With the Giro behind us and La Grande Boucle less than a month away, it’s time for grand tour hopefuls to test their form on those tricky pre-Tour week-long stage races. First up is the 67th Critérium du Dauphiné – make no mistake this race is NOT just a Tour warm-up but is one any rider would want on their palmares.
- The race is held over eight stages and the parcours is best described as one to favour the climbers, with the last four stages positively mountainous! There is no individual timed effort to worry the lightweight specialists, although hopes of a high place finish for some may well be dashed by the 24km, lumpyish team time trial on stage three.
- Stages one, two and four should provide something for the sprinters. Of these, the hilly circuit around Albertville on the first stage is the most friendly, and is likely to deliver a victory for those who can duke it out on a tough finish. Stage two features a cat 1 ascent, but it’s far enough from the finish for the fast men to recover and we should see a bunch gallop. The presence of a cat 4 climb with 12km to go on stage 4 is likely to be more disruptive to some fast-twitch muscles. It might very well be a day for a small breakaway sprint.
- Stage five sees the peloton tackle their first day in the high mountains. There are two cat 3 and a cat 2 climbs before they even tackle the cat 1 Col d’Allos (at 2,250 metres the highest point in the route this year) and the summit finish at Pra-Loup.
- Stage six is also packed with climbs, though less severe than those of the previous day. The riders would do well to take advantage of the rest given what’s coming next.
- One look at the profile for stage seven reveals there is hardly any flat. Four cat 1 climbs plus a cat 1 summit finish at Le Bettex. Oh yes, this will be a doozy of a stage. Do not miss!
- The final stage is another tough day in the high mountains with five climbs on the way to the uphill finish at Valfréjus. We all remember how the GC was tipped on its head on the last day in the 2014 edition. I can see the same scenario unfolding again. Of note along the way is the wonderful hairpin-bend awesomeness that is Les Lacets de Montvernier. This is another day not to be missed.
Riders to watch
Of course, all eyes will be assessing the form of Tour de France favourites Chris Froome (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and home favourite Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale), and it will be great to see how they look on the climbs next week. Discount Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at your peril, and hold the presses because Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) has forsaken winning the Tour de Suisse in his bid for a tilt at success in July. However, as brilliant as all this will be, I have gone for some younger guns to watch out for:
Wilco Kelderman (LottoNJ-Jumbo). One of the stars of last year’s edition, finishing fourth and animating many of the climbs. He’s missed the Giro this year and comes to the race after a solid season so far; top ten at both Volta a Catalunya and Fleche Wallonne.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). One of my favourite climbers, who can forget Romain on the duels in the Alps at the Tour last year? He’s backed up last year with a fifth at Vuelta a Andalucia, sixth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and ninth at both Giro del Trentino and Tour de Romandie. With all the pressure on team captain Peraud, I hope that Bardet will be set loose for a stage win.
Adam and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE). The team are targeting stage wins, and both the Yates boys are capable of mixing it with the best on the steep slopes. Adam was sixth last year and has just returned to racing after his crash on stage two of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Simon has shown some terrific form this year, finishing in the top six at both Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie. Unlike the teams above, they are unlikely to lose time on the team time trial.
Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin). Last year’s champion and a worthy winner – he was already climbing well before the tactical genius of Garmin on the last stage. The American hasn’t been on his best form in the stage races so far this year, but a win at the US national time trial championships and seventh at the road race show that he is peaking at the right time. I wouldn’t put a podium place out of reach this year either.
Magnus Cort (Orica-GreenEDGE). Sprinters have to be good at a tough uphill finish at this race, and the young Danish neo-pro is certainly capable of that. He has a long pedigree of exactly this type of finish and has already claimed two WorldTour top ten finishes at Tirenno-Adriatico. If he’s recovered from his recent illness, he’ll be looking to add to this tally especially on stage one.
Link: Official race website
Featured Image: Etape 5 – Sisteron – La Mure – 12/06/2014 – Le premier groupe d’échappés © A.S.O