Last year’s race was one of the best races of 2014 and coming on the back of a thrilling Giro means this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné has a lot to live up to. But all the ingredients are in place with a varied, mountainous route and startlist packed with big name contenders for the Tour de France.
In order to think about the winner, let’s first look at the route:
- Stage 1: a hilly circuit race around Albertville, home of the 1992 Winter Olympics using the lower slopes of the Col de Tamié
- Stage 2: is for the sprinters via a first category climb along the way
- Stage 3: 24km team time trial
- Stage 4: for the sprinters but with disruptive late climbs
- Stage 5: a mountain stage with the 2,250m Col d’Allos before the Pra Loup summit finish
- Stage 6: a hilly route with the Vercors plateau before the uphill finish in Villard de Lans
- Stage 7: a giant mountain stage with almost no flat and a summit finish at Le Bettex
- Stage 8: a route up the mountain valleys before the uphill climb above Modane
In summary it’s for the climbers as there’s no individual time trial. Even the sprinters’ stages have climbs and the second half of the week is one mountain stage after another. There are time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds for all stages except the TTT.
Now for the picks. It feels a lot like a stone-age cave dweller looking up at the skies: you can see plenty of stars but have no idea what it all means. Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa and others light up the startlist but who knows what shape they are in? Many coming into the Dauphiné having spent May training so there’s no form to guide expectations, at times it sounds like a summer sale as riders announce they’re “I’m at 90%”. Others come from the Giro and could be rinsed but a few will carry strength into this race.
Chris Froome is the obvious pick. Froome’s form isn’t known and he’s had a mixed season, beating Alberto Contador in Andalucia but being dropped on the climbs in the Volta a Catalunya before finishing third in the Tour de Romandie. Briefly unstoppable in stage races things went wrong this time last year when the “Crash Froome” side emerged and he’s far from the certain prospect of previous seasons, and all the more interesting for it. He’s won this race before as a stepping stone to his 2013 Tour de France win. He was giving it everything in last year’s race before an innocuous fall late on a stage left him sore and at a disadvantage. Now he can get back into winning mode again. Sky are likely to do well in the team time trial and could place a rider in yellow from Stage 2. This is almost a problem as they’re forced to defend for the rest of the week but that’s still a luxurious position. It’ll be interesting to see how the team fares as a whole too. Is Nicolas Roche playing a supporting role and can Peter Kennaugh, still 25 for a few days, show more of the promise many see in him?
Alejandro Valverde returns after a long rest. He’s a voracious rider and the only major grand tour rider who enjoys one day races. A one day race with plenty of climbing and time bonuses is well within his grasp. But as an old-school Spaniard will he want to win this race? For years riders feared peaking too soon and delivering in Dauphiné meant turning stale come July. But perhaps Valverde needs to win or at least shine because Nairo Quintana is supposed to be the Movistar leader for the Tour de France but Valverde has been making noises about joint leadership and success here could bolster his cause.
Vincenzo Nibali was off the pace a year ago but it was all part of the plan. The scenes of him being dropped on the Col du Béal while Alberto Contador and Chris Froome attacked each other looked bad but can now be rationalised as part of a plan. He’s likely to follow this but watch closely because he’s still an instinctive racer who will have a go for the fun of it. Rein Taaramäe, Michele Scarponi and Lieuwe Westra ride in support and it’ll be interesting to see their collective level.
One rider in need of a win is Joaquim Rodriguez. “Purito” is 36 now and if he’s less prolific he’s still a very active racer with the Tour of the Basque Country to his name and a podium place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Accompanied by a solid Katusha team including Giampaolo Caruso, this year’s route suits him as does the fight for time bonuses.
June rhymes with Rui Costa. He’s won the Tour de Suisse for the last three years in a row, that’s him dropping everyone on the final climb, and he’s now opted for the Dauphiné. The same again? Perhaps not as the French switch is designed with the Tour de France in mind so he’s aiming to peak later.
Andrew Talansky won the race last year after going on the attack while Froome and Contador marked each other. It was a gutsy triumph and not a lucky stroke, he was climbing with the best on the other days too. He’s coming back into form now after showing in the US Championships. “The Pitbull” can be single-minded when it comes to winning so it’ll be interesting to see the cohabitation with Cannondale-Garmin team mate Dan Martin who will find the course to his liking and the Irishman is out of contract at the end of the year and a result helps. (As ever the team seem to announce their team as last as possible so whether both start is provisional)
Tejay van Garderen needs a win soon. Groomed as America’s stage race star he’s been having a hard time cracking the final part but the BMC Racing team know his talents; he was only an energy gel away from the podium in the Tour last year. He’ll miss the absence of a solo time trial and is better over three weeks so watch to see if he on track but a strong ride here would be ideal to rally to the troops. Old man Samuel Sanchez rides and can still climb well. Rohan Dennis wants to be a GC rider and has thrived in this race before, we’ll see more in the high mountains.
