CYCLING Preview: Final warm-up for the Tour de France is the 83rd Tour de Suisse, starting Saturday

The final race on the UCI World Tour schedule prior to the Tour de France in July is the annual Tour de Suisse, as usual an arduous climb through the Swiss Alps, punctuated by two time trials.

The nine-stage program begins Saturday:

15 June: Stage 1 (9.5 km time trial): Langnau im Emmental (flat)
16 June: Stage 2 (159.6 km): Langnau im Emmental to Langnau im Emmental (hilly)
17 June: Stage 3 (162,3 km): Flamatt to Murten (hilly)
18 June: Stage 4 (163.9 km): Murten to Arlesheim (hilly)
19 June: Stage 5 (177.0 km): Münchenstein to Einsiedeln (mountains)
20 June: Stage 6 (120.2 km): Einsiedeln to Flumserberg (mountain finish)
21 June: Stage 7 (216.6 km): Unterterzen to St. Gotthard (mountain finish)
22 June: Stage 8 (19.2 km time trial): Goms to Goms (flat)
23 June: Stage 9 (144.4 km): Goms (mountains)

The strong field includes five former medal winners:

● Rui Costa (POR) ~ Winner in 2012-13-14
● Roman Kreuziger (CZE) ~ Winner in 2008
● Simon Spilak (SLO) ~ Winner in 2017
● Mathias Frank (SUI) ~ Second in 2014
● Geraint Thomas (GBR) ~ Second in 2015

Costa’s three wins are the second-most all-time to the four by Pasquale Fornara (ITA) in 1952-54-57-58. Speaking of winners: even though he has never finished higher than 30th overall, Slovakian star sprinter Peter Sagan enters the race with a remarkable 16 stage wins in the Tour de Suisse.

There are plenty of other contenders, but much attention will be focused on the return of Colombian star Egon Bernal, who last raced in March, but suffered a broken collarbone in training and has been out since.

Italian star Elia Viviani, already a winner on the World Tour this season, is entered, as is Rio Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (BEL) and sprinters Matteo Trentin (ITA), Niklas Arndt (GER), John Degenkolb (GER) and many other quality riders. A strong showing in the Tour de Suisse is always looked at as a preview of what might happen in the Tour de France.

In that regard, Britain’s reigning Tour de France champ Geraint Thomas will be watched closely. He did not finish the Tirreno-Adriatico in March, was 40th in the Itzulia Basque Country race in April and third in the Tour de Romandie in May. He and Bernal – who are on the same team, Ineos – will not have four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome with them for the Tour de France as he suffered a severe crash – with multiple fractures, and requiring surgery – prior to the fourth stage of the ongoing Criterium du Dauphine in France.

There have been Tour de Suisse and Tour de France doublers, but the last to win both in the same year as Lance Armstrong (USA) in 2001 and he was later disqualified for doping. Prior to him, Belgian legend Eddy Merckx was the last, way back in 1974.

Look for results here.