Brits to the fore: Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates and Tao Geoghegan Hart shine at Criterium du Dauphine
While the immediate future of Chris Froome remains uncertain, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful after the Dauphine
In becoming the fifth British rider to win the Criterium du Dauphine, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas underlined his status as one of the country's top pro cyclists… and the list of stars and future stars in the British ranks seems to be improving week on week.
Thomas took top honours at the Dauphine, adding victory in the prestigious eight-day stage race to his win at Paris-Nice in 2016. He will now head to the Tour de France slated as Chris Froome’s number two, but with every chance he could be top dog at La Grand Boucle - be it now, or in the very immediate future.
Thomas adds his name to a list which already included Brian Robinson, Robert Millar, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – each of them British Tour de France pioneers in their own way.
Now, could we be looking at the first Welshman to win the Tour de France? Thomas has already been touted as a future Tour contender, having been second when he crashed out last year, and having finished 15th in both of the previous two editions, all while playing a support role. Now, with arguably the most prestigious of the season’s week-long stage races on his palmares, he has proved he deserves a shot at the maillot jaune.
While Chris Froome’s future remains in the air, as investigations into the adverse analytical finding he returned during an in-competition Vuelta a Espana doping test last year continue, Thomas has proved he is ready to take over the reins if required.
Yates the contender
It was not just Thomas impressing at the Dauphine either, as Adam Yates rounded off a great week with a stage win at Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and second place overall. Just weeks after his twin brother, Simon, won three stages of the Giro d’Italia in the pink jersey and fell just a few stages short of winning the Corsa Rosa, it has certainly been a fine couple of months for Mitchelton-Scott’s British duo.
Thomas and Yates’ British one-two is the first in the history of the Criterium du Dauphine, and was confirmation Yates will be a serious contender at the Tour de France, too – he is, after all, a former white jersey winner.
"Having beaten Bardet to the stage at the Dauphine, and therefore finishing ahead of the Frenchman overall, it was a fitting way to close the chapter marked ‘rising star’ and open a new one entitled ‘serious contender’"
For Yates, the stage win on Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc was a symbolic one – when he won the white jersey in 2016 he finished fourth overall, having lost his place on the podium when Romain Bardet soloed to victory at the same location on stage 19.
Having beaten Bardet to the stage at the Dauphine, and therefore finishing ahead of the Frenchman overall, it was a fitting way to close the chapter marked ‘rising star’ and open a new one entitled ‘serious contender’.
But for misfortune, of course, Thomas and Yates could have been celebrating together 12 months ago – they were second and third overall, and looking in great shape, when a police moto caused them to crash on stage nine of the Giro d’Italia.
Thomas abandoned a few days later, while Yates pressed on only to lose the white jersey on the final day of the race as he finished ninth overall.
That is the note of caution that should be taken from a victory over eight days at the Dauphine, compared to the demands (and the fortune... or misfortune) of a three-week stage race. Yates has already proved himself over three weeks, however, and Thomas has showed he deserves another shot (and a lot more luck).
As for the distance future, Adam and Simon Yates, at just 25, have showed they can carry the flag for British hopes, but there was another young Brit impressing at the Dauphine who will surely soon be ready to join them.
Tao Geoghegan Hart makes his mark
Big things have been expected of Tao Geoghegan Hart for some time and, now in his second year with Team Sky, the 23-year-old has proved he is well on course to live up to that billing.
Brits at the Dauphine
1) Geraint Thomas
2) Adam Yates
13) Tao Geoghegan Hart
79) James Knox
DNF) Luke Rowe
DNF) Steve Cummings, Pete Kennaugh
The Hackney-born ace’s efforts to shut down attack after attack from the likes of Bardet, as Team Sky steered Thomas to victory, did not go unnoticed – former boss Axel Merckx, who mentored Geoghegan Hart through his Axeon development team in America for three years, has already called for him to be awarded a long contract.
That it followed a similarly stellar effort at the Amgen Tour of California – where he finished fifth overall as team-mate Egan Arley Bernal won – only serves to re-iterate what an important part Geoghegan Hart is already playing for Team Sky.
His first Grand Tour is slated to be the Vuelta a Espana in the summer, and after the efforts he put in to support Thomas at the Dauphine, it will be interesting to see how Geoghegan Hart performs over three weeks. This year's Tour comes to early, it seems.
"It’s too early to make bold predictions about Grand Tour success - the Dauphine is ‘only’ eight days compared to three weeks - but the race has always served as the essential Tour de France form finder"
The current form and continuous upward trajectory of the Yates twins is evidence of the benefits of carefully managing your young stars - and with such a wealth of talent at their disposal, Team Sky can be more selective over their Tour team, with so much experience on hand. Geoghegan Hart's time will come.
It’s too early to make bold predictions about Grand Tour success - the Dauphine is ‘only’ eight days compared to three weeks - but the race has always served as the essential Tour de France form
Thomas, Yates and Geoghegan Hart find themselves in superb form. A storm cloud hangs over Chris Froome at the moment, but certainly on the evidence of the past week, there is a very bright outlook for Britain’s top pros however the triple Grand Tour champion’s immediate future plays out.