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Tour de Suisse Preview: Much to learn about July with no clear favorite

Considered the season’s “fourth” grand tour, the Tour de Suisse provides the last true testing ground before the Tour de France. Despite the star power lining up at this week’s Critérium du Dauphiné, the 76th edition of the Swiss tour sees a quality field of GC riders and sprinters honing their form before July’s big dance.

Defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) headlines the overall contenders that also include the likes of Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), last year’s runner-up Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda).

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Once running for as many as 12 days, the race has recently been reduced to nine stages, this year from June 9 to June 17. As per usual, the Swiss tour runs on a challenging, mountainous course that should see climbers step to the fore. Previous winners include Andy Hampsten, twice, Lance Armstrong, and in 2009, even Fabian Cancellara.

Three summit finishes and two time trials provide the backdrop for the GC battle this year, while a mix of transition stages will provide chances for the stage hunters and sprinters to take a shot at glory.

The field includes the 18 WorldTour teams, with North American Pro Continental squads Team Type 1-Sanofi and SpiderTech-C10 both earning invitations to line up in Lugano, important milestones in their respective development.

For SpiderTech, a month off of racing at the Amgen Tour of California, the Swiss tour will represent the team’s most important European start to date. Directed by 1988 runner-up Steve Bauer, the team will bring Brian Vandborg, but will be looking to sneak into breakaways and to try and win a stage.

“It is our first opportunity on the WorldTour in Europe,” said Bauer. “It gives our team a focus for early summer and pushes our team on all fronts to reach to this higher level of competition and prestige. After (the) Tour of California, the Tour de Suisse is perfectly positioned for us on the calendar.”

Team Type 1 will also be looking to build on solid results all season, with Alexander Efimkin and Julien El Fares hoping to punch into the top-10 or more.

Editor’s Note: American Chris Horner is a scratch from RadioShack-Nissan’s final roster for the Tour de Suisse.

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