With the season’s first Grand Tour done and dusted, attention quickly turns to the second – the Tour de France – starting with its traditional warm-up race at the Criterium du Dauphiné.
Defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and his predecessor Chris Froome (Team Sky) headline a stellar line-up for the eight-day race, though Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is obviously missing having just won the Giro d’Italia.
With a 24.5km team time trial and an exact dress rehearsal of the Tour’s first Alpine stage, from Digne-les-Bains to Pra-Loup, both on the cards, as well as a series of other lumpy stages, the Dauphiné an ideal form finder for the Tour – and, of course, a prestigious race in its own right.
It’s also a chance for riders like defending champion Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and fellow American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) to reaffirm their places as contenders after relatively quiet seasons to date. World number one Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a host of French favourites are also set for the start line for what should be an enthralling eight days.
Let’s take a closer look at the chief contenders and their form going into the race.