Orica-Greenedge bring Simon and Adam Yates “for stage wins” but given they’re not going to be disputing the flat sprint finishes it means they’ll be fighting with the best in the mountains. Orica-Greenedge excel in the team time trials so the twins could come on the big days and even take the race with the time bonuses. Assuming one or both can string consistent results all week a result is possible.
Ag2r return with their stars of last July Jean-Christophe Péraud and Romain Bardet. Only Péraud is exactly where he was a year ago, chasing form right. Only now with the added stress of the approaching Tour de France where he’s expected to perform. Bardet is better with reports of progress and confidence but aiming for July so this might not be his race, as he said he’s “at 90-95%, like everyone else”. It’s still a race dear to the team, their service course is in the region but they’ll bomb in the team time trial. They were dire in the Tour de Romandie TTT and Bardet said this was an “alarm call” but these things take months and even years to turn around. Instead climber Alexis Vuillermoz could be their stage poacher, the ex-MTBer is improving on the road and recently won the GP Plumelec, hardly a famous race but Vuillermoz the climber bested the rest.
Where’s Wilco Kelderman? He had a great Dauphiné last year but on the back of the Giro. Now he’s coming into the Dauphiné fresh to build for the Tour. But he’s fluffed a few chances early this year.
Lotto-Soudal bring Tim Wellens. If the team are “divorcing” Jurgen Van den Broeck because he’s not supplied the results, it could also be because Wellens is a very promising rider. He won the Eneco Tour aged 23 and was second on two stages in the Giro. Paris-Nice was solid this year and he’s one to watch, an unlikely winner but a lively racer.
Trek Factory Racing’s Bauke Mollema is suited to this race given all the climbing and no need to do a time trial. His season is built around the Tour de France so watch what he does, especially in relation to the likes of Froome and Nibali.
IAM Cycling bring Mathias Frank rather than have him race the Tour de Suisse. It’s all about planning for the Tour de France and the climber is another to watch while new recruit Jarlinson Pantano should be in the mix on the hilly days.
MTN-Qhubeka’s Steve Cummings doesn’t make the headlines but he’s been consistently good in tough, hilly stage races while team mate Louis Meintjes is a promising climber.
Pierre Rolland has been targeting this race. Europcar won’t set the team time trial alight but Rolland wants a mountain stage and more. Expect a big bold breakaway later in the week.
Among a few others Cofidis’ Spanish exile Dani Navarro wants a top-10, Bora-Argon 18’s Dominic Nerz is still tipped as a German stage race hope, Jesper Hansen and Robert Kišerlovski are Tinkoff-Saxo’s leaders and will Rafael Valls prove to be that one hit wonder with his Tour of Oman mountain top win?
There are not many sprint stages and consequently there are not many sprinters. Nacer Bouhanni needs a big win after signing for Cofidis for more than a million euros but so far delivering the kind of results that must have team management wishing they were paying him in Rupiah rather than Euros. Giant-Alpecin’s Luka Mezgec rides after a quiet Giro. Lampre-Merida bring Sacha Modolo. Don’t forget Lotto-Soudal’s Kris Boeckmans, due a World Tour win.
Julian Alaphilippe is back after a short, it’s odd timing as he had a busy April and May, returns to racing here but will go away after and plan for the Vuelta later this year. Edvald Boasson Hagen is back to winning ways, he’s heavier and more sprint focussed so don’t expect mountain stage wins from his Team Sky days but he’s a good pick for Stage 1 already.
|Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali|
|Rui Costa, Joaquim Rodriguez|
|Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Bauke Mollema|
|Adam Yates, Kelderman, Wellens, Rolland, Bardet, Frank, Cummings|
TV: the stages finish at varying times with some slated for around 2.45 Euro time, others at 5.10pm. The daily preview here will let you know.
It’s an ASO race so you should find it on the same channel as you watch the Tour de France. It’s on Eurosport too and if all else fails you can rely on Cyclingfans and steephill.tv for links to feeds and streams.