The Moment The Race Was Won: The Dauphiné

Chris Froome rides to third place on Stage 4, a 32km time trial. The ride left him five seconds off the yellow jersey taken by the impressive Rohan Dennis but Froome well clear of his rivals for the overall, with 1.25 on Michael Rogers and then more on the likes of Dani Moreno and Alberto Contador. This was the moment the race was won.

Over the following days Froome won a stage, took the race lead, put time into his rivals and even helped team mate and friend Richie Porte secure second place overall. It was a mixed race with a variety of stages but an inevitable conclusion.

The race had several short stages, in part a new formula from ASO but also the fault of a tennis tournament in Paris which meant the TV schedule imposed stage finishes in the early afternoon. The opening stage saw David Veilleux do the ride of his life, going solo to hold off the bunch by some margin to the stage finish in Switzerland whilst the climbing was enough to force a selection with about 70 riders.

But perhaps tennis can teach us something? Because when Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal hit a ball it’s all about the path to winning the tournament rather than what it means for July and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. But in cycling a lot of the action is seen in the light of the Tour de France, a win in the June is parsed and extrapolated into July. Veilleux won and initial praise was a lead out to interrogation: will the Canadian ride the Tour de France? This forward-looking aspect is inescapable for now and you’ll find projections for July below too.

Stage by Stage
Stage 2 saw Elia Viviani strike, a hilly route didn’t make the win look obvious but the day’s early break was left dangling and the Italian profited from the steady state on the climbs and the Giro in his legs. He’s a very fast rider whose track background gives him a fierce acceleration and the stage win showed greater athletic ability. The next stage saw another sprint where Edvald Boasson Hagen won, in part thanks to support from Geraint Thomas who was quietly impressive all week.

Time Trial
Then came the time trial stage. Held in a bird park it was fitting that a Martin won. Tony Martin’s crushing win seemed to echo across the Alps, did it scare Fabian Cancellara from starting the Tour de France? The stage was also a test ahead of the Tour de France because Stage 11 features a similar course.

It’s school exam season right now in France and L’Equipe wrote that Froome passed the test with a high mark. Meanwhile Contador has got some revision to do but is there time for him to cram in the form? He blamed allergies, perhaps he was allergic to saddle as he was shifting position even more often than usual? We got other lessons, notably Richie Porte who is surely a podium contender for the Tour de France.

Into the mountains and Froome was just five seconds off Rohan Dennis and won the stage finishing in Valmorel. It’s here we see the difference with Wiggins, Froome is a superior climber and able to win road stages and demonstrate his victory salute. But from here on the overall result looked inevitable. We got the Voeckler show only instead of toying with prey, he crushed them in the sprint for a change. In the remaining stages the yellow jersey was unchallenged and we saw Froome and Contador tasked with trying to help their team mates, Froome was so at ease when climbing he could try to get a stage win for Porte whilst Contador aimed to get Mick Rogers a podium finish.

Has Froome peaked too soon?
Form is an elusive thing. Stage 2 finished in Oyonnax, a place renamed Bionnas for the book 325,000 francs by Roger Vaillant which contains this quote:

“For the athlete to be “in form”, fat and lymph, everything that weighs you down, has to be transformed into air and muscle.”

The problem is not so much the transformation but the maintenance. Tradition said winning the Dauphiné was wrong if you wanted to take the Tour de France. Wiggins’s success last year changed this but only a few have managed the Dauphiné-Tour double. Physiologically it’s possible to hold form, especially as the mental flow sees the Dauphiné as a step onto something more, a chain that goes from the Tour of Oman to Romandie. Along the way Froome is also learning leadership and how to deal with the media and he’s got the likes of L’Equipe eating out of his hand, here’s an excerpt from Monday’s post-race coverage:

“Chris Froome but something fresh during the week. With a new freedom of tone, a good dose of humour and straight talking without limits he’s been able to build the foundation of his image for the weeks to come, that of a “ordinary champion”…
…We’re far from the arrogance shown by Bradley Wiggins, even the head of media at Team Sky seemed a little disconcerted by the ease with which Chris Froome replied to trick questions”

By contrast a set-back now is hard to overcome; you wonder how much Alberto Contador will be on his time trial bike in the coming weeks. Regrettably neither rider will do their national championships.

The Sky Train
Ever been to the cinema and halfway through the action you remember “the good guy always wins” and the suspense is punctured? Ever had a friend spoil the ending of a book? The same feeling is there with the black and blue jerseys of Team Sky in the mountains as we look forward to the Tour de France. Their pace-setting discourages attacks, we saw moves by the likes of Alejandro Valverde extinguished and the worry is they’ll asphyxiate the race like they did last summer.

