It is Tour de France prep time. And that means riders in action at a variety of races with a variety of goals from now until the end of next weekend. Today is a look a why riders would choose one of these races and all have pluses and minuses.
Criterium du Dauphine - A dress rehearsal for the Tour de France for organizers ASO, this race is run exactly like the Tour de France, just shorter. It often (though not this season) includes a preview of either the long time trial or one of the big Alpine stages. As it is also a World Tour race, points earned here are hard fought and valuable when it comes time for contract renegotiations.
Why ride it? Gives riders a look as how ASO is running the race in advance of the Tour. Often allows riders carrying form from the Giro to extend for a week and take on Tour de France contenders. Younger riders can get a taste of Tour de France style racing without actually riding the whole three week monster.
Why not ride it? Competitive riders who want to win everything often peak too early while winning this. Only in recent years with Team Sky have the winners of this race been good in the Tour. Before that, it was a hodgepodge of flashes in the pan and good riders who underachieved at that season's Tour.
Tour de Suisse - The other important prep race, the Tour de Suisse is equal to the Dauphine in World Tour points, but it is much more important to win as for a long time it was longer (it has had as many as 12 stages) and is considered the most important stage race to win outside of the Grand Tours.
Why ride it? This is a race that is big enough to be targeted for a result in its own right. A win here often means the sponsor pressure for a strong Tour result is lightened a bit, allowing for a more relaxed final week leading up to the Tour de France.
Why not ride it? The race is hard and ends after the Dauphine. As the race is often hard and mountainous, it is difficult to do well here and get the form right for the Tour (though that task is easier here than in the Dauphine).
Route du Sud - A small three day race in the Pyrenees that includes both an uphill finish and a proper mountain stage. Good for a short effort just before the Tour.
Why ride it? It is a small, intense effort, much like a final training block would be. This year it also climbs the Tourmalet and Aspin, proper Pyrenees climbs that will prep riders for the Pyrenees in the Tour de France.
Why not ride it? It is only 3 days long. Not enough to really matter othen than as a higher stress training run. The race itself lacks prestige as well. The Dauphine and Suisse are desired races to win. Nobody really cares about the Route du Sud.
Tour of Slovenia - A short four day race taking place at the same time as the end of the Tour de Suisse and the Rote du Sud. It is often a final proving ground for those looking for form in the final days before the Tour or recovering from injury. In addition, the mountaintop finish is a bit easier than what is found in the other races.
Why ride it? The recent winners list includes Jakob Fuglsang, Vincenzo Nibali, Diego Ulissi and Jani Brajkovic. That is a good crop of winners for a young race.
Why not ride it? None of those guys had a good Tour that year. Nibali and Ulissi didn't even ride the Tour. It is still unproven as Tour prep. If you are an Ardennes or Giro/Vuelta guys, this might be the race for you (Nibali's win was in 2010 when he was 3rd in the Giro as a domestique and won the Vuelta).
Ster ZLM Toer - A sprinters paradise. Virtually every sprinter not riding the Tour de Suisse is in this race very year fine tuning before the early stages of the Tour de France where sprinters often rule.
Why ride it? Only one of these races really wants to have sprinters there. And this is the one.
Why not ride it? With nearly every sprinter there, holding back some cards and going to Suisse or Dauphine is probably a better idea. That is what Mark Cavendish is doing this year by going to the Tour de Suisse instead of ZLM.
Final Verdict - If a GC contender, I would ride the Tour de Suisse. With many of the biggest threats for victory at the Dauphine, it is possible to win Suisse while still building if the highest level is a Tour de France win. Additionally, the race is more prestigious to win and has a better of history of its winner going on to win the Tour than the Dauphine does. If a sprinter, ZLM is the route to go unless the Dauphine has a sprinter friendly route (not this season, but it has had a few in past years).
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