The 66th Criterium du Dauphine certainly delivered on its pre-race billing, giving us plenty to ponder ahead of the Tour de France.
With Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in the same race for the first time this season, the pre-Tour form finder gave us a great insight into how the Tour de France favourites are faring.
But a superb ride on stage eight meant Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) usurped them to win the yellow jersey and throw his name into the Tour de France mix too.
However, having seen many of the leading candidates go wheel-to-wheel on the mountainous parcours of the Dauphine, where does it all leave us?
Read our thoughts on the performances of the big names at the Dauphine, and where it leaves us ahead of the Tour, over the following pages.
[part title="Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)"]
Alberto Contador may have been pipped to the overall win on the final day, but Tinkoff-Saxo insist the race was all about preparation than success. And on that front, El Pistolero ought to come away from the Dauphine a very happy man indeed.
A strong time trial effort, bettered only by Chris Froome, was then followed by second place on stage two. The only rider capable of keeping tabs with Froome as he lit up the stage’s final climb, Contador came away beaten but in great shape.
And so it proved, the Spaniard attacking with fervour in the following stages to eventually take the maillot jaune with a well-timed attack on the penultimate day. He could not hold it, beaten by Andrew Talansky when perhaps he was guilty of marking the wrong man – Froome – but again, Contador climbed well to reclaim his world number one spot and ensure he enters the Tour de France as the form-man.
His team-mates too, looked good. Sergio Paulinho’s efforts in the break – ensuring Contador had a man up the road – showed his legs, while Roman Kreuziger is honing his training at the Tour de Suisse and Michael Rogers and Nico Roche are enjoying well-earned post-Giro rests.
“Dauphiné is an important race and I wanted to perform here," Contador said. “But the main ambition is to build race shape ahead of the Tour. So it wasn’t crucial to get a top spot here, as long as I improved my form going in to the Tour."
Form is certainly not something El Pistolero is short of.
[part title="Chris Froome (Team Sky)"]
Having won the first two stages to earn the overall lead, Chris Froome was looking in great shape for the Tour de France. A crash on stage six, however, derailed his race and meant it ended on a downer – his challenge for the maillot jaune unravelling on the climb into Courchevel – David Lopez eventually leading him home five minutes after stage winner and team-mate Mikel Nieve.
Despite the ending, however, was it all bad news at the Dauphine for the Kenyan-born Brit? As long as he suffers no longer-term effects of his crash, perhaps his post-race claims the campaign was a success will hold more weight.
Nieve’s stage win was a reminder of the phenomenal climbing talent Froome has around him, with Lopez, Vasil Kiryienka, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas all also proving they are in good shape at various times.
The manner of Froome’s stage two win – an emphatic team ride, before some even more emphatic attacks from the team leader showed they are set to be a proposition to be feared once again this year.
Porte struggled for fitness at times, but looked in better shape than he had done in Romandie in his previous WorldTour outing, while Nieve proved he is more than capable of being Froome’s right-hand man if Porte can not get right for the Tour.
There was no overall Dauphine win for Team Sky this year, for the first time in four years, but three stage wins and the points jersey certainly bodes well for the Tour as Froome suggested.
[part title="Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp)"]
Everybody knew Andrew Talansky could climb, but the way he usurped Contador and Froome on the final day was still hugely impressive. The American powered to the biggest victory of his career to date, finishing fourth on the final stage after joining a strong breakaway group.
As those around him wavered, Talanksy powered on with another great display of his climbing ability – something he had already showed on Finaut-Emosson on stage seven, and on the Col du Beal on stage two.
At the latter, he recovered superbly from being dropped by Froome’s constant attacking to take fifth on the stage, while he achieved the same result on stage seven thanks to the support of team-mate Ryder Hesjedal.
The 25-year-old was tenth overall at last year’s Tour de France and is one of a number of promising young riders with Garmin-Sharp – Dan Martin, Rohan Dennis, Ramunas Navardauskas among the others.
But could this now be the year he steps it up? His first major WorldTour win – after second places at Paris-Nice and the Tour de Romandie – prompted to break down in tears as he realised he had won. It was a touching scene as one of the peloton’s most promising young riders took the next big step in his career.
Talansky proved he can climb with the best, as he had earlier done in Catalunya, while he is certainly no mug when it comes to time trialling. At the very least, the white jersey should be within his grasp in France.
[part title="Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)"]
Almost a forgotten man among the main GC contenders, Jurgen van den Broeck delivered a timely reminder of his abilities as he bagged the final spot on the podium.
One of few riders able to keep tabs on Chris Froome’s constant attacking on stage two, though his challenge did eventually fade, van den Broeck then impressed on the climb to Courchevel too, finishing fifth having been in the break.
His return from injury this season, having crashed out of last year’s Tour de France, has been low key. But with ambitions to better his two career fourth places at the Tour, his return to form could not have come at a better time.
The reminder of his climbing ability on the Col du Beal was encouraging for both his team and the many fans who have been keen to see him return from injury.
His Tour hopes will certainly be boosted if he can repeat the feats next month.
Bettering his two fourth places will be a tough ask, but his first WorldTour podium in two years – and only the second of his career – show he is at least capable of sticking with the GC men on the tough climbs and sealing a good overall placing.
[part title="Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)"]
Vincenzo Nibali appeared to be returning to top form ahead of the Dauphine, with the Tour de France the target for last year’s Giro d’Italia winner.
And when he joined the stage two attack instigated by Chris Froome, things certainly appeared to be looking up. But the Italian’s challenge came to an abrupt end as once again the sharp gradients of a relatively moderate climb became his undoing.
Having become a new father this year, some have suggested his preparations have been hampered – whatever the cause, his slide needs to be arrested ahead of the Tour. Ultimately, at the Dauphine, he did finish ahead of Chris Froome – by five places in fact – overall but the GC fails to tell the full story.
Among the best GC men, undoubtedly, but Nibali never looked like winning the Dauphine.
Scant consolation will come from the fact Jakob Fuglsang looks in good shape – though again, not race-winning – but Nibali faces a big task come July if he wants to better his 2012 Tour third place.
[part title="Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE)"]
Widespread reports suggest rising British star Adam Yates will not be on the Tour de France start line for Orica-GreenEDGE, which would be a huge shame if true. Once again the Bury-born ace was in stunning form, sealing another fine result in his incredible neo pro year.
The Tour of Turkey winner was eighth on stage two and then third on stages five and eight as he showed off his incredible climbing talent once again. After a packed race calendar to date, which has also included the white jersey at the Tour de San Luis and fifth overall at the Tour of California, Yates will now – according to reports – enjoy a well-earned rest.
But can the Australian really ignore his incredible form ahead of the Tour de France? Riding with no pressure, the 21-year-old has looked in sensational shape and with no other real GC option – though the likes of Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey will compete for stage wins – is he worth a chance?
Last year, Peter Kennaugh was fast-tracked into Team Sky’s Tour de France squad – Rod Ellingworth telling RCUK afterwards that, although it meant the rest of his season was written off, it was too good an opportunity for him not to be given it.
A Grand Depart in his home country, with some sensational results behind him – perhaps the same should ring true of Adam Yates this year?