Critérium du Dauphiné 2013 - preview

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Critérium du Dauphiné 2013 – preview

Sunday will see the three favourites for the 2013 Tour de France line-up for eight stages of Alpine racing just three weeks before they reconvene again in Corsica.

The Critérium du Dauphiné, which starts in Champery, Switzerland on Sunday (June 2) is regarded as the key barometer of form for cycling’s biggest race.

The status of the eight-stage race as Tour predictor received a further boost last year when Bradley Wiggins recorded his second consecutive Dauphine victory.

Bradley Wiggins claimed overall victory in the 2012 Criterium du Dauphine, with Chris Froome fourth

Chris Froome, fourth behind Wiggins at last year’s Dauphiné,  will lead Team Sky at this year’s race, and should he match Wiggins’ achievement of 12 months ago, will consider victory a case-closing argument in favour of his leadership for the Tour.

While Sky has confirmed Froome’s presence at the Dauphine, it has yet to confirm the team line-up. With Wiggins suddenly short of racing miles after his early exit from the Giro, could his presence add another dimension to an already significant race?

Multiple Grand Tour champion, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), a rider who used the Dauphiné to prepare for his Tour de France victory in 2009 (and the 2010 race in which he was later stripped of victory) will return.

Katusha team leader, Joaquim Rodriguez, another rider who has built his season around a challenge for the Tour, will also line-up on the start line in Champéry.

Should Wiggins crash the party, the spotlight will shine on the Dauphiné with still greater intensity. Even without the Londoner, it represents an intriguing encounter.

The Contenders

Chris Froome will use the Criterium du Dauphine to strengthen his case for leadership of Team Sky at the Tour de France

Chris Froome has responded to the mantle of team leader by raising his game to new heights this season. Victory over his four greatest rivals at the Tour of Oman made a perfect start to the season. While he lost out to newly-crowned Giro d’Italia champion, Vincenzo Nibali, at Tireno-Adriatico, he again finished ahead of Spanish duo Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez and the manner of his victory on the Prati di Tivo would have soothed the sting of the punishment they had dished out at last season’s Vuelta a Espana. Having equaled Wiggins’ achievement at the Tour de Romandie, Froome will seek to press home his advantage at the Dauphine. He will be ably backed in his bid to do so, with Paris-Nice winner, Richie Porte, and Sky’s Classics leaders, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas, expected to ride, the latter continuing their pre-Tour stage race acclimatisation after the Tour of Norway and Bayern Rundfahrt respectively. Wiggins’ presence on the reserve list could yet change matters entirely.

Alberto Contador is perhaps the Tour contender with the greatest headache after a series of early season races in which he competed hard, and seemingly to win, but found his rivals had an answer for the relentless attacks. Froome was his superior in Oman, Nibali at Tirenno, and Porte at Pais Vasco. Contador will seek to reaffirm his superiority at the Dauphine and curtail the growing confidence of his rivals who will perhaps fear him less than in days of yore. It is entirely possible, of course, that the Spaniard, the most successful Grand Tour rider of his generation, has been engaged in form-building thus far, but with only three weeks now until the Tour, a victory to take with him to Corsica would be a huge boost to morale. Saxo-Tinkoff are sending their A team in support of Contador, including Michael Rogers, runner up here last year when he rode for Wiggins at Sky.

Joaquim Rodriguez has already added a further two WorldTour victories to his palmares this season, taking the Queen stage in Oman and stage five at Catalunya – an impressive contrast to the winless campaign of Contador (and Wiggins, should he ride). Top five places on GC in both races, as well as second overall at the Volta a Catalunya behind Dan Martin (a result repeated at Liege Bastogne Liege), shows that Purito is fast becoming the complete package.

Joaquim Rodriguez will hope for more victory smiles at the Criterium du Dauphine

Time trialing has remained his Achilles heel (he was an anonymous 35th in the final stage test at Tirenno, where Froome was sixth) but when the stake are sufficiently high, he can produce a performance, as he proved in Milan last year on the final stage of the Giro d’Italia. He will relish the relentlessly mountainous parcours of the Dauphine, where he will feel entirely at home. Chief lieutenant, Daniel Moreno, will return to Purito’s service after eclipsing his leader with victory at La Fleche Walloone.

Significant others

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) has flown under the radar this season, winning away from the WorldTour (the Ruta del Sol, Trofeo Deia), but not quite shining in top-tier stage races. Second at Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, in both cases well behind the winners, gave signs of his best form. He will race with the services of 2011 Vuelta a Espana champion, Juan Jose Cobo, and recent Giro stage winner, Benat Intxausti, at the Dauphine. Another Spaniard, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), could go well after a feisty Giro in which he appeared to ride himself into form. And Lotto Belisol leader, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, a rider basing an entire season around the Tour, will race with the support of Jelle Vanendert.

The route

Stage 1: Champery to Champéry (121km) – Sunday June 2

The opening stage of the 2013 Criterium du Dauphine, a 121km loop that starts and finishes in the Swiss town of Champéry, contains four categorized climbs, half of which are first category. The first category Col du Corbier is reached after 76km. The final climb of the day, the third category Côte de Champéry, appears just before a short, flat sprint to the line, and could suit Rodriguez. His GC rivals will be keenly aware of the danger, however, and are likely to mark him closely as the finish draws near.

