Some 14 years ago, at the start of the 60th edition of the Tour de Romandie, who knew that Cadel Evans would become the first (and so far only) Australian winner of the Tour de France a few years later? Who felt confident to say that Alberto Contador would win all three Grand Tours? Or that Robbie McEwen, coming off a rib fracture earlier in the spring, was about to display his best sprinting legs on the verge of turning 34 years old?
Turning back the pages of time allows for some glimpses into what was to come and sheds a new light on the trajectories that led to some of the most iconic events in the sport’s history. The 2006 Tour of Romandie was an exciting event in its own right. With rising stars such as Alejandro Valverde vying with the aforementioned champions, it also had much to tell about the champions who were to shine in the coming weeks, months and years.
The young Spaniards Contador and Valverde were among the hottest prospects in the bunch at the time. Much hotter than Evans, who, already 29 years old, was completing his transformation into a superb road rider after twice winning the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the previous millennium.
At 23, Contador was lighting fireworks with his Liberty Seguros outfit and had finished 5th at the Itzulia Basque Country two weeks earlier. He had already finished 4th overall in the Tour de Romandie the previous year, with a stage victory to boot. A couple of years older, Valverde (riding for Caisse d'Épargne-Illes Balears at the time) had won the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the first time in his career just before heading to Geneva for the prologue.
Savoldelli and McEwen strike ahead of the Giro d’Italia
After a 3.4km ride along Lake Geneva, Paolo Savoldelli came out on top ahead of Valverde (+1”). “It shows my preparations for the Giro are almost ready,” the Italian said. Two weeks later, he won the opening ITT of the Italian Grand Tour to claim the Maglia Rosa. The year before, he had finished 2nd on the same route in Geneva and missed the Maglia Rosa on the prologue by 1”.
McEwen – Evans’ compatriot and teammate at Davitamon-Lotto – was also looking for confidence and a sign of form in Switzerland, after a nasty crash in the Dwars door West-Vlaanderen at the beginning of March. Ahead of the race, he had scouted the stage one finish in Payerne a few times to make sure his rivals couldn’t edge him out in the final dash to the line, the only sprinting opportunity of the week. This success called for more triumphs, with three stage wins in the opening week of the Giro. He repeated the feat at the Tour de France, making 2006 arguably his best season ever.
After these two opening rounds, it was time for the GC contenders to get into action with climbing challenges ahead of the closing time trial in Sion. Intense racing over the Col de la Croix and on the way down to Porrentruy saw Chris Horner take victory on stage 2 and claim the leader’s jersey.
Contador attacks, Valverde sprints, Evans responds in the TT
The next three days were a complete showdown between Contador, Valverde and Evans. The bunch was becoming familiar with Contador’s attacks but still couldn’t contain his acceleration on the climb to Leysin, where he celebrated victory 24” ahead of Valverde and Evans. The very next day, Valverde displayed his own trademark: a perfectly timed sprint to take victory in a select group and snatch a time bonus.
The scene was perfectly set for a thrilling final time-trial stage, with Contador leading the general classification by 6” from Valverde and 24” ahead of Evans. “The pressure was not on me to win; it was on the others to lose,” the Australian established with hindsight, after powering to his biggest victories to date: the stage, with an average speed of 46.5km/h over 20.4 lumpy km; and the overall victory, 27” ahead of Contador and 44” to Valverde, rounding out the podium.
Almost two decades after Phil Anderson, the winner in 1989, Cadel Evans was the second Australian rider to conquer the Tour de Romandie. “After finishing eighth overall [in the Tour de France] in 2005, big things are expected from [him]”, Cyclingnews wrote at the time.
In July, Evans made his way inside the top 5 overall for the first time, as he kept improving step by step. Five years later, he won the Tour de Romandie again, and the Tour as well.