Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 1 Preview

A sprint stage but with few sprinters present a chance for the breakaway.

The Route: 100% Saint-Pourçain as the stage starts and finish in the town of Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule and has a finishing loop based around the town.

A flurry of early climbs means some will target the breakaway hoping to take the mountains jersey and if only for day it’s a prize and a photo opportunity. A likely sprint finish but there’s 2,000m of vertical gain today to sap the sprinters. What’s also tiring is the use of départmentale roads today, small secondary roads that are often narrow.

The Finish: a four kilometre long finishing straight and flat into town and wider. Today’s finishing loop is the same as Paris-Nice used in 2015 but the finish line is earlier, there’s no rise up to the line.

The Contenders: a sprint at first glance. But if you like romantic notions (or force fed Wikipedia-grade symbolism) then today’s finish town of Saint-Pourçain is named after a freed slave so the breakaway can slip the peloton’s yoke. If you like stats or just anecdotes the Dauphiné opener can go to the breakaway in recent years and today’s lumpy course on small roads suits escapees and there are not many sprinters with dedicated teams here. Only a handful of teams will want a sprint and they might hedge their bets by having a rider up the road in case too.

Sam Bennett (Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale) is the obvious sprinter, a form pick after repeat wins in the Six Four Days of Dunkerque but he didn’t face any star sprinters. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) isn’t a sprinter but can win, especially on a hilly course and he’s got Alex Kirsch for the leadout. Casper Pedersen (Soudal-Quickstep) can win a sprint from time to time. Milan Menten (Lotto-Dstny) is another sprinter but a rare winner and by now we’re into teams that might fancy placing a rider in the breakaway, likewise Hugo Page (Intermarché-Wanty), Blake Quick (Jayco) and Jensen Plowright (Alpecin-Deceuncink).

Breakaway picks are more a lottery for the right move. Oier Lazkano (Movistar), Andreas Leknessund (Uno-X), Harry Sweeney (EF) and Kobe Goosens (Intermarché-Wanty) are among the archetypal picks but spin that wheel-of-fortune for more choices.

Bennett, M Pedersen
C Pedersen, Menten, Quick, Plowright, Page

Weather: a cool 16°C and a good chance of rain.

TV: KM0 is at 12.35 and the finish is forecast for 4.45pm CEST.

Postcard from Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule
Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule is small town, pleasant but just not famous for much, if pushed it’s probably known for wine in France but among oenophiles rather than famous. Paris-Nice has had a finish here when Michael Matthews won the sprint here in 2015 and the Tour de France started here before too. It’s a long way from the Dauphiné.

The Critérium du Dauphiné gets its name from Le Dauphiné libéré, a newspaper formed in the post-war years whose title evokes both the post-war liberation and its area. The Dauphiné, a historic kingdom or principality in the Alps which, to simplify, maps onto the Isère department around the city of Grenoble.

One of the founders of the newspaper was Georges Cazeneuve and like many others he decided a bike race would make a great promotional tool. But unlike many other print promoters he had his idea later, at least in 1947. It seemed to work though, the paper and race both helped each other and Le Dauphiné libéré saw off competition from two other nascent newsletters to become the regional newspaper of the Alps. Remember in France the local newspapers often outsell the national ones: the Dauphiné has a bigger print run than Le Monde.

In 2010 Tour de France organisers ASO took over the race from the newspaper and renamed it the Critérium du Dauphiné. Chopping the libéré name from the title made sense as the newspaper has nothing to do with the race.

Should the Dauphiné name be kept? It’s clearly no longer a race in and around the Dauphiné. Saint-Pourçain is a long way from the Dauphiné and its capital Grenoble. It’s closer to, say, Poitiers, Tours or Orléans. The Sioule river’s water makes it way to Loire and the Atlantic rather than the Rhone and the Mediterranean. It’s really become the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tour, perhaps it’s a matter of time until it’s rebranded as the Aura Tour?

14 thoughts on “Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 1 Preview”

    • I completely overlooked this clever bit of wordplay at first glance, so thank you for calling attention to it! One of a thousand reasons why reading this blog is such a delight.

  1. I am wondering what colour paper Le Dauphiné Libéré was printed on … or was white more or less standard post war.

  2. A long time ago Edvald Boasson Hagen used to win these early stages in the Dauphiné. He is on the startlist but his transition to one of the most anonymous and invisible of water carriers is remarkable. Are there parallels in the proffesional peleton?

      • He might not be visible in the results but he brings experience for a team with a lot of young riders and by several accounts is happy to share. He’s probably just what Ag2r needed for a young team trying to build a sprint train for Bennett too.

  3. Tomorrow’s stage should hopefully prove a little more exciting and interesting. It is difficult to understand why organizers choose such dull stages, unless you follow the money!

  4. Why can’t they just do a normal prologue, so we can start with seeing some GC action and seeing all the riders one by one?

    • No eight day stage race should be allowed to inflict two time trial stages on us. The Tour of Romandie serves as proof that this is too much.

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