A thrilling last stage saw Andrew Talansky take the Criterium du Dauphine by the scuff of the neck to end a thrilling week that set the scene for the forthcoming Tour de France.
Movers and shakers
With the Tour de France just three weeks away, the Dauphine is traditionally the biggest opportunity to see how the top guns are shaping up. What have we learnt about those with their eyes on the prize?
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), 1st overall: Tenth at the Tour last year, the 25-year-old’s form indicates that we should expect something special from him in July. His performances this week demonstrated his ability to stay with the best when it counts, while his fearless attacking showed he isn’t intimidated by any of the big names.
I’ve been impressed by his tactical awareness. He’s rarely caught out of position and has been helped by the rest of his team, most notably Ryder Hesjedal. It was genius to get both riders into the breakaway on the last stage – and decisive in terms of the overall..
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), 2nd: The Spaniard looks in sparkling form, finishing on the podium in the four races he has competed in and standing on the top step at both Tirenno-Adriatico and Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
It’s been great to see him attacking and dancing on the pedals this week, which bodes well for July. Tinkoff-Saxo brought only a half-strength team to this race, which often left Contador isolated in the mountains. We’ll see a different, stronger unit in July,
Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), 3rd: The 31-year-old Belgium has been rebuilding form after his terrible crash at the Tour last year. A brilliant ride to fourth on stage two and a place in the decisive breakaway on the final stage clinched a superb third overall and erased any doubts over his Tour slot.
Chris Froome (Sky), 12th: Despite wins at the Tours of Oman and Romandie, Froome has had problems this season with both illness and injury. It’s hard to say how much his performance on the final two days was affected by the fall he took on stage six. However, wins in both the time trial and in the duel with Contador on the Col de Béal show he’s where he needs to be. Although there were some questions regarding his team at the start of the race, they finished strongly despite their leader’s woes.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 7th: With rumours swirling regarding his mediocre performances in 2014, the Shark needed to show some teeth at Dauphine. Unfortunately, seventh was not the performance he or his team wanted. Unable to follow Froome and Contador, he also saw riders such as Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Talansky and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) outperform him. We are not yet at the start line of the Tour, but there is clearly more work to be done.
Young guns go for it
Is it just me, or do pro cyclists seem to be getting younger these days? Three under-23s stood out for me this week.
Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) has had a stunning start to his professional career, with overall victory at the Tour of Turkey and fifth at the Tour of California.
Just 21, he rode aggressively all week, with two thirds and an eighth propelling him to sixth on GC. He is definitely a name to watch out for.
Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) impressed me as he followed his seventh at the Giro with fourth here, I have to admit I doubted the 23-year-old would hold his fantastic form. How wrong I was! Fifth in the ITT and third on stage two cemented his standing in the GC, and only van den Broeck’s gains in the final stage breakaway denied him a podium finish.
Finally, I’ve included Bob Jungels (Trek) for his excellent performance in the opening time trial, where he was only beaten by Froome and Contador. Not bad for a rider who is still only 21.
Climb every mountain
The Dauphine is a climber’s paradise and this edition featured three summit finishes which provided all the excitement and drama you could wish for, and yet were all different in character.
On stage two’s Col de Béal, Sky set a brutal pace that shelled GC hopefuls like discarded betting slips on Grand National day. With 5km to go the group was down to 20 riders. What happened next was extraordinary. Froome put in two bursts of high cadence acceleration which only Contador could follow. He stuck to Froome’s wheel like a limpet but tellingly couldn’t come past. Nibali was frequently dropped yet clawed his way back on when the pace slowed. After a series of attacks by multiple riders, Froome put in two final bursts to take his second stage ahead of Contador.
Featuring five climbs with the toughest two at the end, stage seven was always going to provide a dramatic ending on Finhaut-Emosson. Sky controlled the race superbly. The yellow jersey group was reduced until only Kelderman, Talansky, van den Broeck, Reichenbach, Nibali, Contador, Froome and Porte were left. They looked in control and things were looking good for Froome despite his fall the previous day, until Contador launched a devastating out-of-the-saddle attack with 2km to go. Froome responded in the final kilometre but it wasn’t enough as Contador rode into yellow by eight seconds.
The scene was set for a final shootout on the slopes of Courchevel. We got an exciting stage, but not the one we were expecting. A breakaway of 23 riders went up the road containing Talansky (just 39 seconds off the lead), van den Broeck, Yates and Bardet. Their advantage put Talansky into the virtual lead. Contador was without teammates and seemed content to sit with Froome, both of them staring each other out. Finally, with about 25km to go and the gap over two minutes, Contador set off on a solo raid which Froome couldn’t follow. We can only speculate how much the latter’s injuries affected his performance.
Contador’s attack was impressive, but GC-wise it was too late. Talansky powered over the line in fourth and onto top step of the podium by 27 seconds.
Katusha kings of the breakaway
Summit finishes may provide all the drama for teams with hopes of the overall win. But for a team without a real GC contender the name of the game is stage wins, and the most successful team at the Dauphine was Katusha.
Three times they put a rider in a winning breakaway, converting this to two wins. On stage four Yuri Trofimov soloed to the finish line, jersey unzipped and flapping in the breeze. The following day Simon Spilak outwitted everyone, jersey firmly zipped up this time. Stage seven saw Trofimov and Egor Silin drop all their companions on the final ascent, only to be denied by an excellent recovery by Lieuwe Westra (Astana).
The whole performance was reminiscent of their 2013 Giro campaign, when Maxim Belkov and Luca Paolini both took stages. With Joaquim Rodriguez riding the Tour in stage-hunting mode as preparation for the Vuelta, look out for fireworks from Katusha in July.
Race in numbers
0 – Number of seconds of time bonuses gained by overall winner Andrew Talansky during the race. He finished in the top five on four out of eight stages, but never in the top three who earned bonus seconds.
39 – Gap (in seconds) by which Talansky trailed Contador going into the final stage. The American finished 1:06 ahead on the day to win by 27 seconds overall.
39 – Chris Froome became the first rider in 39 years to win the opening two stages. (In 1975, Freddy Maertens won the first six stages but not the overall.) (Thanks to @irishpeloton.)
1 – Number of purpose-built cycle tunnels the race went through – in Lyon, during the individual time trial.
Stage 1: Winner – Chris Froome (Sky). Leader – Froome.
Stage 2: Winner – Froome. Leader – Froome.
Stage 3: Winner – Nikias Arndt (Giant-Shimano). Leader – Froome.
Stage 4: Winner – Yuri Trofimov (Katusha). Leader – Froome.
Stage 5: Winner – Simon Spilak (Katusha). Leader – Froome.
Stage 6: Winner – Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Leader – Froome.
Stage 7: Winner – Lieuwe Westra (Astana). Leader – Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Stage 8: Winner – Mikel Nieve (Sky). Overall winner – Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp).
1. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) 31:08:08
2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:27
3. Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) +0:35
4. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +0:43
5. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) +1:20
6. Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) +2:12
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +2:39
8. Mikel Nieve (Sky) +2:59
9. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) +3:04
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +3:17