But hope dies last and if you want things to look forward to then Samuel Sanchez was able to ride away on Saturday and he wasn’t given a free pass as Sky were trying to position Richie Porte for the win. The same on the final stage, with Froome in particular trying to pace Porte… but from nowhere Andrew Talansky emerged from the fog. Perhaps he had a degree of freshness after illness forced him to ease back during the week but that’s not sure. Either way he found plenty of power but the 24 year old was outshine by a younger team mate.

Was Rohan Dennis the revelation of the race? The South Australian wins the White Jersey, was second in the 33km time trial, held yellow for a day and finished in the top-10, not bad for a neo-pro who’s just turned 23. I put the question because he was in the top-10 of the final time trial in the Tour de Romandie and was third in the time trial Stage of the Tour of California and eleventh on Mount Diablo. So if Dennis shone, he was confirming rather than revealing.

Semantics aside, he has been tipped for big things but this happens to many, confirming it is another thing although this time last year Wilco Kelderman burst onto the scene and the Dutchman has been solid this year but discreet. Dennis comes across as an intelligent rider. This interview from last year is well-worth listening – although it’s long and you might want to download and save for another day.

Whilst Dennis’s career is on an upwards trajectory others can probably feel the pull of gravity. Should BMC Racing pick Thor Hushovd for the Tour de France? The Norwegian entered the race with cheery talk of weight loss and recovered form but he was dropped on some of the stages that should have suited him and his best result was fifth on one day. He’s often been excellent in the Tour de France and there’s time to come good but the team needs every help possible for Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen.

More certain is that Lampre-Merida haven’t had a good race. The team finished with four riders. A World Tour team, they still have a big focus on Italy so after the Giro this was never a proritity. They won just €300 in prize money all week, the same sum for to Vacansoleil-DCM and Lotto-Belisol although we saw more of them with the likes of Thomas de Gendt and the impressively aggressive Tim Wellens. However they had big problems with Lieuwe Westra and Jurgen Van den Broeck respectively.

A mention for Thomas Damuseau of Argos-Shimano who won the mountains competition after a very active race, getting the break five times during seven road stages. Ironically the Dutch team poached him from Ag2r’s development team. Perhaps he’d never have started this race if he’d joined Ag2r as they had to sit out the race with a self-imposed suspension?

Look who is smiling

Extrapolate to July
L’Equipe ran a “duel” caption all week to show illustrate the relative positions of Alberto Contador and Chris Froome but it became redundant after the time trial stage. At this rate they can invent a ticker to count down the days until Froome celebrates on the Champs Elysées?

Only Froome’s status should be a worry. Yes he won in the time trials, in the mountains and had no problems with positioning, descending or the bad weather either. But he’s only a puncture, crash or virus away from seeing the best plans evaporate and his team will be expected to do all the work in the Tour. Plus the Tour will be something else, a look at the Tour of Switzerland shows the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Thibaut Pinot are ready and beyond Cadel Evans and Nairo Quintana will make the July a far more complicated story. All that’s certain for now is that Chris Froome has won the Critérium du Dauphiné and that there’s plenty more racing to come.

44 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: The Dauphiné”

  1. Whilst it must surely be said that Froome is the favourite to win the Tour this year, especially given the way Sky were able to help Wiggins maintain his form throughout the build-up last time around, something about it makes me hope he doesn’t.

    I’m not sure if it is the slightly subversive view which was publicised during last year’s Tour by his girlfriend – and of course who is to say if this was even shared by the man himself – or whether it is simply a desire to see a revolt against the Sky mountain train, but even as a Brit I feel compelled to support any rider who tries to disrupt the status quo this July.

    I acknowledge that this is a personal view and is out there to be challenged, but naive as it may sound maybe I just like a bit more romance to my bike racing than Sky has to offer!

    • …and if Froome wore a different jersey you’d support him?

      Personally I believe a win is Froome’s just reward for toeing the party line.

      However, despite the pots of media generated cash that the team’s benefactor bring, I think it could not be long before Sky run out of competitive rewards to satisfy the supporting cast. Sky may end up a victim of their own success, particularly if there is enough sponsor money around to lure the “uberdomestiques” away to other teams.

      To that end, I believe the worst possible outcome for the long term prospects of Team Sky is a TDF with no drug busts and an economic upturn. Those things will act most quickly to tear this ship apart.

