The route for the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné has been presented today, a chance to project beyond the spring classics into summer. The Dauphiné is often seen in the shadow of the Tour de France because it borrows some of the same roads and acts a dress rehearsal for July, even with some copycat stages. It runs from Sunday 4 June to Sunday 11 June. Here’s a closer look at the route ahead.
Stage 1 is a hilly circuit race around the industrial city of Saint Etienne. The uphill start via the Col du Pillon sets the tone and then there’s a tricky circuit finish with a climb of 3.4km at 5.5%, enough to thwart some sprinters already.
Stage 2 looks mountainous but these are rolling roads. The race twitter account says “a bunch sprint is expected” but the sprinters will need their climbing legs given the hilly circuit in the finish where the road from Arlanc to Novacelles is a good 7km at 5%. Stage 3 is the longest stage of the week at 184km and the route will satisfy the sprinters.
Stage 4 is a short time trial on rolling roads in the countryside, ideal picnic territory for spectators. Stage 5 is the gourmet day for followers as the race heads to Macon via some famous Burgundy vineyards, notably Pouilly-Fuissé and a sprint finish is on the cards.
Stage 6 ventures into the Jura and shares the final 50km with Stage 9 of the Tour de France as with the climb of the Mont du Chat and its fast descent before the finish La Motte Servolex, home to the service course of the Ag2r La Mondiale team (in July it’s Chambéry).
Stage 7 features Alpe d’Huez only with a difference. After the stage start in Aoste (not to be confused with Aosta in Italy, but the name is exploited by a local meat factory hoping it can do just this with its “Jambon d’Aoste” label). Anyway they traverse the Chatreuse massif, the Cucheron and Porte duology rather than the famous trilogy and then proceed up the Romanche valley to the foot of Alpe d’Huez. However instead of taking the main road with its famous 21 hairpins the race will climb via the steeper Col de Sarenne, 15.3km at 6.9% but it’s got a descent mid way so the typical slope for the final kilometres is 9% or more before it reaches almost 2000m above sea level. Then comes a descent down to the famous ski resort and then onwards down towards the top of the village of Huez before climbing back up for 3.7km back to Alpe d’Huez.
They’ve saved the best for last. Stage 8 is just 115km and packed with over 4,000 metres of vertical gain. First come the picture-postcard climbs of the Col des Saisies, the Col des Aravis and the Col de la Colombière. Then comes the novelty, the climb to the Plateau de Solaison. At 11.3km and 9.2% this is a very tough climb but the stats only tell part of the story. It’s an irregular climb, more goat path than a ski station access road and all the better for it, the kind of road where the team buses will have to park at the bottom because they’d never make it up. It’s familiar to some as it was used in the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir and the top-10 that day was packed with promising climbing talent and there were big time gaps too.
The mid-race time trial makes a return only it’s of little comfort to the time trial riders who might hope to hang on in the mountains. Instead the route looks perfect for the usual suspects like Chris Froome and Richie Porte given the two big summit finishes and the tricky Mont du Chat, there’s a lot of climbs with double-digit gradients which reduces things everyone for themselves, perhaps a policy antidote to Team Sky strangling the race . The descent off the Mont du Chat might tempt others like Romain Bardet and having just watched Paris-Nice the final stage of the Dauphiné looks ideal for Alberto Contador.
Who wins isn’t just a matter of the course, it’s all dependent on participation though with the Tour de Suisse and the new Hammer race. Last year saw the Velon teams link up with the Tour de Suisse but it didn’t stop the Dauphiné getting a very strong field last year, indeed the Velon teams sent plenty of their best riders to the Dauphiné anyway. As much as financial interests are at play in the background come June and sporting interests are right in the foreground and so the timing, the route of the Dauphiné as well as habits make the Dauphiné a stepping stone to the Tour de France.