For the next six days, at least 136 cyclists will take to the roads of French-speaking Switzerland for the 56th Tour de Romandie.This content was published on April 30, 2002 - 10:22
And travelling with the peleton will be hopes of a Swiss win in an event that has been dominated by Italian cyclists in recent years.
All eyes will be on veteran Swiss star Alex Zülle, 34, who has held back from this year's spring classics races to focus on the multi-stage event.
On Sunday he chose not to participate in Belgium's prestigious Amstel Gold event, preferring to acclimatise himself in Switzerland.
"Alex is in excellent form. The race offers a good opportunity to him", Zülle's team captain Mauro Gianettis said.
700 km of racing
Covering more than 700 kilometres, and climbing almost 7000 metres, the course is a key preparatory event for cyclists gearing up to tackle the big tours of Italy, Spain and France in the summer.
Following a prologue stage through the old-town of Geneva, the first stage proper covers 187 kilometres to Mallerey. The race then moves through to Charmey, Charmey to Sierre and Sierre to Leysin - the tour's big mountain test. The finale is an 18.3km race against the clock in Lausanne on Sunday.
Despite his determination, Zülle faces serious competition for the yellow jersey in the shape of in-form Italian Gilberto Simoni, along with last year's winner Dario Frigo.
Zülle's countryman, Beat Zberg, is not taking part because of injury. However, his brother Markus is expected to put in a strong showing.
Another rider worth watching will be Australian former mountain-biker Cadel Evans, showing much promise in his first year as a professional road rider.
The event has a long history, starting with its inauguration at the end of the Second World War. Former winners include famous cycling names such as Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx.
This year's course has been designed by former Swiss star Tony Rominger (who won the event in 1991 and 1995) and Armin Meier.
The last Swiss to win the tour was Pascal Dufaux in 1998.
swissinfo with agencies
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