But as this year’s Giro rolled around, something stirred. After being glued to my TV during the Classics, I found myself missing the little things. The rush of trying to stay a step ahead of a surging peloton, a throng of photo-motos (otherwise known as motographers) trying to steal my angles or a police force generally preoccupied with curtailing my adventures and swiping my accreditation. Hopefully you missed me a little too.
And so, I’m back (you can read more about that here). To build up my match fitness I am chasing the Tour de Suisse for the first time - a 9 stage race in the Alps to get me back in shape for my biggest adventure at le Tour yet in just a few short weeks. So grab some quality chocolate - or some cheese (possibly a fondue) - and settle in for the ride.
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Fun facts about the Tour de Suisse
Some of the stuff that may or may not make it into the cycling news...
I was surprised how little I knew about this race until I started researching for this trip. I knew the basics - that the Tour de Suisse, along with the Critérium du Dauphiné, were considered the twin proving grounds ahead of the Tour de France - which generally starts two weeks after the Tour de Suisse finishes. However, despite this, I was surprised to learn it was only added to the UCI World Tour in 2011!
My attention was next drawn to the extraordinary La Tremola, the southern (Italian) side of the Gotthard Pass. While it will not feature in the 2018 race, it has been included 38 times (the most of any pass) and I can clearly see why. With over a dozen of hairpins, all furnished in beautiful Swiss cobbles in the heart of the Alps, “the trembling one” is now on my cycling bucket list. I get the feeling (as do the Swiss) that if this road was in Italy or France, it would be mentioned in the same breath as Passo dello Stelvio or Les Lacets de Montvernier.
The Tour de Suisse was first held in 1933 and while its creation may not be as historically significant as the grand tours, the first victor, Max Bulla. almost didn’t make it. The Austrian, who had been racing in Belgium and France beforehand, travelled to Switzerland on the overnight train, arriving in Zurich one hour before the race began. This did little to unsettle the talented European racer, claiming the first 2 stage wins, and a final winning margin of just over nine minutes.
Switzerland has the most wins by a country, with 23 total wins (the most recent by Spartacus - Fabian Cancellara - in 2009). The race has been run 81 times, for 80 results (Lance Armstrong was stripped of his 2001 victory in the lead up to his third Tour de France podium). An Australian has won only once - Phil Anderson in 1985 (ahead of his 2nd best performance at the Tour de France, finishing 5th).
Worried about the impact of the FIFA world cup in neighbouring West Germany, the Tour de Suisse organiser, Sepp Voegeli, managed to persuade Eddy Merckx to join the 1974 race by offering him a rather large sum of money. The Cannibal barely missed a beat (despite winning his 5th Giro d’Italia only a few days earlier), winning 3 stages to take out the overall win (including the King of the Mountains competition, the points and the combination classification).
I’ve saved the best for last. I’d barely heard of Beat Breu until I started digging into the history of the race - but, I have to say, I like the cut of his jib. Apparently as well-known for his one-liners as he was for his cycling - he was (and likely still is) a Swiss national hero. In 1981 he moved into the leader’s yellow jersey (which he called the “sagg” - or rag) after a dominant mountain time trial performance from Solothurn – Balmberg. However, after misinterpreting a team order, his teammate, Gottfried Schmutz, attacked and assumed the lead 2 days later. Breu publicly announced that ”Gottfried is dead to me now”, before charging back to take the race win in the 2nd mountain time trial on Monte Bre in Luganoon.
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