A winning moment? The team time trial gave Geraint Thomas a big cushion of a lead, almost a hammock to swing in but he confirmed as soon as the race reached the mountains that he could rival the pure climbers, including at Valmorel where he jumped away once the road flattened out take time on Adam Yates and Romain Bardet, his principal rivals and again at La Rosière, taking time and time bonuses.
The prologue set the tone for things to come with Team Sky dominating the stage, Thomas might have won were it not for his crash and it looked obvious Sky would win the team time trial and by some margin, to be expected given the wage bill of their starting eight riders exceeds the annual budget of entire teams in the same race.
The race didn’t offer much for the sprinters. Pascal Ackermann took the stage to Belleville to add to the options Bora-Hansgrohe enjoy with Sagan and Bennett while Emanuel Buchmann had a great race too, climbing with the best and not far off a stage win and it’ll be interesting to see him
linking up with Rafał Majka in July in the Vuelta next.
Julian Alaphilippe won in the Vercors, the short final climb allowed him to use his explosive jump to get the better of Dan Martin, Geraint Thomas and Romain Bardet who would prove to be the three best climbers in the race. It was a good win by Alaphilippe, as his aggressive but fruitless Paris-Nice taught him to wait more. But he’s still challenged by the longer Alpine climbs, as is team mate Bob Jungels.
Dan Martin won at Valmorel in his familiar style, pedalling like a chicken pecking at invisible trail of corn laid along the road. It might ungainly but the galline style works and his season is back on track after a difficult start for him and his team. Even if UAE bring bigger engines to the Tour de France they’ll likely lose time in the Stage 3 team time trial leaving Martin with space for more attacks and stage wins rather than a direct challenger for the overall.
Pello Bilbao won at La Rosière in the Tour de France copycat stage and the final climb worked out just right for him, not so steep as he had to use a small gear and he powered up the climb. Geraint Thomas did the same in the final metres to take more time. The next day though Thomas found the climb to Le Bettex a little harder when Bardet and Adam Yates distanced him: was this climb too long and steep or was he paying for his chase after a puncture on the descent of the Col des Saisies? Either way it wasn’t an invincible performance even if he still took time and time bonuses on two of the three Alpine stages. Yates won the final stage with a late attack to surpass Dani Navarro in the final metres, a blow for Cofidis but the team is looking refreshed under new management.
Many races get seen in the light of another event: we watch the Tour of the Alps for clues about the Giro; the E3 Harelbeke for the Tour of Flanders and so on. It can mean denying the pleasure of the moment, stopping us from enjoying the action because instead we wonder what it signifies about events to come. Yet the Dauphiné cultivates such extrapolation. It copies stages like the one to La Rosière and mimics others, notably the 35km team time trial, the same distance as Stage 3’s TTT around Cholet.
Inevitably the first question is what next for Thomas. The Dauphin in France has long meant the crown prince and a label applied to a junior hoping to take over the top job. Is Thomas Froome’s dauphin? Winning the Dauphiné is necessary but not sufficient, we know he can win one week stage races as he’s won Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Alps among others. The question is how he can cope over three weeks, whether by misfortune or mistake he’s yet to finish a grand tour as a contender, his best career performances in a three week race are two fifteenth places in the Tour de France. These were achieved riding in support so with a team behind him he should be able to move up. Still he’s 32 and Sky are already looking to the future with Egan Bernal, Pavel Sivakov and more.
One big hope delivering is Tao Geoghegan Hart. The team were a big help to Thomas, he had a large cushion to recline on after the team time trial and initially surrounded by Michał Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon who each wore the yellow jersey midweek. Geoghegan Hart had an enormous week and hopefully by now people can learn to say his name… although many still struggle to say Kwiatkowski. TGH was invaluable in the mountains for Thomas, just out of the U23 bracket but already looking first division material, both on the bike and off it, always capable in an interview and now on an Alpine ascent.
Another big helper was Pierre Latour, winner of the best young rider competition almost by accident after spending much of the Alpine stages opening the road for Romain Bardet. Latour’s lumberjack style looks like he’ll implode any minute but he was riding at the front late into the stages. Like TGH he’s promising and an intelligent and amusing personality.
Latour led the charge for Bardet who had a good race, finishing on the podium as expected but handicapped as ever by the time trialling. But this was an improvement on last year in the Dauphiné where he lost beaucoup time in the 23km TT to Bourgoin Jallieu and visibly taking the wrong trajectories. It was a good week for Bardet and Ag2r La Mondiale but still left him and them without a result – along with Dimension Data and EF-Drapac they’ve yet to win a World Tour race this year – although they’ll sign for this because perhaps Bardet could have taken a summit finish if he was, say, as far down as Dan Martin.
Adam Yates was second overall and took a stage win, everything is on track for him and Mitchelton-Scott although unlike Simon he’ll have to share a team with sprinter Caleb Ewan which means a different allocation of resources but he fared just fine.
Among those with work to to Vincenzo Nibali stands out. There’s time for him. He was out of the picture in the 2014 Dauphiné but still top-10 in the mountains and overall, he’s was much further down this week and in a race with less competition. Ilnur Zakarin too was thereabouts but in the past has matched Nairo Quintana in summit finishes at the Tour de Romandie. Jungels was cited above, he’s still working on becoming a grand tour contender but was dropped from the front group on the more gradual ascents. Warren Barguil had a bad time of things too but told French TV he hasn’t been to the mountains yet so while others camp atop Teide for weeks he came to the Dauphiné to work on his mountain pedal stroke and looked better by the end of the week leaving him and his team more optimistic for July. Marc Soler didn’t deliver a result but was aggressive in the mountains, perhaps not a fourth prong for Movistar’s El Tridente but probably enough to have rivals cursing about fork this and fork that come July.
Meanwhile we’re still waiting for Gaudu, the Groupama-FDJ rider is a contemporary of Egan Bernal and possible future rival but crashed on the stage to Saint Just requiring surgery and nine stitches to his hand and presumably antibiotics so we’ll have to watch the Vuelta to see what he can do.
This year’s edition wasn’t a vintage one for suspense, the TTT took this out. The race’s attempt to offer riders and teams preparation for the Tour de France denied viewers a closer contest. In recent years this blog’s retrospective of racing would pick a stage from this race but probably not this time. Not that it was a parade nor dull, just not the edge of the seat action with the overall result in play until the final metres like last year.
Some of the big names were missing this year too. Several are now in the Tour de Suisse from where we can soon begin further extrapolations. There’s also the Route d’Occitanie (ex Route du Sud), coming up where we’ll see Alejandro Valverde in action but no Rigoberto Urán whose second place in 2017 was a clue for July. Now all roads lead to the Vendée and the start of the Tour de France and the wait begins, quite literally because after this weekend there’s a three week period with little racing beyond the 2.1 Adriatica Ionica Race and the national championships weekend.