      • They’d kept riders better than HTC highroad could. Maybe they couldn’t (& probably shouldn’t) keep the likes of Froome or Porte throughout their career, I’d see them attracting plenty of young talents with the best willing to stay with the team to become a top GT contender.

        • HTC had a far far smaller budget though. Stapleton looked to recruit young potential talents precisely because he couldn’t afford to keep a large number of superstars on his books and it was a more economic way of getting wins.

      • @Mendip 5000 – Well that is where I’m not sure, as I can’t really work out if take issue with the rider or the team. I’d like to say just the team but there is a relationship between the two which seems to place them on the same side, whereas some of the other Sky riders seem to be more individual. Even Porte, who seems to manage to toe the party line and remain above any PR controversy.

        I guess for me the question boils down to this: Would a Froome win be a victory for the best rider or the best team? And if the latter, is this the way we want Pro racing to be going?

    • The difference in this case Mr Anonymous may be that instead of Sky tempo riding up every climb to deliver Wiggins in the bunch, this time the tempo ride might lead to Froome attacks. He’s much better to watch in the hills than Sir Brad, so the hope is that this years race will see him on the attack and not restrained on a leash again.

      It will also be interesting to see how the other teams counteract Sky’s tactics and whether any alliances are formed between the other top contenders (a Spanish assault, perhaps?)

      • Agree with this. The other teams know what to expect and should be coming up with tactics to disrupt the train. I think there will be more riders with cards to play this year too.

        With (hopefully) cleaner riding i think we’re seeing a different pattern to hilly stages, where a lot of the action comes in the final 2k rather than superhuman 10-15k 2 up pursuits. If it wasn’t Sky at the front, it would be someone else.

        • If Sky’s grand tour squad are developing more power than their competitors, then there’s no surprises coming for the TDF. There’s nothing to do for other riders but target other goals.

          The worry of Sky riders maintaining form into the TdF wasn’t a problem in 2012 where Sky riders maintained peloton-crushing form before, during and after the TdF all the way into the Olympics. A display of power over months(!) never seen before.

          The centennial TdF looks like it will be pretty boring once things settle down in the second week.

  2. Froome is a class act at the moment. Explosive, good descender, good race brain, excellent against the watch, unpredictable and with a style that always makes him appear to be on or over the limit. On top of these qualities he always comes across in the media well. What is not to like ?
    SKY management should however be a little concerned about the lack of bodies in the last ten kilometers of all the Dauphine climbs. Just one reliable support rider at this point, for three full weeks is a big ask. Other teams have extra riders completing in Switzerland. After the Giro the SKY cupboard looks a little bare. Cataldo, Heneo and Urran may possibly have come out of the Giro with good form, time will tell if any of them make the Tour team.

  3. Contador’s seasonal allergies at Dauphiné time are established at least as far back as 2010, when he was unable to overhaul Jani Brajkovic.

    I very much hope that he and/or other riders can upset the Black and Blues. Another July of Sky sounds very, very, boring.

  4. Will wonders never cease?…..last year wiggo held incredible form all year. This year it is froomey’s turn, and, to boot, Porte is now a top flight gt contender.

    I’ll have what they’re having, please.

    • Porte has always been a contender!He came 7th in his first Giro d’Italia with Saxobank. In 2010 he came 4th in the World ITT championships, just 7 seconds behind Tony Martin!

      Clearly Sky must have been doping him for two years before he joined their team!

      • Not all things are equal – Dave B was particular vocal about the mix in Team Sky between the up-and-coming riders and seasoned professionals. I think it was CycleSport who published the interview.article back in 2011 – they produced their own version of the Dave B curve that he talked out, I recall both Porte and Froome being marked in the natural positions…

        • Thinking back, I’m not sure Porte’s 7th on the Giro really reflects the rider he is now either? As I recall, he was loosing minutes on the biggest mountain stages and finishing in the same group as his domestique – he was working hard to control his time losses. I don’t think way he rode the mountains in the 2012 TdF wasn’t in the same vein?

          Porte was certainly a big talent in Saxo days (and the SKY curve highlighted that), but I think he’s improved by a large margin as well. Froome was a Pro-Conti contender (from the SKY curve) and he’s eclipsed everyone’s expectations/predictions…

          • A Neo-pro rider getting better in future years? Blimey, next you’ll be telling me all those coaches on professional teams do more than just twiddle their thumbs…

          • Mike – A neo-pro? Froome? He was someway beyond being a neo-pro when he was hired by SKY. I just find it interesting, that given the resources SKY deploy in recruitment and how they claimed to have transformed how to recruit personnel, that he seems to have been a bit more than a ‘late-bloomer’….

