Criterium du Dauphine 2016 preview: form guide

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Criterium du Dauphine 2016 preview: form guide

Who's in top shape as Chris Froome bids for a record-equalling Criterium du Dauphine victory?

Chris Froome bids for a record-equalling third Criterium du Dauphine success next week as Team Sky’s leader ups the preparations for his Tour de France defence.

Froome will roll out in dossard number one, having won last year’s edition courtesy of back-to-back stage wins on the final weekend, as part of a typically stellar line-up set for the race.

Chris Froome celebrates his second Criterium du Dauphine victory in three years in 2015 (Pic: Sirotti)

Likely Tour de France rivals Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Froome’s former right-hand man Richie Porte (BMC Racing) are also due on the startline, alongside French stars Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and in-form Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).

Though Froome’s team-mate Geraint Thomas will be at the Tour de Suisse instead, racing against BMC Racing’s other team leader Tejay van Garderen, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is heading to the Route du Sud, the Dauphine will give us a great indication of where many of the chief GC men are at before the Tour de France.

– Criterium du Dauphine 2016: TV schedule –

So what lies in store, and who needs to prove what with the start of the Tour de France less than a month away?

The route

The 68th Criterium du Dauphine gets underway on Sunday (May 6), with a mountain time trial to Les Gets serving as the prologue.

The opening stage offers a 3.9km test with an average gradient of 9.7 per cent, which rises to 15 per cent over the final kilometre.

The Col de la Madeleine features on the Dauphine’s Queen Stage (pic: Loris Von Siebenthal)

A mountain-heavy route then follows, with no further tests against the clock, though stage one – from Cluses to Saint-Vulbas – should be one for the sprinters with fit-again John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) all on the startline.

Stage two boasts an uphill finish to set the GC men against each other for the first time, with a category two climb of the Cote de Saint-Georges-en-Couzan followed immediately by the catergory three ascent to the Chalmazel-Jeansagniere finish line.

Stage three features the climb of the Cote de Secheras just 21km from the finish line, and so could favour a breakaway, while stage four will be the final day for the sprinters to test their legs.

Three summit finishes conclude the race: the category two Vaujany (6.4km at 6.5 per cent) on stage five; the thigh-numbing ascent to Meribel from Brides-les-Bains (11.3km at seven per cent) on stage six – having already taken on the Col de la Madeleine; and then the race concludes in Superdevoluy on stage seven, with the Col du Noyer an appertif for that final climb, peaking just 11.5km before the finish line.

Form guide

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Chris Froome rolls out as defending champion, bidding to make it five British wins in the last six editions – and but for Froome crashing in 2014 it could have been even better.

Having won the Herald Sun Tour in his first hit out of the season, Froome has found success harder to come by on the WorldTour this year but picked up a stage win at Villars-sur-Ollon at the Tour de Romandie.

Chris Froome celebrates his stage eight victory at last year’s Criterium du Dauphine, which was enough to seal the yellow jersey (Pic: Sirotti)

It is at the Dauphine where the hours of training he puts in during the early part of the season tend to bear fruit, however, and the 31-year-old has claimed both of his Tour de France victories on the back of success in the Dauphine.

Stage success at the Tour de Romandie, having earlier punctured on a climb which put him out of contention for the GC, followed by bagging the combativity award the following day proves his form is arriving nicely too.

Last year’s Criterium du Dauphine laid the foundations for what was to follow at the Tour, and another big hit out will set the defending champion up very nicely this time out too.

2016 highlights: Herald Sun Tour – one stage win, King of the Mountains, overall winner; Volta a Catalunya – eighth; Tour de Romandie – one stage win

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)

This was supposed to be Alberto Contador’s final year in the pro peloton but a strong start to the 2016 season has made the 33-year-old reconsider that decision.

Contador has been on the podium in all four of the stage races he has raced this season, including his victory at the Tour of the Basque Country in his last outing.

Alberto Contador has been in top form in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

Geraint Thomas bettered him at both the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice – the latter by just four seconds – and Nairo Quintana won the Volta a Catalunya by just seven seconds.

But Contador is clearly one of the form men in the peloton and could be in line for what would be, surprisingly, his first Criterium du Dauphine win.

Last year’s Tour de France proved a step too far on the back of Giro d’Italia victory, but Contador has focussed purely on the Tour this time out and will roll out among the favourites.

A strong performance in the Dauphine, to continue his already impressive run of form, will be an ominous sign for his rivals.

2016 highlights: Volta ao Algarve – one stage win, third overall; Paris-Nice – second overall; Volta a Catalunya – second overall; Tour of the Basque Country – one (ITT) stage win, overall winner

Fabio Aru (Astana)

Astana are riding the crest of a wave after Vincenzo Nibali’s resurgent finish to the Giro d’Italia earned him his second maglia rosa.

