Quick Step last season bore no fruit, the knock-back cut
Sagan up so bad, he decided to quit and find a 'real job'. His family
told him to keep the faith and he eventually signed with Liquigas-Doimo
for two seasons, which was recently extended to three.

After how
he's dumfounded and delighted the cycling world in the space of four
months, Liquigas probably want to sign him up till the day he retires.

And so the man who began his junior cycling days on a diet of plain
water and kitted out wearing tennis shoes and a T-shirt came within a
second of taking the Tour de Romandie prologue before winning the
following day's stage in a bunch sprint – as if he hadn't shown enough
versatility already.

The headlines from Switzerland didn't end

The media throng waited less than 24 hours before Mark
Cavendish's two-fingered salute on Stage 2 sent ripples of red faces
throughout the cycling community. Whether in time he truly acknowledges
and understands the damage caused by his uncalled-for gestures and
headline-grabbing though cringe-worthy remarks, is a subject worth

According to Cavendish, his intention was to "send a
message to commentators and journalists who don't know jack-s*** about
cycling". Au contraire, Monsieur Cavendish: I think it sent a
message to the world that Mark Cavendish knows jack-s*** about decorum
and respect.

The day after, a 23.4 kilometre time trial and not
overly difficult, HTC-Columbia management decided to pull the sprinting
prodigy out of the race.

A bold move and a smart one at that –
but why did they let him ride another stage before doing so? (email from
boss Bob Stapleton: "Cav', you've been a naughty boy and because you're
likely to get dropped the next two mountain stages, we'll let you ride
the time trial before pulling you out, to make it look like we're
mad at you. BTW, you're still not thinking of joining Team Sky, are
you... You know we still love you and you're riding the Tour and Greipel
isn't, right?")

It left me musing whether it was more clever
PR-stunt than disciplinary action.

It took Cavendish's team-mate
Michael Rogers, who has experienced one of the most auspicious starts
to the year in yonks, to put his squad back in the good books, taking
the race lead after finishing fourth in the TT – to none other than
another promising neo-pro and an Aussie no less, Richie Porte.

For the 25-year-old Tassie boy, the win was, well, ahem, a surprise.
(There's that damn word again.)

But do you know what was really
flabbergasting? The rider that finished second, Alejandro Valverde, was
leading Porte by half a minute after 7.1km (in terms of time, roughly
the halfway mark) – only to lose out by the margin he led by in the end!
Over 23 clicks, to win by 26 seconds from such a world-class field –
Vladimir Karpets, Rogers and Denis Menchov finished behind Valverde and
within five seconds of each other – made Richie's ride a ripper.

In Italian, the plural form of 'door' is 'porte' (though
pronounced port-tey, so you could say he blew the doors wide open
to what promises to be a highly successful and entertaining pro career.

Valverde's overall victory Sunday that came courtesy of his climbing
prowess and finishing speed (thought to be two opposing forces before he
came along) wasn't nearly as unpopular or unwelcome as Vinokourov's
jeered win at Liege the week before.

Still, it would've been
sure nice to see Rogers, who ended a disappointing fourth, take a big
confidence-booster before he rides Cali and gives the Tour de France one
of perhaps two or three last cracks.

All going well, I reckon
this is the year Dodger can slip back into La Grande Boucle's top
10; if he's flying, maybe a top-five, even.

How about flanked
by Contador and Cadel on the Champs-Elysees? I don't think so – that's
just a leettle too ambitious – although I'd love to be proven

No, come July, I reckon Leapin' Levi Leipheimer may well
be The Shack's best bet. And I think Lance already knows it.