Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) is on his way to Stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, a 53.5km time trial. The route featured a fast downhill start through vineyards and then a rolling road all the way to the finish in Macon. The wind was blowing strong, some riders were blasted off the road by gusts whilst fallen branches forced others to swerve. But Wiggins won the day, 34 seconds ahead of Tony Martin but more importantly, 1.43 on Cadel Evans. During the latter part the route used a long straight road and Wiggins could see Evans ahead. This was the moment the race was won.
As ever reducing a stage race down to a single moment is a hard task and probably too reductive. Wiggins started the race well with second place in the prologue, just one second behind Luke Durbridge (Orica-Greenedge). I thought this was the idea result for him and Team Sky because it meant Durbridge’s Orica-Greenedge would have to defend the overall lead on the first stage. But the final hill on Stage 1 was too much and “Durbo” went out the back whilst fellow Australian Cadel Evans went on the rampage, breaking away with Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) and Andrey Kasheckin (Astana) to win the stage. Wiggins finished behind and took over the overall lead which he never lost.
Stage 2 saw an uphill finish in the Ardèche area and Katusha’s Dani Moreno won. Stage 3 was the bunch sprint but as readers of The Spin previews might remember, it had almost as much climbing as the previous day so it was no surprise to see Edvald Boasson Hagen get the better of the pure sprinters.
Stage 4‘s time trial saw Wiggins put a lot of time into his rivals for the overall. Crucially it gave him so much of a lead that later on there was no scrapping for the overall result, this was why I picked this as the race’s key moment. There were other notable results, especially Wilco Kelderman of Rabobank. The 21 year old neo-pro took fourth place, impressive given his stick-thin legs and light build on a windy day. Sylvain Chavanel was fifth, a strong result for him after a long training block in the Pyrenees at Font Romeu. Luke Durbridge was seventh, he’d never ridden a TT this long so the experience was plenty. And Team Sky had Michael Rogers in third place and Chris Froome in sixth place.
Stage 5 saw Wiggins well ahead on the overall classification but after such a strong ride the previous day, we got to see how he climbed. And he passed this test too. Over the top of the Grand Colombier he and his team were caught out by an attack from Cadel Evans who was supported by several team mates. But this was shut down by big work from Richie Porte and as the gap shrunk to 20 seconds Wiggins jumped across the gap solo. It was an odd move, he later said it was to save his team from doing the work but it almost looked like a message to Evans, as if to say “look, I can shut down your move single handed“. The day was won by Arthur Vichot (FDJ-BigMat) who won solo.
Stage 6 was the Queen Stage across the Alps. The first event of the day was Andy Schleck abandoning, injuries from a crash in the time trial were too much. He started the stage after telling French TV he was looking forward to the final climb but the pace was fierce from the start and he was dropped, along with many others including Philippe Gilbert. A large break formed and led for much of the day. By the time the final climb of the Col de Joux Plane started only Brice Feillu was left, his lanky legs in rotary frenzy as he whirred his way up the early slopes but he later cracked. Behind Team Sky controlled everything, the photo above says everything. Nairo Quintana of Movistar won the stage, impressively outclimbing Team Sky but as he was no threat on overall he went away. Similarly Cadel Evans tried a late move but Wiggins had such a cushion that there was no problem.
Stage 7 was a sprint, a break went but never got much lead and a select “bunch” of 45 riders hit the final climb and Dani Moreno struck again. Here Wiggins finally lost time, was he tired… or did he just ease up because the result was obvious? I think it was the latter.
- Overall: Wiggins
- Points: Evans
- Mountains: José Sarmiento (Liquigas-Cannondale)
- Young Rider: Kelderman
Team Sky dominated the race. Cadel Evans is looking stronger and importantly confident too but when he tried to go clear on the Grand Colombier his team were reeled in with ease by Sky.
Ahead of the Tour de France, let’s revisit the list of riders I picked as contenders. Lieuwe Westra couldn’t explain his lack of form, he wanted more in this race and finished 71st overall. Tony Martin rode well but was twice beaten in time trials and has left his climbing legs behind. Jurgen Van Den Broeck was a stealthy fifth place, he’ll be pleased with this. Dennis Menchov was 42nd, 19 minutes down and it’ll take a miracle or worse to turn his form around. Vincenzo Nibali will be worried now, he cracked in the mountains and didn’t time trial so well, in his favour he can hope for more consistent riding over three weeks but if the Dauphiné was a test, he didn’t pass.
Vasil Kiriyenka was sixth, the 30 year old Belarus rider is consistent, the same for Janez Brajkovic in seventh place.
Amongst the French teams FDJ-BigMat won a stage but none looked too convincing. Cofidis tried several times in the breakaways but came up empty. Europcar will hope Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland can improve for July whilst Christophe Kern was eliminated after finishing outside the time cut today; interestingly Voeckler was “allowed” into breakaways, as if the teams don’t (yet?) see him as a GC threat. Saur-Sojasun continue as the best team but Jérôme Coppel is now 25 and needs “to confirm” as they say in French, he had a solid race and was first Frenchman overall. Ag2r La Mondiale‘s Rinaldo Nocentini was visible but J-C Péraud’s ambitions went off road.
Tomorrow The Tour
Actually the Tour de France starts in 20 days and the final time trial of the race is 41 days away. There’s plenty of talk about Wiggins peaking too early and his team say he’s still got room to improve. We can only speculate. Riders can lose form, it can happen suddenly and be unexplained. But having something and losing it surely better than not having it in the first place. Ask Andy Schleck.
Now riders and coaching staff will review things. There’s not much time to improve, riders can probably only hope to add a handful of watts to their power but they can work on weight and technique. Many will stay on in the Alps to revisit the climbs ahead of the Tour de France as there are few races behind now and the Tour prologue in Liège, only the Ster ZLM Tour in the Netherlands, the Route du Sud in France, the Tour of Slovenia and then the national championships.
I enjoyed the racing and like this race. If Wiggins falls of his bike tomorrow, well you can’t imagine the feeling but at least he’s won this big race. The reason why everyone focuses on the Tour de France is obvious but it is good to see a rider say they want to win this race and to achieve it. At one point Wiggins was making a fuss about having to wear the race leader’s skinsuit but every other rider in the peloton would love to wear it.