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Time trials loom large in Tour of Romandie

Marco Pinotti won the 2010 prologue. This year's course may not suit him so well.

Switzerland’s Tour de Romandie, which takes place this week, starts appropriately enough at Martigny, a town surrounded by famous alpine climbs: the Grand St. Bernard to the south, Col de la Forclaz to the east and Crans-Montana to the east. But ironically the six-day, 698.3km UCI WorldTour event is probably the least mountainous in the race’s 65-year history.

There are plenty of climbs and a couple of hilltop finishes, but nothing that can be described as ultra-challenging (see detailed stage previews below). That means that the race is more likely to be decided in the two time trials — a short, flat prologue Tuesday afternoon and a hilly 20km test Saturday — than in the uphill stage finishes.

Climbers like defending champion Simon Spilak (Lampre-ISD), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Hamar Zubeldia (Team RadioShack) won’t have much of a say in the final outcome, leaving the way clear for all-arounders such as Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), and perhaps Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Brad Wiggins (Sky), all of whom are beginning their preparations for the Tour de France. On sharper form should be two men riding their last event before aiming for the Giro d’Italia podium: former Romandie winner Roman Kreuziger (Team Astana) and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC).

This week’s forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and 60s, with frequent rain showers, which could certainly influence the eventual outcome. Wet roads equate with dicey descents, of which there are plenty this week, even though the race is avoiding those high alpine peaks.

Here’s a detailed preview of the six stages:

Tuesday, April 26 : Prologue. Martigny TT (3.5km)
With several long straightaways, six 90-degree corners and two U-turns, this four-and-a-bit-minute prologue in the streets of Martigny is trickier than it looks on the flat profile. With eight sprints out of those turns in just 3.5km, it suits Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek), David Millar and Cam Meyer (both Garmin-Cervélo), Sebastian Rosseler (Team RadioShack) and Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad), rather than Dave Zabriskie (Garmin), Marco Pinotti and Martin (both HTC) and the former world pursuit champions, Brad Wiggins (Sky) and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).

Wednesday, April 27: Stage 1. Martigny – Leysin (172.6km)
On a challenging, but not over-challenging course, this opening road stage, which heads north from Martigny, touches Lake Geneva and passes though the Gruyère cheese region, ends with two Cat. 1 climbs in the final 30km. The ramp to the line in the ski resort of Leysin is just over 7km long, starts with a near-10-percent first kilometer and averages just 4 percent the rest of the way. It’s just the type of hilltop finish that will suit those who did well at last week’s Giro del Trentino and Ardennes classics, including Kreuziger, Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), rather than pure climbers Beñat Intxausti (Movistar), Aliaksandr Kuschynski (Katusha) and Ezequiel Mosquera (Vacansoleil).

Thursday, April 28: Stage 2. Romont – Romont (171.8km)
With no true mountain stages in this year’s Tour de Romandie, this one is as close as it gets, with 6,000 feet of actual climbing in the 172km and another hilltop finish. As the course is comprised of three loops (of 35km, 74km and 63km), the field will get two looks at the finishing climb in Romont before the actual finish. The last loop also includes the Cat. 1 Le Gibloux (4.5km at 7.3 percent), which is followed by 15km of mainly descending roads before the 1.3km, 5-percent switchback sprint to the line. Perhaps this is where Evans, Menchov and Richie Porte (Saxo Bank) will test their climbing form against the likes of Kreuziger, Kuchynski and Martin.

Friday, April 29: Stage 3. Thierrens – Neuchâtel (165.7km)
This stage has a fast, flat finish into the lakeside town of Neuchâtel, but it comes at the end of a 52km loop that takes in two short but steep climbs in the last 40km. It will best suit a sprinter who can get over the hills — perhaps Gerald Ciolek (Quick Step), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) or Mark Renshaw (HTC).

Saturday, April 30: Stage 4. Aubonne – Signal-de-Bougy TT (20.1km)
This medium-length time trial will almost certainly decide the outcome of the Tour de Romandie. It features 1,138 feet of actual climbing in 20km with one long uphill in the first half and a series of undulations in the second part. Menchov, Pinotti, Porte and Wiggins will all be favored for the stage win, while Evans, Kreuziger and Martin may be seeking a GC result. It will also be interesting to see what Team RadioShack’s Tour hope Jani Brajkovic and Garmin’s talented rookie Andrew Talansky can do in a TT at this transitional point in the season.

Sunday, May 1: Stage 5. Champagne – Geneva (164.6km)
There are a couple of Cat. 1 climbs on this final stage, but the second one is 60km from the finish alongside the lake in Geneva. Expect the week’s only true bunch finish, with Freire the likely favorite. But also look for Bennati, Ciolek, Renshaw and Ben Swift (Sky).

Total distance: 698.3km

John Wilcockson will be reporting daily from the Tour of Romandie.

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