Who Will Win The Dauphiné? Perhaps it’s the wrong question because what we really want to know is who has won the Dauphiné so we can extrapolate into July. But this is a problem because the upcoming week brings one of the best stage races of the year and it ought to be enjoyed in its own right.
When 19th century French diplomat Charles de Talleyrand heard of the death of a Turkish ambassador, Talleyrand is supposed to have said: “I wonder what he meant by that?” as if the act had a meaning, a significance. In the same spirit, winning the the Dauphiné might something you do but it’s also loaded with meaning because it’s an indicator of form. In just over a week’s time we’ll be able to look back at who won the Dauphiné, how they did this and learn plenty for the Tour de France. Such is the sport that many a fine race is viewed as a mere sparring contest for the Tour de France. Back to the racing…
The race guide is over at inrng.com/dauphine with some thoughts on each stage (plus TV timings, history, rules etc) but in summary we have a 10km opening time trial and then three summit finishes one of which one is a very difficult but spectacular climb. New for 2014 are the time bonuses at the stage finishes. With this in mind our prototype winner will concede few seconds in the time trial and then the main mountain stages, either in style or pipping rivals to the line.
Chris Froome is the prime pick. He’s got the edge on Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali in the time trial and uphill he’s superior to Tejay van Garderen and Michał Kwiatkowski. At least this is the case on paper because we have little to go by as he’s not raced since Romandie’s winning performance. He’ll want to win the race to continue the Team Sky formula of winning this and then success in the Tour de France. One thing to watch for is the team performance. The squad seems to have most of the Tour de France picks and we’ll see how they ride in the mountains. Normally it’d be a given that the black train sets the tempo in the mountains but in Romandie they were less visible than usual. We’ll also see Richie Porte in action. He’s not had any results since the Vuelta a Andalucia in early March but in the Dauphiné last year Froome was trying to engineer a stage win for him and we could see something similar again.
Alberto Contador is the next pick. He’s having a very strong season albeit a concise one. He’s done four stage races this year and won two (Pais Vasco, Tirreno-Adriatico) and finished second in the other two (Volta Catalunya, Volta ao Algarve) and seems to have new-found confidence this year. So far so good but now comes the real test. A year ago he as struggling in the Dauphiné, complaining of pollen allergies and of course these are seasonal so he could be struck again but last year it was the long time trial that sunk him and that’s absent now. He can attack at unknown moments and this year’s race has some tricky stages for puncheurs – will he go for it or sit tight ahead of the Tour. Note his team is decent but it’s a collection of mountain domestiques rather than Roman Kreuziger and Michael Rogers.
Vincenzo Nibali is next. Like Froome and Contador he’s spent much of May on Mont Teide but unlike them he’s yet to win a race this year. Astana manager Alexander Vinokourov has taken to writing special delivery letters to the Sicilian warning of “poor performance” and stressing the importance of the Tour (was there a phone number of a doctor to call?) all of which means Nibali is under pressure to deliver and certainly we need to see the Nibali of last year’s Giro in action rather than the Nibali of last year’s Vuelta. But what will this mean? If anything he should contain some of his wild moves and play the percentages in order to finish close to his rivals rather than try his trademark raids which are great to watch but he needs confidence he can follow Froome and Contador. He’s got a strong team with riders capable of finishing up there too given the right conditions, notably Jakob Fuglsang.
Tejay van Garderen is a good pick. He has the talent but doesn’t have the luck. As the Tour of Oman and Volta a Catalunya showed he can hang with the best in the mountains and he’s a solid time trialist too. He’s had injuries and crashes this year but told the media he’s feeling confident. A strong rider here would be ideal as means to get his team behind him. He’d certainly prefer a longer time trial but the Dauphiné’s relative lack of TT kilometres reflects the Tour’s shortage so he’d better bring his mountain legs.
We’ve yet to see where Michał Kwiatkowski‘s limits are but the high mountains seem to contain the answer. OPQS are going to the Tour with a team including the Pole but built around Mark Cavendish so “Kwiatek” will have to fend for himself. He could have a good race but the podium seems a big ask.
