The Dauphiné was Round 2 of Ineos vs Jumbo-Visma, only as we’d see, they’d cancel each other out by the final stage and leave the door open for others. Jumbo-Visma got off to strong start with Wout van Aert winning the first uphill finish. This was the notional sprint stage, a hilly day with a sharp uphill finish but nothing like the Alpine finishes to come. Van Aert showed us the difference between Ineos and Jumbo-Visma, the Dutch team going for a form of total cycling where they try to win everything, everyday while Ineos lines up behind a leader for the final overall goal.
The next day was the big summit finish on the Col de Porte, not the hardest climb in the Alps but because of this it was a battle of team mountain trains as drafting counted. Jumbo-Visma won again here, twice over: first by getting the advantage on Ineos as Thomas, Froome and Kwiatkowski grimaced; second because Primož Roglič won the stage with a decisive late attack. Davide Formolo won the next day and among the GC contenders further back again Roglič was the best. Stage 4 went to Megève but sans Egan Bernal who withdraw out of precaution with a sore back but he was spotted out training the very same morning. Lennard Kämna won from the breakaway, a triumph for him but consolation for the Bora-Hansgrohe team who lost Emanuel Buchmann in a crash that also took out Steven Kruijswijk and Roglič crashed an hour later.
Stage 5 was the final day and began with race leader Roglič a non-starter. Sore from his crash the previous day, this was another precautionary move and it felt as if Jumbo were copying Ineos once again. It left the yellow jersey orphaned and the race up for grabs on the final day, with Thibaut Pinot the best placed on GC but six riders within 30 seconds of him. Nobody waited either with attacks flying on the first ascent up the tricky Domancy climb. Now you could read a processional account of who attacked where, who was in the chasing group and how the time gaps were often so slender but no write-up would do it justice or capture the suspense, the sport further heightened by dramas such as Pavel Sivakov’s crash and Pinot literally losing his cool as he hurled a bidon to the ground. Even the highlights videos don’t work, five minutes isn’t enough. The result was Sep Kuss won the stage and Dani Martinez took the race overall but these almost feel like footnotes to the day’s action.
Adrift on the earlier stages, Tadej Pogačar had a good day. He didn’t look like a Tour contender all of a sudden but the improvement suggested a stage win or the white jersey could be a goal. Only he was more ambitious of course and on the ascendency. Perhaps if the Dauphiné had included a time trial stage we’d have been wiser?
Egan Bernal’s back injury was more consequential than it looked at the time. Dominant in the Route d’Occitanie, he was now on the receiving end of attacks and lacked the punch to beat Roglič in the daily battles for stage wins and time bonuses. Only here the injury would be his undoing in the Tour de France and we don’t what the prognosis for 2021 is.
Dani Martinez landed a big win and has left EF Education First, he had contract with them for next year but is joining Ineos instead. Did the win make him too good to miss for Ineos? Being able to expend energy at the right moments landed him this stage race win and then a prestigious Tour de France stage win, a day which was also a candidate for a highlight of the season.
Sep Kuss’s win was similar to George Bennett’s Gran Piemonte win, a domestique given their day to shine and taking their chances. But Tom Dumoulin’s ascending form here would run out in the Tour de France when he was dropped on the Peyresourde.
The loss must still sting for Pinot. His Tour de France would prove to be a disaster following a crash on the opening day but here was only a step behind Roglič and Bernal which could be a source of satisfaction, only he’s yet to win a World Tour stage race but came so close here. He didn’t have the team to contain the race and at one point got help from Alaphilippe and Warren Barguil in the chase.
Why the highlight?
Good racing from start to finish with battles on several fronts and an open contest, the race was wide open and rewarded attacks, often teams can try to lock down a race but this was uncontrollable. We had a scrap to win the stage and another behind to win the race overall and nothing was decided until the very end, it set everything up nicely for the Tour de France. The only complaint was there wasn’t live TV from start to finish.