Today’s opening 5.7km prologue stage of the Dauphiné is straightforward. As the map shows the route has five corners but each turn is predictable, for example there’s no fast downhill section with a bend that tightens up. Instead the route is flat – the total vertical gain is just 11 metres – and should be a series of efforts of the corners to reach maximum speed before the next corner appears after a minute or so.
The course should suit the specialists given the mix of acceleration and top end speed. Is Bradley Wiggins a specialist? Perhaps Tony Martin will take this. Watch out also for Luke Durbridge, Matthieu Ladagnous, Jos Van Emden, Roger Kluge and Lieuwe Westra. Last year’s prologue was won by Lars Boom but it was hillier; still Edvald Boasson Hagen was close and he could do well again.
Cadel Evans won the Tour de France in Grenoble last summer. The penultimate stage was a time trial and he finished second on the stage and overhauled Andy Schleck to claim the yellow jersey. Since then he’s been unbeaten in France with victory in the Critérium International back in March, although this is partially a reflection of a slim racing schedule. His time today will be worth watching and the same for the others. Even Andy Schleck who is not aiming for the overall will give clues as to his form in this short test.
Weather: there’s a strong chance of rain in the afternoon and it could affect the later starters. The course is not extra technical but damp roads will still cost time when braking, cornering and accelerating.
TV: it’s on early. The last rider is off just after 2.30pm Euro time so tune in early. It’s live on French TV and Eurosport which means there should be a pirate feed available for fans around the world. As ever cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv are the places to go to. Australians are in luck as home broadcaster SBS is covering the race live for the first time.
Tourism: a gateway to the mountains, the city is surrounded by high cliffs and there’s even the urban cable car to take people from the centre of town up to the top. You can ride too, the the climb has been used before in the Dauphiné but it would be too selective for a prologue. Getting away from the town is a good thing because it has its ugly sections too, or at least the surrounding area is so nice it’s worth getting out. It’s a student town with a lot of engineering and technology.
Gastronomy: I don’t know what the local dish is but the local drink is Génépi, a liqueur made from Alpine herbs.
History: In 1977 Bernard Hinault led the Dauphiné solo and arrived on the climb. It was so steep he climbed off, telling his team manager he was stopping and unable to go on. But the crowds and manager told him to get back on his bike and he rode on to win the stage and the race.
Earlier in the stage he’d crashed, falling off the road only to be saved from a long fall by trees clinging to the side of a mountain. The determined look on his face as he reaches to climb back up seems to say a lot about this most forceful of riders. You can watch archive footage of the crash here in the 75 second clip below, plus the moment where he wanted to give up. He is pedalling squares on the steep slopes, as if the broadcast is being directed by Pablo Picasso. He stops, loosens the toe straps and climbs off his bike wanting to abandon… despite leading the race.