Ag2r La Mondiale’s solid season can continue thanks to Jean-Christophe Péraud and Romain Bardet. Both are almost locals at different points in the race with Péraud having Lyon as his adopted home and he’ll enjoy the opening time trial while Bardet can, poetically at least, see home from the top of Monday’s Col du Béal summit finish. Ideally the team would want to synthesise the two, combining the TT skills and experience of Péraud with the attacking and mountain agility of Bardet. Back in the real world watch Péraud’s steady riding while Bardet climbs up the GC as the week goes on.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck is a podium outsider. Who? He’s finished fourth in the Tour de France twice (2010, 2012) but has almost cult status for his almost invisible media presence. The Lotto-Belisol rider is a versatile all rounder but achieves results by steady riding. His only career win has been a stage win in the Dauphiné.
Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky‘s due a big result. He’s thrived in week-long stage races before and “The Pitbull” should be able to sink his teeth into this race. However 2014′s been quiet so far with 7-11 in Catalunya and Romandie. Katusha’s Simon Špilak is aiming for this race and the Tour de France, a stealthy rider at the best of times but remember only he could stay with Chris Froome in the Tour de Romandie, he’s backed by Dani Moreno and Egor Silin. Orica-Greenedge bring Adam Yates but presumably for the experience rather than a result, he can surprise but the high mountains the level of the field mean we should not expect much.
Leopold König is NetApp-Endura’s leader and he won big in the Vuelta and Tour of California last year. This year’s he’s been close in the recent Baynern Rundfahrt so expect to see him in the action in the mountains, a likely king of the mountains has his name suggests. His TT skills don’t match his climbing.
Collectively Movistar have a strong team but it’s hard to spot the leader. Beñat Intxausti perhaps and the team is climber heavy with Igor Anton the one to watch alongside Sylwester Szmyd and John Gadret. Meanwhile Damiano Caruso is probably Cannondale’s best pick… but not exactly yours or mine.
Europcar have Thomas Voeckler for the show and a stage win just like last year. But maybe Cyril Gauthier and Natnael Berhane are the stronger picks for the mountains? FDJ bring Kenny Elissonde, he’s not for the GC but the mountain stages. IAM Cycling have a greater focus on the Tour de Suisse although this year’s Dauphiné does visit Switzerland and for me Sébastien Reichenbach is the most exciting rider, a promising climber. Cofidis are struggling and will look to Dani Navarro for success in the mountains while Jérôme Coppel is on home roads but seems to have faded from being a GC contender.
Finally there’s Wilco Kelderman. It always feels cruel to see a rider in the Dauphiné after the Giro and Kelderman isn’t alone but the Dutchman has the form and can limit his efforts in this race to a few key points.
Saturday update: Rein Taaramäe is added to the start list and a solid if mercurial rider. If he’s in form this is a near-perfect course for him. If…
|Tejay van Garderen, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Kelderman, Špilak, Talansky|
There are only two stages for the sprinters and I’m sure the second will be a slam-dunk certainty either. But Arnaud Démare is the fastest on paper with Orica-Greenedge bringing back-up sprinter Leigh Howard out of the cupboard. There’s Gianni Meersman who might prefer the hillier nature of the race and the same for BMC’s Thor Hushovd, Cofidis’s Julien Simon, Europcar’s Yannick Martinez and that’s about it. With this in mind we’ll see how willing FDJ are to seize the race and should we get a sprint finish, how big Démare’s winning margin will be.
Saturday Update: let’s add Giant-Shimano’s Reinardt Janse van Rensburg to the list, he wasn’t on the start sheet I saw at the time of writing. The same for Lotto-Belisol’s Tony Gallopin.
Weather: on the subject of prediction the forecast says it’s summer with sunshine and warm temperatures although the possibility of this turning to thunderstorms later in the week. There will be stage previews with up-to-date info every day.