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What's the best prep for the Tour - the Dauphine or Tour de Suisse?

Felix Lowe
9 Jun 2016

Felix Lowe investigates where's best to prepare for the Tour de France - the Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse.

It’s a conundrum that has taunted Tour de France cyclists for years: dolphins or cuckoo clocks? To be more precise: is the best preparation for July’s Grande Boucle the Critérium du Dauphiné in France or across the border at the Tour de Suisse?

Both are WorldTour stage races brimming with history, but they overlap by a day – forcing riders to make cycling’s equivalent of choosing between clashing wedding invitations (something more likely to define the summer for us mere mortals).

Now you’d think the lure of tax-free prize money would make it a no-brainer. But what’s the good of having a wad of Swiss francs if you’re going to splurge them all at Geneva airport on a single sandwich and a giant bar of the national chocolate (whose contours recall the profiles of those preceding arduous days in the saddle)? 

However, in terms of both preparation and palmarès, there’s only one winner. Since the Dauphiné was first run in 1947 its victor has gone on to triumph at the Tour 12 times; three of the last four Dauphiné champions (Sir Brad and Chris Froome, twice) have proceeded to top the podium in Paris. In fact, every Tour winner since 2006 stretched their legs in the landlocked region which bizarrely boasts a marine mammal on its coat of arms.

And in those seven years before 2006 – when no one won the Tour – the chap who claimed to have done so (and has the framed yellow jerseys as proof) opted for the Dauphiné every year but one, winning it twice. The exception is 2001, when Lance Armstrong rode the Tour de Suisse to become one of only two riders (the other’s Eddy Merckx) to have won it in the same year as securing yellow in Paris. Which goes to show how little clout the race seems to have. Indeed, triple Suisse winner Rui Costa is clearly talented – a former World Champion, no less – but bar the odd Tour stage scalp, he’s hardly set the roads of France ablaze.

Yet this could be about to change. Riders traditionally choose the Dauphiné because of its cachet, the strong start list and its Tour-replicating route (last June, Romain Bardet won an identical stage in Pra Loup that Simon Geschke would win five weeks later in the Tour). This summer, however, while there was an exciting 10% ramp within the opening kilometre of the prologue, there’s no crossover between the routes – not even one climb. Meanwhile, the Tour’s showpiece Alpine stages take place… in Switzerland.

Fanning the flames further, the Tour de Suisse has incurred the wrath of ASO – organisers of both the Dauphiné and Tour – by climbing in bed with Velon, the pressure group aiming to change cycling’s traditional business model primarily through the shaky medium of on-bike footage.

The blockbuster deal aims to help the race grow and has led to assurances from the 11 Velon teams – including Sky and Tinkoff, but none of the ASO-friendly French outfits – of committing some star riders. Heck, one day even Froome may follow Geraint Thomas’ lead and dip his toe into Lake Lucerne.

Right now, it’s all very confusing. Team Dimension Data, whose chief sponsor provides the rider tracking used by ASO, are not involved in Velon. Likewise Swiss team IAM, despite the Tour de Suisse agreement. Indeed, Swiss brand Tissot is the Dauphiné’s time-keeper, even though we all know that cuckoo clocks are really a German invention.

Perhaps the best course for top riders is to avoid any confrontation by snubbing both races in favour of the hipster alternative: the Route du Sud in the Pyrenees. Cassoulet beats cheese and chocolate anyway.

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