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Cycling champions warm up in Switzerland

Germany's Jan Ullrich is back on Swiss roads as he readies his assault on the Giro d'Italia Keystone Archive

Some of the world's top cyclists are taking part in the Tour de Romandie (TdR) in western Switzerland as they warm up for the Giro d'Italia.

This content was published on April 25, 2006 - 10:23

For the past 60 years, some of the sport's biggest names have won the event, which serves as a transition between the spring one-day classics and the big tours.

Belgium's Eddy Merckx, France's Bernard Hinault, Ireland's Stephen Roche or America's Tyler Hamilton are just some of the famous cyclists who have taken the spoils. Switzerland has also had its share of winners, with Tony Rominger, Hugo Koblet and Ferdi Kübler.

The TdR, which starts on Tuesday and is ranked among the top 13 stage races by the International Cycling Union, owes much of its appeal to its timing. It takes place between the Flanders classics and the start of big tours.

"In the 1980s, the racers took part in all the races on the calendar," said Jean Voellmy, who has set the course for the past 25 years. "In those days, they came to win and prepare the big tours.

"Today, it has become a warm-up event for the top racers, who are trying to reach peak condition and work with their team."

This will be the case for Jan Ullrich, who won the Tour de France in 1997. The German will be effectively launching his season in Switzerland after injuring himself earlier on.

Advantages

Although it only takes place over five days, the TdR has the advantage of allowing the cyclists to test themselves on the stages that form part of a major tour. It includes a prologue, a time-trial, a flat stage for sprinters and a mountain stage.

"The TdR is attractive for a lot of racers, all you have to do is meet their expectations," said former Swiss professional cyclist Richard Chassot.

He admits, though, that this is not always enough to attract the best.

"All the top cyclists have specific goals nowadays and prepare themselves according to their aims," he told swissinfo. "This means they don't all choose to come here anymore."

Chassot is part of a group of investors and businessmen who are set to take over the race next year. Sports management group IMG decided to throw in the towel after this year's edition, saying the event is not financially attractive enough.

IMG had signed an agreement to organise the race until 2011 with the International Cycling Federation's Rainbow Foundation, but decided to take advantage of an opt-out clause for next year.

Financial concerns

IMG's representative on the Tour, Armin Meier, another former professional cyclist, said the decision to pull out was taken for strategic reasons.

"We like cycling at IMG, so it was a tough call," he admitted. "The problem is that our sponsors aren't interested in a small race."

IMG has refused to say whether it was losing money on the TdR, or if it just wasn't making enough profit to make it interesting.

The organisation rights are managed by the Rainbow Foundation, but owned by another – the Fondation pour le cyclisme romand (cycling foundation of western Switzerland).

With the race taken over by Chassot's group next year, questions remain as to whether the International Cycling Federation will continue to rank the TdR among its top events.

If this is no longer the case, major teams may hesitate to take part, or even forego the race entirely. And without the big names, television may lose its interest too, leaving the organisers without valuable revenue.

swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux

In brief

The five-day Tour de Romandie serves as a transition event between the spring one-day classics and big Tours in Italy and France.

Swiss winners include: Ferdi Kübler (1948 and 1951), Hugo Koblet (1953), René Strehler (1955), Kurt Gimmi (1959), Rolf Maurer (1964), Jörg Müller (1985), Tony Rominger (1991, 1994), Pascal Richard (1993, 1995) and Laurent Dufaux (1998).

Foreign winners include: Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault, Bernard Thévenet and Laurent Jalabert (France), Stephen Roche (Ireland), Pavel Tonkov (Russia), and Abraham Olano (Spain).

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Key facts

The Tour de Romandie runs from April 25 to April 30.
It is celebrating its 60th edition this year.
The budget is approximately SFr2.5 million.
It will include a prologue and five stages, over a combined 656 kilometres.
22 teams are taking part.

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