Now it’s the turn of Fabio Aru again, as the Vuelta a Espana champion bids to make it three consecutive Grand Tour wins for the Kazakh-backed team.

Fabio Aru will bid to make it three consecutive Grand Tour wins for Astana at the Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

The 25-year-old – who also finished second at the Giro d’Italia, behind Contador, last year – is yet to see his 2016 season ignite, but team-mate Nibali has showed in the past it’s all about peaking at the right time.

Having crashed out of the Tour of the Basque Country, however, Aru has raced just one day since – a DNF at the Amstel Gold Race.

Two Giro d’Italia podiums in consecutive years and last year’s Vuelta a Espana win prove Aru is a serious Grand Tour contender.

But if he wants to win the Tour, he’ll have to better Froome, Contador, Nairo Quintana and co – which he is yet to do on the biggest stage.

Beating Froome and Contador at the Dauphine will be a big ask, but it’s certainly not beyond him and will throw down a big marker for the Tour if he does.

2016 highlights: Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana – sixth overall; Volta ao Algarve – ninth overall

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

It hasn’t quite been the all-conquering start to the season Richie Porte showed in his final year with Team Sky but the Australian has still shown good form for BMC Racing.

Second at the Tour Down Under – after his customary stage win on Willunga Hill – followed by third at Paris-Nice and fourth at the Volta a Catalunya set him up nicely for a first showdown with Froome since Porte’s Sky departure.

Richie Porte leads Alberto Contador and Geraint Thomas at Paris-Nice (pic: Sirotti)

Unfortunately illness curtailed the Australian’s Tour de Romandie ahead of stage two, meaning we’ve had to wait until the Dauphine to see how the two fare head-to-head rather than side-by-side.

Porte’s ability in the week-long stage races is undoubted, and with Tejay van Garderen at the Tour de Suisse, he’ll be spear-heading the BMC Racing attack at the Dauphine.

It is at the Grand Tours where he is yet to show he can compete across the full three weeks – and illness at the Tour de Romandie doesn’t bode well on that front.

For now, however, the Dauphine will pit Porte against Froome and showcase what the 31-year-old can do when freed from the shackles of supporting the Kenyan-born Brit.

2016 highlights: Tour Down Under – one stage win, second overall; Paris-Nice – third overall; Volta a Catalunya – fourth overall.

Thibaut Pinot (FDJ)

Thibaut Pinot has much to prove after a disastrous 2015 Tour de France, where the Frenchman – third and best young rider the previous year – had effectively lost the race (and the plot, judging by his bike throwing antics) by the end of the first week.

But just like he did in that race, where he won on Alpe d’Huez, he has come back strong in 2016 and been in great form so far this year.

Thibaut Pinot is in resurgent form in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

In six stage races so far this season, he has not finished any lower than fifth overall – and even that could be attributed to the fact the high mountain stage was removed from Tirreno-Adriatico.

And it is not just in the lower-ranked races he has shone either – though he did win the Criterium International and finished third at Etoile de Besseges.

Fourth place at the Tour of the Basque Country, followed by a stage win and second place at the Tour de Romandie – 19 seconds in arrears to Quintana – have set the 26-year-old up well for the Dauphine.

This time last year he opted for the Tour de Suisse, where he only lost the leader’s jersey on the final time trial, but this time out he is back in his home country and in top form.

Looking ahead, Pinot needs to prove his Tour de France podium finish in 2014 was not just a flash in the pan – the beneficiary of Froome and Contador crashing out – and picking up where he left off in Romandie at the Dauphine will set him up nicely.

2016 highlights: GP la Marseillaise – second; Etoile de Besseges – third overall; Volta ao Algarve – fourth overall; Tirreno-Adriatico – fifth overall; Criterium International – two stage wins, points classification, overall winner; Tour of the Basque Country – fourth overall; Tour de Romandie – one (ITT) stage win, second overall.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Alongside Pinot, Romain Bardet is another young French rider carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders and – like Pinot – bagged a stage win at last year’s Tour to justify those hopes.

Ninth overall, Bardet set up his second consecutive top-ten finish at the Tour de France with an extraordinary stage win at the Dauphine beforehand, winning into Pra-Loup with a hair-raising descent.

Romain Bardet won a stage at last year’s Criterium du Dauphine (pic: Sirotti)

This time out he goes into the Dauphine on the back of a mixed season to date – second at the Tour of Oman and top-tens at Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino showing his form before an unspectacular Tour de Romandie.

Illness saw him off the pace on the ascent to Morgins and curtailed any hopes of carrying his good GC form forward, so he’ll want to be back in the thick of it at the Dauphine.

2016 highlights: Tour of Oman – second overall; Paris-Nice – ninth overall; Volta a Catalunya – sixth overall; Giro del Trentino – sixth overall

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