          • You referred to two riders. You referred initially, and mostly, to Porte. I assumed you knew that Porte’s 7th on the Giro came when he was a neo-pro, and so it would be obvious that that’s whom I was referring to.

      • And now he’s going to place in the top 2 in the TdF. Totally normal, considering he made the Giro top 10 by being in a breakaway.

        Every time we have seen a dominant team in cycling, that team has proven suspect. Remember that.

        • Doubter – every dominant team has been suspect? Are you including the 1985 La Vie Claire team that took first and second, and four riders in the top seven, despite spending half the time fighting each other?

          Do you have any reason to doubt 1985 La Vie Claire other than circular logic – all dominant teams are suspect, La Vie Claire are suspect because they were dominant…

          • Fair point – La Vie Claire has 3 men in the top 10, but it’s probably fair to say that was a different era entirely. A bit of cortisone use, stimulants and dabbling with steroids doesn’t create the transformations that have been seen in the last 20 years, with average riders becoming GC contenders.

            It concerns me when I see riders being benchmarked by their own management as pro-conti contenders, becoming a favourite for le tour in a 2 year window? That’s quite a transformation and history doesn’t cast a favourable shadow on transformations. Even Kohl & Schumacher were winning bigger races before he suddenly ‘got good’…and how we derided them…

          • Are you really questioning the statement because you can find one team that hasn’t been PROVEN to have doped (even though this was apparently prior to the EPO wave)?

            If it works better for, rather than chase your straw man, let’s say “every team since la vie Claire”. Do you have an alternate logical fallacy to expound?

  5. Small thing – Rohan Dennis is from South Australia. Us West Australians wouldn’t mind claiming him for our fold though!
    Thanks for the great coverage of the Dauphine and look forward to more of the same with the Tour.

  6. Jep! Rohan Dennis is from Adelaide and was racing club races here only two years ago. Incredible to see him matching it with Froome & Contadore just a few years later.

  7. There were some interesting comments last year – can’t credit the original commentators, perhaps the Eurosport Cycling Podcast/Velocast dudes, I don’t know – about the possibility of the lack of Dauphine-Tour doubles in the past being the fact that they weren’t all doped up to the max for the Dauphine and then they went away in the absence of out-of-competition testing and “prepared” for the Tour, leading to different outcomes later in the TDF. I don’t know if that’s what it was but it seems to fit with Armstrong’s admission that most of his doping was done away from races in preparation.

    • A decade ago you saw riders drain off blood during the Dauphiné. You’d see them do a test in a mountain stage or particularly the time trial mid-race and they’d look good for race overall… only to finish way down on the following stages after becoming very weak. Several biographies and confessions have stated this. For an example see 2006 when Landis was second in the time trial stage but lost 10 minutes on Mont Ventoux, 20 minutes on another mountain stage and so on, he went from time trial power to nothing… and then “won” the Tour de France.

  8. Just a notion: A little word on Fuglsang, perhaps? Did no one think it was a bit suprising to see him ending up only two sconds from the podium?
    I would’ve guessed him a top 10 finisher at best..

    • Not really. Fuglsang has always been a decent climber and tester. He’s out of the shadow of teh Schlecks this year and should be improving like this. Add in the fact that Contador had a bad day, Rodriguez punctured on a key mountain stage and Valverde was testing himself ona few climbs, and you can see why the likes of Moreno, Rogers and Fuglsang managed to ‘sneak’ into the top 5.

  9. Froome is on new territory here. It’s the first time that he will go to a GT with it being the big goal of the season for him. It will also be the first where he’ll have this much pressure on his shoulders. So we don’t know yet how he’ll cope with it.

  10. Hi The Inner Ring and other cycling friends,
    Firstly, thanks for a detailed report by inrng, I deeply appreciate that. As a new comer to the cycling world, I would like to ask a (superficial…may be) question. we can see both Rohan Dennis and Andrew Talansky performed well in this race, they are talanted and young riders. Will this situation place the team manager(sportif directur? if wrong please correct me~~) in a dilemma? Who will go to TdF? And who will compete for the title(white jersy may be?) Or there will be other arrangement?

    As a greenhorn, I look forward to all of you to share your views with me. Let’s enjoy cycling~

    • Talansky is young but has ridden the Vuelta and more races, he is a lot more experienced than Dennis. So no real dilemma here, Dennis might ride the Tour de France but only so he can do the first week for experience and provide valuable power for the team time trial.

  11. peter kennaugh rode the tempo on risoul after climbing le col de vars, as he did all the week long. really a rare performance. impressive.

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