Chris Froome‘s commanding victory at the Criterium du Dauphine confirmed his status as the favourite for next month’s Tour de France. It was Sky’s third win in successive years and their second one-two as Richie Porte took the runner-up spot. They also won the best team award. After a final stage shake-up on general classification, Daniel Moreno rounded out the podium.
David Veilleux (Europcar) took the biggest win of his career with his first ever WorldTour victory on the lumpy opening stage. The 25-year-old from Quebec had initiated the four-man breakaway in the opening kilometre of the 121km stage, then left behind the other three riders – Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano), Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Seche) and Ricardo Garcia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – in the last 47km to ride solo to the finish.
Most of the pre-race favourites finished the day almost two minutes behind having swept up the other breakaway riders en route. Best of the rest was runner-up Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) with Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco) just behind.
Elia Viviani (Cannondale) recorded his maiden win of the season as he outsprinted the bunch to finish well ahead of Meersman – collecting his second consecutive runner-up spot – and Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard). The last of the day’s four-man breakaway was brought back with 15km remaining, prompting a number of attacks, most notably from Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), over the summit of the final climb. But he too was swept up 2km before the line allowing Cannondale to set up Viviani. The general classification riders finished safely in the peloton along with race leader Veilleux.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) held off the challenge of Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Meersman in the sprint finish in Tarare on stage three. The day’s four-man break was reeled in one by one, heralding a flurry of attacks on the final climb, the Col des Sauvages. But the 26-year-old Norwegian national champion was shepherded by his Sky teammates who, having seen off the late attacks of Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) and Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS), dropped him off in position to take his 65th career victory and his biggest of this season.
World champion Tony Martin (OPQS) won stage four’s 32.5km individual time trial, while runner-up Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) assumed the overall race lead. The German started mid-way down the order and rode the flat parcours in 36:54 despite recently suffering from tummy troubles and admitting he wasn’t at 100%.
Chris Froome (Sky), the best-placed of the overall race favourites, finished third, 53 seconds back leaving him second on GC, just five seconds behind Dennis. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) put in a surprisingly laboured performance and was passed by his two-minute man Richie Porte (Sky).
The following day Froome powered across the line to victory and into the race lead on the summit finish in Valmorel. Contador had launched a trademark attack within the final 2km of the short 139km stage, to which the 28-year old Briton responded. He overhauled and dropped Contador, catching the final member of the day’s 15-man breakaway – Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard) -heartbreakingly close to the line, as did Contador, who finished runner-up four seconds back.
Sky took control at the foot of the last 12.7km climb with their relentless metronomic pace, picking up the break one by one and shelling riders out the back in twos and threes to whittle the leading group down to around a dozen. Froome moved into the overall lead, 52 seconds ahead of teammate Porte, with former leader Dennis slipping to third another two seconds back.
Stage six saw Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) outfox his three breakaway companions to take his first victory of the 2013 season ahead of Jose Herrada (Movistar) and the Astana duo of Kevin Seeldraeyers and Egor Silin. The foursome were the remains of an eight-man breakaway which had formed halfway through the stage and splintered on the final climb.
OPQS exhausted their resources trying to pull the break back, and Sky then took command but were content to manage the gap and save their forces for the next two tough days as Froome finished comfortably in the leading bunch, with no change at the top of the general classification.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won a two-man sprint with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on the queen stage which finished atop Superdevoluy to take a much sought and emotional victory, his first of the season. The stage, which ascended the famous 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez, saw an early 22-rider break go away. The last two survivors, Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) and Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) were scooped up on final major climb, the Col du Noyer.
Sanchez and Fuglsang attacked within 2km of the summit, building an advantage of around 20 seconds before the Alberto Contador-led pack took up the chase. Fuglsang was ahead going into the last 200 metres but Sanchez then lit the afterburners to surge across the line. He dedicated his triumph to young teammate and training partner Victor Cabedo who was killed in a road accident last year. Fuglsang was runner-up and Richie Porte – let off the Sky leash to consolidate his GC placing – finished third, 15 seconds back. Going into the final stage, Froome still led the overall standings ahead of Porte, with Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) moving into third.
De Marchi claimed the biggest win of his professional career on the final 152km stage to Risoul, while Chris Froome sealed overall victory and gained the psychological upper hand on his Tour de France rivals. The 27-year-old Italian was the last man standing from the day’s 24-man break and, despite the heavy rain and mist, managed to maintain his advantage on the final climb despite being pursued by the race leader and his wingman Porte.
Meanwhile, back in the leading bunch, Contador had also gone on the offensive but had been forced to throttle back and pace teammate Michael Rogers, distanced by Sky’s formidable pace-setting and who subsequently slipped from third to sixth overall. The main beneficiary of Roger’s decline was Daniel Moreno (Katusha) who moved up on to the podium.
Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) was best young rider, Thomas Damuseau (Argos-Shimano) was top dog in the mountains and Gianni Meersman (OPQS) won the points jersey.
Analysis & opinion
As Tim explained in Talking Tactics this race is an indicator of pre-Tour form and the smart money, as advised by Alex Vinokourov, should be on Chris Froome. Snapping at his heels all the way to the finish will be Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) who is coming nicely back into form despite his time trial tribulations, along with fellow Spaniards Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Vinokourov will also have been pleased to note that Jakob Fuglsang‘s fourth place here might well herald a top five placing for Astana in July.
Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) can take a well-earned rest having nailed his first win of the season and hopefully inspired the orange-clad squad to gain more victories and precious UCI points in the Tour.
The French public will have been delighted to see that their chouchou Thomas Voeckler is back and ready to go into battle, while others such as Jerome Coppel (Cofidis) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) fortunately still have a couple of weeks to go before hitting their stride. Others will have been merely hoping to impress team management with a view to staking their claim for a place on their team’s Tour squad. While eyes now turn to the Tour de Suisse, we’re all just waiting for the battle to commence on the beautiful island of Corsica.
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 29:28:46
2. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:58
3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +2:12
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +2:18
5. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) +2:20
6. Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) +3:08
7. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +3:12
8. Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp) +3:24
9. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +4:25
10. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +4:27