Stage 2: Chatel to Oyonnax (191km) – Monday June 3

Stage two of the 2013 Criterium du Dauphine features six categorised climbs. Graphic: ASO

The second stage makes the first look like a gentle introduction. Six categorized climbs feature in the 191km run from Chatel to Oyonnax, with five occurring after the half-way point. Descents have provided many pivotal moments this season (Nibali on stage six at Trentino, Porte on stage five of Pais Vasco, Paolini on stage four of the Giro) and the descent of the Sentier could deliver another dose of nerve-shredding drama in the final 10km.

Stage 3: Amberieu-en-Bugey to Tarare (167km) – Tuesday June 4

In the context of this year’s Dauphine parcours, stage three might be considered a day off, with only two climbs, both third category. The proximity, however, of the Col des Sauvages to the finish in Tarare means there is no guarantee of tranquility. Indeed, its summit could trigger more of the exhilarating descending that have lit up the early season (and which proved so telling for Wiggins at the Giro when rain as well as gradient became a factor), and perhaps provide a springboard to live up to its name.

Stage 4: Villars-les-Dombes to Parc des Oiseaux (32.5km) – Wednesday June 5

The Dauphine time trial will doubtless command the rapt attention of observers seeking an early glimpse of how the Tour might play out. Flat and fast, with a demanding technical section saved until the end, this 32.5km test on a route from Villars-les-Dombes to Parc des Oiseaux should be a showcase for those who relish the race of truth. Rodriguez will do well to limit his losses to Froome and Contador today, and while he may never be a natural time trialist, his performance in the final stage test at the 2012 Giro, if not sufficient to prevent Ryder Hesjedal from claiming the maglia rosa, suggested he may have enough to remain in contention until the mountains loom again. He won’t have to wait long.

Stage 5: Gresy-sur-Aix to Valmorel (139km) – Thursday June 6

The final 12.9km to the finish of stage five at Valmorel will unfold at a gradient of seven per cent. Graphic: ASO

The first hors categorie finish arrives today at Valmorel, 1,369 metres above sea level; the denouement to a stage that also contains three categorised climbs, albeit at the lower end of the scale. Breakaway specialists may fancy their chances today. Anyone strong enough to go clear will need to factor in the slope of the Montee de Valmorel and the 13km of relentless climbing that leads to its summit, a final stretch conducted at an average gradient of seven per cent.

Stage 6: La Lechere to Grenoble (143km) – Friday June 7

Descending skills could again shape the outcome today, owing to a seemingly endless descent to the finish in Grenoble. A pan flat opening 50km to the stage may encourage the breakaway specialists, but they will need to have made sufficient gains before a series of four climbs that pepper the middle of the stage, including the category one Col du Barioz at 1,038 metres and the second category, 944-metre Col des Ayes. The final descent, however, is the significant feature of today’s 143km stage.

Stage 7: Le Pont-de-Claix to Superdevoluy (187.5km) – Saturday June 8

It’s a measure of the severity of the Criterium du Dauphine that the Queen stage is scheduled for the penultimate encounter. Few races can boast Alpe d’Huez among its challenges, but the most iconic climb in cycling appears in this brutal, 187.5km slog from Le Pont-de-Claix to Superdevoluy after just 50km. Riders will approach Alpe d’Huez from the town of le Bourg d’Oisans, and confront more than 13km of climbing at an average gradient of eight per cent.

D’Huez, however, is merely a staging post today. Having reached its summit, the riders will immediately tackle the second category Col de Sarenne. Descending skills will again be paramount as the riders head towards the first category Col d’Ornon.

With the d’Ornon dusted, the riders will face down another first category climb: the Col du Noyer, which given its severity and positioning could provide a launch pad for a decisive attack. Only the third category climb to the finish lies ahead of the riders.

Stage 8: Sisteron to Risoul (155.5km) – Sunday June 9

There will be no respite for the riders who make it to the final stage of the 2013 Criterium du Dauphine. Graphic: ASO

Having started the race with a severity intended to continue the Dauphine’s reputation as a Tour form finder, the organisers will send the riders on their way to Corsica in little doubt about the nature of the challenge they have faced. The final climb of the stage, and of the entire race, could yet shape the entire outcome. The Col de Vars, just before the 120km mark, will be the first significant test of the day. It’s followed by the first category Montee de Risoul, a 14km drag conducted at an average of more than 6.5 per cent, topping out at nearly 1900 metres.

Discuss in the forum

Television

Sunday June 2, 2013
Highlights – Eurosport 2, 22.30

Monday June 3, 2013
Highlights – Eurosport 2, 22.30

Tuesday June 4, 2013
Highlights – Eurosport 2, 18.30

Wednesday June 5, 2013
Highlights – Eurosport 2, 18.30

Thursday June 6, 2013
LIVE – Eurosport 2, 12pm

Friday June 7, 2013
LIVE – Eurosport 2, 12pm

Saturday June 8, 2013
LIVE – Eurosport 2, 12pm

Sunday June 9, 2013
Highlights – Eurosport, 17.15

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