The Criterium du Dauphine has an enviable reputation as a predictor of form for the Tour de France.
All of the main contenders for next month’s centenary edition of La Grande Boucle turned out for this year’s Dauphine, and if previous years are a guide, much can be learned about the likely outcome of this year’s Tour.
It’s important, however, not to get carried away. The Dauphine, while offering eight stages of Alpine racing, is a long way from dishing out the challenges of a Grand Tour.
A June race, in France, with serious climbs and a time trial is not without significance, as Bradley Wiggins will tell you. Here are five observations on the peloton’s sojourn in south east France.
Froome the favourite
Chris Froome will roll out at Corsica as the bookies’ favourite, following his masterful win at the Criterium du Dauphine. The Team Sky leader showed all the qualities he will require to win his first Grand Tour, having twice finished second.
Controlled in the mountains, until required to explode (witness his sensational pursuit, capture, and dispatch of Contador on stage five), and the best of the GC contenders by some distance in the time trial, Froome exhibited the maturity necessary to captain Sky at the biggest race of the season. There is now only one candidate for that role, of course, and Froome has unquestionably earned the right to fill the vacancy.
Question marks for Contador
Alberto Contador failed to add to a season tally of just one win at his final significant pre-Tour engagement, but insists he is unworried. The Dauphine provided mixed evidence on which to assess his chances for the Tour.
Destroyed by Froome in the time trial, finishing an anonymous 61st and 2.42 down on the Kenyan-born Brit, El Pistolero responded by going on the attack the following day on the road to Valmorel, where he was shot down by Froome a second time. But…
The Spaniard’s performance on stage seven, where he quietly set tempo for the entire peloton for almost an entire stage, riding team-mate, Mick Rogers, into third place overall, won the admiration of many. “Alberto did a man’s job today,” one close observer of Spain’s WorldTour cohort told RCUK.
He will need to play a significantly greater role than super domestique next month, but as the most successful Grand Tour racer of his generation, his ability to do so cannot be questioned.
The phrase “strength in depth” might have been coined with Britain’s only WorldTour team in mind. Geraint Thomas escorted Froome to the finish on the opening stage, Edvald Boasson Hagen claimed a much deserved win in Tarare, and Richie Porte was as super a super domestique as Froome or Sky could have asked for, even attacking on stage seven when Froome’s victory was assured to cement a one-two finish for his employers.
Special mention, however, is due to the Isle of Man’s Pete Kennaugh. A member of Great Britain’s world and Olympic champion men’s team pursuit squad on the track, Kennaugh revealed another string to his bow by climbing effectively in support of Froome. The Manxman is still only 23 and Brailsford, who clearly rates him for Team GB and for Team Sky, may still select experience over form. Kennaugh, however, certainly did enough in the Dauphine to justify a place on the long list.
If Bradley Wiggins attempts to save his season by winning the world time trial championships, he will face the significant challenge of beating Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Wiggins is perhaps the one man able to do so, since Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) switched his focus from the chrono to the Classics (witness Spartacus’ distant 16th place in the Tour de Suisse prologue), but it will not be an easy task.
Martin was in imperious form in the Dauphine, posting a time that only Froome could get anywhere near. This is not the first time this season that Martin has set the bar to insurmountable heights (six ITT and one TTT victories already this season) but doing so against a world class field in a race less than a month before the Tour de France is significant.
Whether the weather be good…
Six weeks on from the visit of the Giro d’Italia, will the Alps present the same race-altering presence at the Tour? The Dauphine perhaps provided some clue. While weather conditions weren’t anywhere near as bad last week as they were three weeks earlier for the Giro, it’s fair to say the Alps are still wearing their winter garments. A snow bound stage in July? After the winter experienced by Europe, don’t bet against it.