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Chris Froome (Sky) will be looking to regain his footing in what’s been a rough spring season during a clash of the Tour de France titans at this week’s Tour de Romandie.
Froome was dogged by a back injury that sidelined him in March, while a chest cold kept him out of Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Sky officials insist Froome will be OK to start the six-stage race Tuesday with an opening prologue.
Other top names starting include Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), and Tony Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Sky’s Richie Porte, who’s also been struggling with health issues this spring, is slated to start, along with Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma) in his final tuneup ahead of the Giro d’Italia. Astana brings a deep squad, but Tour rival Vincenzo Nibali will not be racing.
Froome won last year’s Romandie en route to a near-perfect approach to the 2013 Tour. This year has been in sharp contrast. The 28-year-old had started the season in fine fettle, winning the Tour of Oman in February for the second consecutive year, but his season has since been disrupted by injury and illness. Romandie is a crucial step in Froome’s preparation for July’s Tour defense.
With Froome a question mark, the pre-race favorite will be van Garderen. Second at Oman and third overall at the Volta a Catalunya with a stage win, the American is looking to finish off a consistent spring with a solid performance.
“I would like to go for as high of overall placing as possible in Romandie,” van Garderen said. “I think the parcours fits my strengths well. After Romandie, I will head to altitude, where I will continue my Tour preparation. I think I am right on track.”
The Swiss six-stage race starts Tuesday with a 5.5-kilometer prologue and ends Sunday with an individual time trial, tipping the GC toward riders like Froome, van Garderen, and Talansky, who was second to Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in 2012.
Wednesday’s road stage is the longest of the week at 200km, and contains a first-category climb of Simplonpass shortly before the halfway point. A Cat. 2 ascent summits with about 20km left before a downhill section yields to a slightly uphill finish. The route favors the likes of Roman Kreuziger, if he starts, and Rafal Majka, both of Tinkoff-Saxo.
Stages two and four are ideal for the sprinters, such as Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Moreno Hofland (Belkin). Friday’s climb-heavy stage, with four first-category climbs, should set things up on GC going into Sunday’s 18.5km ITT at Neuchatel.
Tour de Romandie
April 29, prologue: Ascona-Ascona, 5.57km
April 30, stage 1: Ascona-Sion, 200.9km
May 1, Stage 2: Sion-Montreux, 166.5km
May 2, Stage 3: Le Bouveret-Aigle, 180.2km
May 3, Stage 4: Fribourg–Fribourg, 174km
May 4, Stage 5: Neuchâtel-Neuchâtel, 18.5km