The route for the 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné has been presented today, a ray of summer sunshine amid the clouds, mud and crosswinds that dominate the sport right now. The Dauphiné is a race that’s often seen in the shadow of the Tour de France because it borrow some of the same roads and also because it’s a dress rehearsal for July but this is always a good race in its own right, think Chris Froome’s final stage overhaul of Tejay van Garderen in last year or Andrew Talansky’s tactical masterpiece the year before. Here’s a closer look at this year’s route and more.
Things start with a novelty, an uphill prologue above the ski resort of Les Gets with 3.9km at an average of 9.7% but as the profile shows it’s got some much steeper sections. It’s novel to use such steep roads but not unique, you might remember the 2013 Tour de Romandie where Chris Froome beat Andrew Talansky in the 7.5km prologue, uphill but not as steep.
Stage 1 is for the sprinters as the race rides away from the Alps to the plains of the Ain for a likely sprint finish in St. Vulbas.
Stage 2 sees a ski station finish in Chalmazel but this isn’t a high altitude Alpine variety but a gentler arrival on the slopes of the Massif Central below the Col du Béal, where Chris Froome and Alberto Contador traded attacks in 2014. The exact location of the finish line isn’t clear yet but the approach roads are in the order of 4-5%.
Stage 3 has the riders heading for the Rhone valley and if the race goes above 1,000m above sea level it’s via some gentle, gradual climbs. There’s a sting in the tail, the race drops down to the Rhone before taking the climb to Sécheras, 3km at 7% and enough to eject many sprinters especially as there’s a false flat that goes on after the climb. A sprinter or two could hold on but only if they’re in peak condition for the summer.
Stage 4 is flat and for the sprinters with a finishing circuit around Belley, birthplace of Etixx-QS’s Maxime Bouet.
Stage 5 will matter to the overall classification with the summit finish in the ski station of Vaujany. It’d also be a good ride on its own as it takes the balcony road below the Belledonne mountains before dropping to Vizille and then taking the sapping valley road to Allemont. Vaujany is a short spin away from Alpe d’Huez and small village and ski station with a steep climb that’s got sustained sections of 8-10% and the finish is in the village rather than further up the road.
Stage 6 is the Queen Stage. It opens with the Col de Champ Laurent, an unsung but rewarding climb that’s steep but mercifully shaded for most of the way up if the sun is shining before heading onto the Grand Cucheron, passing the spot where David Moncoutié crashed out of the Tour de France and ended his career. The Madeleine is worthy of its HC status and many a rider will try to get in the breakaway here in order to win the mountains competition points on offer in the first hal before the long descent into the Tarentaise valley. After the balcony climb to Les Frasses the climb to the swanky ski town of Méribel is almost the easiest part of the day as after a 7% start it relaxes to 5-6% for most of the way.
- Queen stage? a term applied to the biggest and most important stage of a race. It’s from the French, étape reine which is literally “queen stage”. The noun étape is feminine so has the matching feminine adjective or adjectival ending, reine meaning queen rather than roi or king. Normally in English it would be “King Stage” but the more literal translation seems to have been copied across. There’s no obvious royal connection, just something to suggest importance, size and perhaps the power to shape the GC or even crown the winner.
Finally Stage 7 is similar to the penultimate stage of the 2013 Dauphiné sharing the same start and finish although that included the Alpe d’Huez and Col de Sarenne recon in a nod to that year’s Tour de France route. This time it’s a more obvious route via a series of climbs before the breathtaking, in both senses, Col du Noyer (11.3km at 7.2% but with 10-11% percent kilometres near the top) and then the shorter climb to Superdévoluy, 4km at 5.7%.
One for the climbers. There’s only one time trial and that’s the uphill prologue with its double-digit gradients. But the other mountainous days have some steady climbs, the race never crosses above the 2,000m altitude and this might open the door to a wider cast of characters and maybe some different tactics. Certainly the race has seen some entrepreneurial moves in recent years, think Andrew Talansky’s 2014 win or last year’s deluged stage across the Vercors plateau where the GC riders like Vincenzo Nibali, Tejay van Garderen and Rui Costa were attacking on the first climb, this was one of the highlights of the year. It’s possible again, especially given the mountain stages are short with distances of under 150 km. The route offers a couple of chances for the sprinters, especially if they can cope with a hill or two, think Nacer Bouhanni or John Degenkolb.
Dauphiné vs. Switzerland
This race overlaps with the Tour de Suisse, the final weekend of the Dauphiné is the opening weekend of Suisse. Even if they didn’t clash most riders would opt for one or the other rather than combine both as one week’s racing is enough for those aiming for for the Tour de France. What’s new is that the Velon group of teams has its deal with the Infront sports agency, co-owners of the Tour de Suisse and they’ve announced a revenue sharing deal this week between the Swiss race and the cartel of teams, the idea being that the teams commit to send big name riders to Switzerland in order to try and make the race more valuable and therefore create more revenue to share. It’s a long term project given broadcast deals are multi-year and TV channels will watch and wait to see if it’s worth paying a premium for the Swiss race before renewing. But the immediate effect could see Velon member teams sending their better riders to Switzerland instead. We’ll see though as cyclingnews.com says “Froome and Contador set to clash” adding van Garderen is expected to start too, all ride for Velon members. Certainly the Dauphiné has been a pre-Tour ritual for these three in recent years they’ll need to balance earning income for their team managers with their sporting preparation before July. On sporting terms Suisse might be preferable for some because it contains an 18km time trial, a vital exercise given the Tour de France has two time trials for a change. Fortunately cycling fans don’t have to chose, they’re spoilt by two weeks of the finest Alpine racing possible.