Andrew Talansky leads the breakaway on Stage 8 of the Dauphiné. He’d gone clear in a maxi-breakaway early in the stage and became the virtual race leader on the road. By now Alberto Contador was chasing and eating into the lead but Talansky was driving the pace almost as if in a solo breakaway. This was the moment the race was won.
One moment is too reductive, especially in a week packed with action, reversals and surprises. Talansky was only in the position of virtual leader because he’d been able to respond to the attacks and accelerations of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador alike earlier during the week. When Froome went on the Col du Béal for Stage 2 Talansky was fifth and 12 seconds behind. When Contador danced away from Froome above the Emosson dam, Talansky was also fifth and put a couple of seconds into Froome. For all the talk of a duel between Froome and Contador, Talansky was lurking all the time and waiting to pounce.
The week began with an alternative duel, the proxy war of Froome vs Wiggins. The former’s book was stirring up the headlines while the latter responded by giving the scoop to L’Equipe and then touring the BBC – both non Sky/NewsCorp sources – that he was unlikely to ride the Tour de France. It was big news but seems to have blown away by now.
Back to the racing and Stage 1 in Lyon saw a 1-2 for Froome and Contador… with Talansky in fourth place. Once again he was there. The race swapped the urban start for a remote and rural finish on the Col du Béal for Stage 2. It might not be famous but it was a tough climb and provided a selective showdown with Froome attacking in rotary frenzy. Try as he might Contador could not pass.
Further down the mountain we saw Vincenzo Nibali struggling. An off day? It was possible at the time but we got confirmation during the week that he was off the pace. The same for Tejay van Garderen only he later told the media that he’d just told his team about a fractured hip. The crack was small but all the same it’s astonishing that a rider didn’t tell his team. Another loser was Michał Kwiatkowski, the Pole was so far off the pace we forgot about him for the rest of the week.
Stage 3 saw a lively sprint finish won by Giant-Shimano’s Nikias Arndt who sprinted seated in the saddle, he might have more wins but this is the making of a premium sprint lead out. It was the only bunch sprint of the stage but never a dull procession. “Sprinters stages” might be obvious processions but this one had stunning scenery across the Ardèche area before a high speed dash south along the Rhone valley where a late attack added suspense.
Stages 4 and 5 saw a Katusha double, first Yuri Trofimov then Simon Špilak in La Mure on a day when Contador also tried a late attack. The Spaniard said he hadn’t come to the Dauphiné to win but it became he clear he didn’t want to lose. Stage 6 saw Lieuwe Westra get beaten by Jan Bakelants after a surprisingly hilly finish. Behind Froome crashed on a narrow descent and the bunch waited for him, there wasn’t much of a race on and the yellow jersey crossed the line shredded.
Stage 7 saw the Queen Stage with the finish on the Col de la Guelaz above the Emosson dam in Switzerland. A hard stage but with little action until the end, many casual viewers might have channel-hopped away. They missed the action with surprise appearance of Westra in the finishing straight. The main story was Contador attacking and Froome unable to respond. At first it seemed normal, the Sky method of letting a rival redline and then reeling them in. But Froome could not close the gap and he was passed before the line by Andrew Talansky. This looked like race winning move, Contador claiming the yellow jersey ahead of an wounded Froome.
The Courchevel Coup
Then came the final stage from Megève to Courchevel. Just 131km it started with a bang. A break of 23 riders went clear and let’s name them all because there were so many strong riders: David Lopez, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte (Sky), Tanel Kangert, Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Dani Navarro, Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Adam Yates (Orica-Greenedge), Igor Anton, John Gadret (Movistar), Romain Bardet, Alexis Gougeard, Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Jurgen Van den Broeck, Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), Kristjan Koren (Cannondale), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha), Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura). A breakaway? It was more like a pirate ship.
As the stage progressed Sky did manage to gang up on Contador and Froome started attacking. But the bid to isolate the Spaniard backfired when Contador jumped away from Team Sky using the classic ruse of a traffic island. Once he saw Sky’s trio going to the right of an island in the road he dived to the other side and accelerated. Behind Chris Froome looked cooked, a gap often visible between his front wheel and Richie Porte. Sky wanted to isolate Contador but not this way.
