The 2014 Tour de Suisse, one of two main races in preparation for this year's Tour de France, will start on Saturday with one of the deepest fields of contenders the race has seen in its 78 years of existence.
For many of the top favourites, the nine stages serve as a great test to check how their form is going into the Tour de France, with Switzerland's rocky terrain and two challenging mountain stages resembling what the riders will be facing in France very well.
The Criterium du Dauphine is already in full swing, and Chris Froome and Alberto Contador have elected to complete their preparations on French soil.
However, some of the sport's biggest names, like Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, have chosen Switzerland. While winning the Dauphine may look better on a rider's resume, this year's Tour de Suisse will steal the headlines for its sheer star power.
Here are a few predictions for some of the top contenders who will be starting on Saturday.
Bradley Wiggins Will Aim for Final 2 Days
Wiggins stated to reporters that he planned to ride the 2014 Tour de France in support of teammate and defending champion Froome earlier in the season, but told the BBC last week that he didn't plan on competing in France at all:
The team is focused around Chris Froome.
I am gutted. I feel I am in the form I was two years ago. Now if I want to go to the Tour again, the reality is that I might have to go elsewhere.
I also understand that cycling is a team sport and it is all about Team Sky winning and Chris is defending champion.
If he crashes [in next week's Criterium du Dauphine warm-up race] there'd still be a chance I could come into the team. As it stands, all being well, Chris staying fit and healthy that's the team that'll roll out.
Froome has looked solid in the Dauphine, and so has the team, but Contador's attack and near-escape on Thursday looked very dominant for a rider who is still far removed from his best form.
A day later, Froome crashed close to the finish line. Contador urged his teammates to halt the peloton and wait for Froome to return. The Spaniard may very well lose the Dauphine because of this decision, but the message is clear—Contador means business, and Sky better beware.
Wiggins and Froome will never be the best of friends, but adding the former to the group of riders for the Tour is a business decision.
If Wiggins shines during the two final mountain stages in Switzerland, there is little chance team bosses won't come begging him to start.
Cadel Evans Will Be Virtually Anonymous
Evans looked like an old man during the 2014 Giro d'Italia, repeatedly imploding in the final stretch of both mountain stages and time trials. The Australian didn't once look like a potential winner in the race's final 10 days, and his struggles clinging onto jumps from the saddle were almost painful to watch.
Now, the 2014 Giro was hard on everyone. Event organisers put together a brutal stretch of mountain stages and Evans was far from the only one to struggle in the latter part of the race.
Evans isn't coming to Switzerland to prove himself—he just finished one of the toughest Giro d'Italia races in recent history.
Rather, he's here to spin his legs and recover from that Giro. Once fatigue kicks in and the final stages show up, he's likelier to leave the race than play any meaningful part in it.
Bauke Mollema Will Shine, but Come Up Short
The Dutchman finished second last year and shone in the Tour de France three weeks later, and he'll want to do even better in both races this year.
Mollema's climb to Crans Montagna was very impressive, but the Dutch rider has struggled in time trials compared to some of the top riders who will be starting in Switzerland.
This year's time trial will be followed by two fierce mountain stages. Against a strong group of contenders, it will be harder for Mollema to make up any time he may have lost in either stage.
Unlike last year, the competition won't allow him to spring his attack early, and he just doesn't have enough of a late burst to overcome Stage 7.
Rui Costa Wins His 3rd In a Row
The Portuguese is a strong climber, a solid time trialist and a great tactician. He has all the tools you need to win a nine-stage race over difficult terrain and his new team, Lampre-Merida, will be gunning for this race rather than the Tour de France.
Most importantly, the world champion values the Tour de Suisse more than the other contenders do. This isn't some tune-up race for Costa—it's his race, the one he has dominated in the last two years.
Costa won't be happy at this year's course for the time trial, which is less challenging than you might expect, but the two uphill finishes in the final two stages are exactly his cup of tea.
When he launches his attack in Stage 8, he won't be holding back. With their eyes on the Tour de France, the rest of the pack will be.
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