Chris Froome rides to third place on Stage 4, a 32km time trial. The ride left him five seconds off the yellow jersey taken by the impressive Rohan Dennis but Froome well clear of his rivals for the overall, with 1.25 on Michael Rogers and then more on the likes of Dani Moreno and Alberto Contador. This was the moment the race was won.
Over the following days Froome won a stage, took the race lead, put time into his rivals and even helped team mate and friend Richie Porte secure second place overall. It was a mixed race with a variety of stages but an inevitable conclusion.
The race had several short stages, in part a new formula from ASO but also the fault of a tennis tournament in Paris which meant the TV schedule imposed stage finishes in the early afternoon. The opening stage saw David Veilleux do the ride of his life, going solo to hold off the bunch by some margin to the stage finish in Switzerland whilst the climbing was enough to force a selection with about 70 riders.
But perhaps tennis can teach us something? Because when Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal hit a ball it’s all about the path to winning the tournament rather than what it means for July and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. But in cycling a lot of the action is seen in the light of the Tour de France, a win in the June is parsed and extrapolated into July. Veilleux won and initial praise was a lead out to interrogation: will the Canadian ride the Tour de France? This forward-looking aspect is inescapable for now and you’ll find projections for July below too.
Stage by Stage
Stage 2 saw Elia Viviani strike, a hilly route didn’t make the win look obvious but the day’s early break was left dangling and the Italian profited from the steady state on the climbs and the Giro in his legs. He’s a very fast rider whose track background gives him a fierce acceleration and the stage win showed greater athletic ability. The next stage saw another sprint where Edvald Boasson Hagen won, in part thanks to support from Geraint Thomas who was quietly impressive all week.
Then came the time trial stage. Held in a bird park it was fitting that a Martin won. Tony Martin’s crushing win seemed to echo across the Alps, did it scare Fabian Cancellara from starting the Tour de France? The stage was also a test ahead of the Tour de France because Stage 11 features a similar course.
It’s school exam season right now in France and L’Equipe wrote that Froome passed the test with a high mark. Meanwhile Contador has got some revision to do but is there time for him to cram in the form? He blamed allergies, perhaps he was allergic to saddle as he was shifting position even more often than usual? We got other lessons, notably Richie Porte who is surely a podium contender for the Tour de France.
Into the mountains and Froome was just five seconds off Rohan Dennis and won the stage finishing in Valmorel. It’s here we see the difference with Wiggins, Froome is a superior climber and able to win road stages and demonstrate his victory salute. But from here on the overall result looked inevitable. We got the Voeckler show only instead of toying with prey, he crushed them in the sprint for a change. In the remaining stages the yellow jersey was unchallenged and we saw Froome and Contador tasked with trying to help their team mates, Froome was so at ease when climbing he could try to get a stage win for Porte whilst Contador aimed to get Mick Rogers a podium finish.
Has Froome peaked too soon?
Form is an elusive thing. Stage 2 finished in Oyonnax, a place renamed Bionnas for the book 325,000 francs by Roger Vaillant which contains this quote:
“For the athlete to be “in form”, fat and lymph, everything that weighs you down, has to be transformed into air and muscle.”
The problem is not so much the transformation but the maintenance. Tradition said winning the Dauphiné was wrong if you wanted to take the Tour de France. Wiggins’s success last year changed this but only a few have managed the Dauphiné-Tour double. Physiologically it’s possible to hold form, especially as the mental flow sees the Dauphiné as a step onto something more, a chain that goes from the Tour of Oman to Romandie. Along the way Froome is also learning leadership and how to deal with the media and he’s got the likes of L’Equipe eating out of his hand, here’s an excerpt from Monday’s post-race coverage:
“Chris Froome but something fresh during the week. With a new freedom of tone, a good dose of humour and straight talking without limits he’s been able to build the foundation of his image for the weeks to come, that of a “ordinary champion”…
…We’re far from the arrogance shown by Bradley Wiggins, even the head of media at Team Sky seemed a little disconcerted by the ease with which Chris Froome replied to trick questions”
By contrast a set-back now is hard to overcome; you wonder how much Alberto Contador will be on his time trial bike in the coming weeks. Regrettably neither rider will do their national championships.
The Sky Train
Ever been to the cinema and halfway through the action you remember “the good guy always wins” and the suspense is punctured? Ever had a friend spoil the ending of a book? The same feeling is there with the black and blue jerseys of Team Sky in the mountains as we look forward to the Tour de France. Their pace-setting discourages attacks, we saw moves by the likes of Alejandro Valverde extinguished and the worry is they’ll asphyxiate the race like they did last summer.
But hope dies last and if you want things to look forward to then Samuel Sanchez was able to ride away on Saturday and he wasn’t given a free pass as Sky were trying to position Richie Porte for the win. The same on the final stage, with Froome in particular trying to pace Porte… but from nowhere Andrew Talansky emerged from the fog. Perhaps he had a degree of freshness after illness forced him to ease back during the week but that’s not sure. Either way he found plenty of power but the 24 year old was outshine by a younger team mate.
Was Rohan Dennis the revelation of the race? The South Australian wins the White Jersey, was second in the 33km time trial, held yellow for a day and finished in the top-10, not bad for a neo-pro who’s just turned 23. I put the question because he was in the top-10 of the final time trial in the Tour de Romandie and was third in the time trial Stage of the Tour of California and eleventh on Mount Diablo. So if Dennis shone, he was confirming rather than revealing.
Semantics aside, he has been tipped for big things but this happens to many, confirming it is another thing although this time last year Wilco Kelderman burst onto the scene and the Dutchman has been solid this year but discreet. Dennis comes across as an intelligent rider. This interview from last year is well-worth listening – although it’s long and you might want to download and save for another day.
Whilst Dennis’s career is on an upwards trajectory others can probably feel the pull of gravity. Should BMC Racing pick Thor Hushovd for the Tour de France? The Norwegian entered the race with cheery talk of weight loss and recovered form but he was dropped on some of the stages that should have suited him and his best result was fifth on one day. He’s often been excellent in the Tour de France and there’s time to come good but the team needs every help possible for Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen.
More certain is that Lampre-Merida haven’t had a good race. The team finished with four riders. A World Tour team, they still have a big focus on Italy so after the Giro this was never a proritity. They won just €300 in prize money all week, the same sum for to Vacansoleil-DCM and Lotto-Belisol although we saw more of them with the likes of Thomas de Gendt and the impressively aggressive Tim Wellens. However they had big problems with Lieuwe Westra and Jurgen Van den Broeck respectively.
A mention for Thomas Damuseau of Argos-Shimano who won the mountains competition after a very active race, getting the break five times during seven road stages. Ironically the Dutch team poached him from Ag2r’s development team. Perhaps he’d never have started this race if he’d joined Ag2r as they had to sit out the race with a self-imposed suspension?
Extrapolate to July
L’Equipe ran a “duel” caption all week to show illustrate the relative positions of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome but it became redundant after the time trial stage. At this rate they can invent a ticker to count down the days until Froome celebrates on the Champs Elysées?
Only Froome’s status should be a worry. Yes he won in the time trials, in the mountains and had no problems with positioning, descending or the bad weather either. But he’s only a puncture, crash or virus away from seeing the best plans evaporate and his team will be expected to do all the work in the Tour. Plus the Tour will be something else, a look at the Tour of Switzerland shows the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Thibaut Pinot are ready and beyond Cadel Evans and Nairo Quintana will make the July a far more complicated story. All that’s certain for now is that Chris Froome has won the Critérium du Dauphiné and that there’s plenty more racing to come.