Ahead the breakaway was being driven by Ryder Hesjedal. If Talansky won by 27 seconds, a large share can be attributed the lanky Canadian. Work like this often isn’t visible on TV but it should be noted. It’s also the Garmin-Sharp way, the Captains of Chaos, the underdogs with as much bite as their bark. The team has turned several races with aggressive and bold tactics, think of Dan Martin’s stage win in the Tour last year after the team blew the race apart from the start.
The Moment The Race Was Lost?
Andrew Talansky won thanks to the most direct and bold of tactics, he went up to the road and rode his socks off. But it’s true that Contador and Froome both lost the race too. Tinkoff-Saxo simply didn’t have the firepower in the race. Perhaps they could have chased more yesterday early on when they had riders to spare and they did lead the peloton at one point. But later on Contador was isolated. He won’t have to worry about this come the Tour with support from riders like Roman Kreuziger, Nicolas Roche, Michael Rogers and more. Froome lost too but with hindsight he was in a bad way and struggling to hold the wheels of his team mates. Contador lost the battle but not the war and leaves the week on a high note. Having lost the psychological war early in the week he came back level but there was no knockout blow or even a win on points because the Sky camp will point to Froome’s injury. It’s not exactly Cane and Abel nor Anquetil and Poulidor, the two tweet polite messages to each other. Instead rivalry is on the road, they have been on a similar level.
Dauphiné to the Tour
The last two winners have gone on to win the Tour de France. Can Talansky? Never say never but probably not. Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013 both showed controlled performances built on long time trial stages and consolidated in the mountains, a dress rehearsal of their Tour de France a win among others throughout the year. Talansky need a tactical ploy to take this Tour just as he took the Dauphiné. Still if he rides like a robot the podium is within reach given his consistent climbing and if Garmin-Sharp take some chances then again he could steal time and make the race more watchable. But don’t extrapolate the Dauphiné results too far, the fact that the two last winners have won the Tour is not a trend over history, it’s an oddity. After all Richie Porte and Dani Moreno stood on the Dauphiné podium and bombed in the Tour, albeit in service of others.
As for Contador and Froome, I’d still give Froome the edge because the Tour de France course with its final time trial suits him more. But “Crash Froome” could be a problem in July too, as we saw on Stage 6 it can happen at any time and need not be on the pavé. Plus the Sky tactic of winning several stage races before July isn’t working, Froome won in Oman but was beaten in Catalonia. He took Romandie but lost out again this week.
Another extrapolation to July is the doping polemics. We got a taste of this twice with Chris Froome’s inhaler and then his TUE – apparently the first time he’s asked for one during his career – and a rest day polémique might be lurking.
Wilco Kelderman won the white jersey competition with Romain Bardet and Adam Yates close behind. Sébastien Reichenbach is another promising rider. I put the top-5 in the graphic above to show the gap between the top-4 and then the rest with Kenny Elissonde in fifth. We won’t see the Kelderman in the Tour and probably not Yates either. Bardet is certain to ride and pretty much saved French faces last week. Reichenbach is likely for the Tour too.
The Tour de France has the onerous duty of touring France. However charming the villages might be most of the north and west of the country offers terrain that makes for a dull bike race being largely flat and often featureless, often exterior features like a crosswind is needed to enliven the entertainment, otherwise ASO has to work hard to find something special like a coastal road or the Mur de Bretagne. The Dauphiné is spoilt for choice, even the sprint stages take place against a backdrop of snowy peaks or imposing cliffs. The race still exploited this terrain carefully, no long time trial to cement the GC for example.
A great race, it’s like the Tour de France with none of the boring bits, an action film rather than a documentary series. A three week grand tour is still a much richer and more involving race with more stories but for one week this was as good as you get. This race was started in 1947 as a preparation event for the Tour de France and today it’s the perfect contest for riders and viewers alike.
The worry is that the concentrated week has offered more action and reversals than will be possible in the Tour, this could be the stage race highlight of 2014. Always scenic, at times nervous and with action to the end this was a great race. Talansky gets the perfect win and if he needed a bold move on the last day he would never have won had he not tracked Contador and Froome in the time trial and high mountains. It shows that the Contador-Froome duel is just one story for the summer and come July there will be a much bigger cast of characters.