The Critérium du Dauphiné is often one of the best races of the year. Mix the start of summer with Alpine roads and a great startlist and you have all the ingredients for a great race. Crucially there’s the proximity to the Tour de France and the sense that actions and events in this race will carry through into the next month, a tale of travel rather than arrival.
Once again the week provided plenty of sport and speculation, daily action and clues about the Tour de France but the highlight was Stage 6 to the Vercors plateau.
This was supposed to be a transition stage, one of those days where a small breakaway can fight for the win while the big names sit tight ahead of the set-piece Alpine sunmit finishes. The rulebook was ripped on the day, its pages turned to pulp by the downpour on the morning. We often talk about rain “dampening spirits” but as much as it can demoralise some it enlivens others.
The day started with a maxi-breakaway packed with many big names but when it was caught things didn’t calm down. Tony Martin and Vincenzo Nibali took off and the Italian surged away doing 20km solo, madness in the early phase of a stage. He was caught but tried again, this time joined by Rui Costa, Tony Gallopin, Tony Martin and Alejandro Valverde. Behind it was too generous to talk of bunch, the group with Tejay van Garderen and Chris Froome and the other GC riders was a huddle of survivors grouped in the rain and at one point Tinkoff-Saxo started chasing but they didn’t have anyone for GC, perhaps it was just to contain rivals Astana with Nibali up the road?
Nibali had looked the strongest all day and attacked on the final climb but Rui Costa played it cool, rode across and ditched the Italian to win the stage. It was one of those days where the stage result was almost incidental. Rui Costa won but the race was turned upside down with Nibali assuming the race lead and the GC candidates coming in almost one by one.
There’s a thesis to write on why mid mountain stages are better than the high mountains. Mainly because the long mountain passes are steady, linear affairs where everyone knows they can ride to pre-determined W/kg outputs. A medium mountain stage offers ambush country, smaller roads with more climbs and descents and a greater chance to get away. It doesn’t always hold true but it did here.
Rui Costa winning and Vincenzo Nibali in yellow? It turned out to be the exception that proved the rule, two riders having a good day in a season didn’t work out for them. Rui Costa is a great rider who can hang with the best but wins come rarely while Vincenzo Nibali probably spent half of the year cautiously opening his mailbox in case a strongly-worded letter arrived from Alexandr Vinokourov.
As good as Nibali’s ride was this day he paid in cash the following day, cracking on the nasty climb of the Côte des Amerands and losing four minutes to Chris Froome. But that’s panache for you, in order to deliver impressive wins you have to lose big sometimes too otherwise it’s boring.
Simon Yates took off on the Gorge de la Bourne, a stunning road cut into cliff while Tiesj Benoot, the first year pro and revelation of the spring classics was eighth, proof of versatility and endurance
Romain Bardet crashed near the finish and said the injuries from this were a burden in the Tour de France but he still finished the race with a stage win after his amazing descent of the Col d’Allos. On Stage 7 we saw Bardet being relayed by Alexis Vuillermoz who’d win a stage of the Tour de France. Indeed looking at the race as a whole BMC Racing won the team time trial which they did in the Tour de France too, the Dauphiné win put Rohan Dennis in yellow. The opening stage saw a clever win from Peter Kennaugh and Nacer Bouhanni took two stage wins.
The last two days saw Chris Froome and Tejay van Garderen duelling, van Garderen having reclaimed the race lead after Nibali cracked but Froome was climbing faster and, helped by time bonuses, dispatched him on the final day.