As a pre-Tour test this was an interesting race and very different to last year.
The race started with circuits around Issoire and a win for Brent Van Moer, who in one of those stories sport happily supplies, triumphed after being sent off course only a week ago when he was alone in the lead of the Ronde van Limburg. He’d probably have been caught by the sprinters and forgotten if he’d stayed on the course… but the loss made his Dauphiné win all the better. Another day, another breakaway success as Lukas Pöstlberger won Stage 2 and took the yellow jersey but no fluke, the Austrian said he’d been targetting this very stage, even doing hill intervals in training prior the Dauphiné to match the duration of the climbs on this stage. Then third time lucky for Sonny Colbrelli who’d won the bunch sprint for two days and did so again, only now nobody was ahead of him. It was the start of a good week for the Bahrain team.
Alexey Lutsenko turned the tables in the time trial, a 1-2 for Astana with Ion Izaguirre close behind on a day when the top-10 had the riders we might have expected, just in an unexpected order with Geraint Thomas imploding in the final. Alejandro Valverde took a win in a stage almost made for him with a finish on the lower slopes of the Col de Porte, an uphill finish.
The final weekend belonged to Mark Padun, winning back to back mountain stages, first riding the peloton off his wheel to La Plagne. Yes he wasn’t a priority to chase down when he went and the GC contenders were marking each other but you can’t fluke this. Then on Sunday he went in the breakaway, won most of the mountains prizes and on the final big Joux-Plane climb he climbed faster than the Movistar and Ineos-led yellow jersey group. He says losing 4.5kg helped – reports say during an altitude camp which is a lot, but just unlikely too, more probably over the course of the spring – and thanked Jesus. His new level raised eyebrows but we’re into epistemology here as people try to look for patterns, we’ll see if he’s selected for the Tour de France but he’ll be hard to leave out now.
As editions go this was good for the breakaways but didn’t have dramatic reversal of recent editions. Last year’s final stage was a thriller and many other vintages have been too. Richie Porte has even been victim of this, in 2017 he started the final day in yellow only to get harried on the descent of the Col de la Colombière by his former team mate Chris Frome and lose ground to Jakob Fuglsang that he couldn’t recover on the final climb. Astana and Movistar attacked Porte on the descent of the Joux-Plane (or the Ran Folly descent for pedants) which did saw the Tasmanian distanced by a few lengths and then Geraint Thomas crashed on a hairpin to leave the yellow jersey isolated. Riders started to attack Porte but he covered their moves and a bedraggled but always indestructible Thomas got across and managed to set a tempo to keep a lid on things and secure the win for Porte.
A few other notes…
Jumbo-Visma bossed the race last year, the sight of the yellow train pulling on the front all day was part of the psychological yoke they imposed on the peloton in the Tour de l’Ain, then the Dauphiné and kept at the Tour. This time they way more discreet, but Jonas Vingegaard had been ill and both Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk tried some attacks. Perhaps the big question is what this means for the Tour de Franc because if Jumbo-Visma don’t tow the peloton all day then the breakaways have more chance. They can also avoid towing Tadej Pogačar around France too.
It felt like summer as Movistar looked sharper and more coherent and after a quiet Giro Astana looked more imposing again. Ineos though remain the reference point and the fascination for the Tour de France is seeing how they pit their collective force against possibly stronger individuals.
Can Richie Porte win the Tour de France? All the old lines come to mind about piecing together three weeks without a jours sans, without a handling error, without bad luck come. Plus he’s just happy with this win and will spend the Tour riding in the service of Thomas and Carapaz in return although he’s still a Plan C or D. For Thomas this was a decent Dauphiné, not the win but a bonus stage win along the way, the kind riders take when they’re on form physically and mentally, although he didn’t look as incisive on the climbs as he was in 2019.
Did Chris Froome fare better or worse than last year? He finished 47th compared to 73rd last year, but then he was a wagon in Ineos’s mountain train, this time he just wasn’t around when the pace got that high. Does he go to the Tour de France? Probably because unlike Ineos, the Israel team doesn’t have that many must-pick riders. It’s a PR challenge though, how does the “Start Up Nation” team work images of their marquee being dropped into a good news story?
Nairo Quintana had a modest time too. Back in 2012 he was an exciting and promising Colombian climber but went global with his stage win in the Dauphiné, dropping the Team Sky mountain train in rehearsal for Wiggins over the Joux-Plane. Now on the same climb he was dropped early. The Tour’s route with two time trials isn’t for him either so can he pick off a stage win that Arkéa-Samsic crave but the team finished the week with a blasting from DS Yvon Ledanois.
Wilco Keldermann had a Wilco kind of ride, consistent and close to the podium which bodes well for more of the same at the Tour. Jack Haig had a similar kind of ride too.
Is Ben O’Connor Ag2r Citroën’s best signing? Greg Van Avermaet did get a podium in the Ronde but presumably costs more. The Australian climber is going well but turning this into a win is another question. David Gaudu also had a good race, he had a big crash in Tenerife that cost him plenty of skin and several training days so came in short of racing and form and managed alright.
All eyes on the Tour de Suisse now with Carapaz, Alaphilippe, Dumoulin, Benoot, Hirschi, Schachmann, Van der Poel, Fuglsang…