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Swiss team target glory in Tour de Suisse

Switzerland's Alex Zülle will be defending his crown

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss Phonak cycling team are hoping to pedal their way to glory in the 67th Tour de Suisse cycle race which kicked off on Monday in Egerkingen, canton Solothurn.

Organisers predict up to one million spectators will turn up to watch the 136 cyclists tackling the 1,447-kilometre race.

Cyclists have to complete ten stages, ranging from 6.5km to 218km, which take in all the language regions of Switzerland.

And it's not all downhill or flat either - participants face four mountain stages.

Leading the Phonak team - named after its sponsor, a hearing-systems company - is the Swiss cyclist, Alex Zülle.

His team members include compatriots Alexandre Moos and Oscar Camenzind.

Defending champion Zülle is likely to face stiff competition from the likes of Germany's Jan Ullrich, Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov and the Italians, Francesco Casagrande and Dario Frigo.

Hard times

Earlier this year, the Phonak team failed to qualify for the annual Tour de France race, despite attracting SFr12 million ($9.2 million) in sponsorship money.

Jacques Michaud, Phonak's sports director, told swissinfo that being barred from cycling's most prestigious event - which takes place in July - was a huge disappointment for everyone concerned.

However, Michaud conceded that the team had failed to make the grade when it mattered most during heats, which took place from March to May.

For some critics, Zülle was a controversial choice for leader, after his career nearly ended five years when he was implicated in a doping scandal.

After admitting that he had taken the performance-enhancing substance EPO during the 1998 Tour de France, Zülle was banned from cycling for seven months.

The Phonak leader insists that he has been clean since that time.

This year's Tour de Suisse runs from June 16 to 25.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza


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