Pre-Tour fireworks saved for Suisse as Juan Ayuso ignites GC finale

Emergent talents come to the fore in the absence of established superstar climbers.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 15.06.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
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The Critérium du Dauphiné usually takes the shine of the preparatory races for the overall contenders ahead of the Tour de France, at least before Tadej Pogačar isn’t playing rock, paper, scissors at his home Tour of Slovenia (albeit not this year).

And so the Tour de Suisse can sit forgotten, and in the last couple of years has merely been used as a punching bag for Ineos Grenadiers to make themselves feel better before turning up to the Tour’s knife fight with a drawer full of spoons.

But that’s changed this summer. With Jonas Vingegaard quashing any pre-title defence nerves with a stomping performance at the Dauphiné, Pogačar nursing his recovering wrist in training, and the Ineos Grenadiers looking slightly rudderless, the Tour de Suisse has delivered fireworks as part of the entrée ahead of the real party in July.

Maybe it’s to do with the start lists as a whole, rather than just the presence or absence of superstar riders – although Remco Evenepoel’s inclusion as a human competitor (meaning he arrived post-COVID, and not in top condition) provides a platform at Suisse for a bunch of young upstarts vying to be the next young upstarts to take cycling by storm.

Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) and Felix Gall (Ag2r Citroën) are the two names who’ve announced themselves to the wider racing public this week and taken turns in the leader’s jersey, but it was Juan Ayuso’s thundering victory on stage 5, his first WorldTour-level road race win, that appeared to be a truly watershed moment, as he launched himself up the HC Albulapass, past the dastardly duo of Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain-Victorious) to finish nearly a minute clear of second-place Skjelmose after a lightning descent into La Punt.

It rectified Ayuso’s lost minute the stage before where he didn’t have the legs, and indeed smacked his head and right foot as he sailed across the line today in a celebration of resilience as he moved up to third on GC, 18 seconds behind Skjelmose, who leapfrogged back over Gall, the Austrian sitting between the Dane and the Spaniard.

But a further half a minute behind Ayuso sits Evenepoel, the world champion showing maturity in riding himself back into fitness following the disappointment of the Giro d’Italia and quietly hanging in there even if every day he loses a few seconds to anyone is deemed a ‘bad day for Remco’. Now, after two merely lumpy days to follow on stages 6 and 7, a final stage 8 time trial will give him the chance to overhaul the entire podium and take what would be his fourth WorldTour overall stage win.

For homegrown talent Gino Mäder, a bad crash on stage 5 saw the Swiss Bahrain-Victorious rider airlifted to hospital, with Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) also crashing badly on the final descent into the finish and taken to hospital.

Over in Belgium, where the sprinters are preparing for the French Grand Tour without the inconvenience of altitude gain, Caleb Ewan (Lotto DSTNY) continued his run of bad luck with a heavy crash on stage 2 to leave him with bruising and abrasions but no fractures. It’s worth noting to what degree those crashes will impact teams’ Tour plans.

Meanwhile, the sprinters are sharpening their form for a Tour that offers plenty of chances. Fabio Jakobsen won the stage after Jasper Philipsen took the opening day’s bout. While in Slovenia at the country’s Pogi-less home tour, Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) has taken stage honours on the first two days of racing.

Whether on the flat or in the mountains, the cast for this year’s Tour are putting the final kilometres in their legs. When they’re not pedaling, maybe they’re casting a gaze over what Netflix made of their efforts last year. Tour season is almost upon us.

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