Criterium du Dauphine 2017 preview: who can stop Chris Froome winning a record-breaking fourth title?

Simon Yates, Richie Porte and Alberto Contador lead the contenders bidding to dethrone Team Sky man Chris Froome

Defending champion Chris Froome will bid to add a record-breaking fourth Criterium du Dauphine triumph to his palmares this week and land an early moral blow on his rivals ahead of the Tour de France.

Froome has won three of the last four editions of the race, while Bradley Wiggins won in 2011 and 2012, meaning a British Team Sky rider has topped the Dauphine podium five times in the last six years.

But Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and fit-again duo Fabio Aru (Astana) and Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) will all be out to stop the 32-year-old and prove they can be serious Tour de France threats too.

Chris Froome is bidding for a record-breaking fourth Criterium du Dauphine win (Pic: Sirotti)

So who is in contention for the yellow jersey this year, and what are we likely to learn from this year’s race ahead of the Tour de France?

Let’s take a closer look at the course and contenders for victory.

The route – something for everyone

First of all, let’s take a look at the route which, as ever for the Dauphine, offers a blend of sprint-friendly stages and mountain challenges, alongside a 23.5km time trial.

The racing will be on from the start, with a punchy route around St-Etienne, with eight climbs to negotiate in all. The toughest is the category-two Cote de Saint-Romain-les-Atheux, but the stage will give an early indication of where the GC contenders are at.

Stages two, three and five are for the sprinters – though again there are enough climbs to keep things interesting, while stage four is the 23.5km time trial, which is likely to see the yellow jersey change hands.

After the fifth stage into Macon, things will ramp up for the GC men – three tough stages in the Alps will seal the race, including a preview of stage nine of this year’s Tour de France.

The climb and descent of the hors categorie Mont du Chat will mirror that used at the Tour, and is a chance for the leading descenders like Contador and Bardet to show their form.

Stage seven is the queen stage, and finishes on Alpe d’Huez, but not as you would expect – the 21 hairpins are bypassed in favour of a short 3.7km finale at 7.2 per cent average gradient. The real test will have come just before, on the HC Col de Sarenne ascent which takes an alternative route to Alpe d’Huez (15.3km at 6.9 per cent).

The route for the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine contains something for everyone (Pic: ASO)

Finally, another short, but punchy stage concludes the race – and will be a chance for Froome to show he has learned his lessons from his poor starts on similar stages in the past (last year’s Vuelta a Espana, for example).

At just 115km, and with the Col des Saisies, Col des Aravis and Col de la Colombiere to tackle before the summit finish on the Plateau de Solaison, this is not a stage to be caught napping at the start.

The contenders

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

It’s fair to say Chris Froome has enjoyed the Criterium du Dauphine in recent years, winning three times in the last four years, and bagging six stage wins in the process.

The year he didn’t win overall, in 2014, he unexpectedly claimed the points jersey instead and this year he will be looking to secure his first race wins of 2017 at the Dauphine.

Chris Froome has won the Criterium du Dauphine in three of the last four years (Pic: Sirotti)

Unusually, Froome’s season to date has been nothing spectacular – a sixth place overall at the Herald Sun Tour and second on Lo Port at the Volta a Catalunya the most to shout about.

But this is where the business end of the season kicks off as far as Froome is concerned, with the Dauphine, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana to look forward too.

If Froome is still in unspectacular form after the Dauphine then he might start to worry… but don’t bet on it!

2017 season highlights: Herald Sun Tour (sixth overall), Volta a Catalunya (second on stage five), Tour de Romandie (fifth on stage one)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: winner (2013, 2015, 2016), six stage wins

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo)

Alberto Contador has three stage wins at the Dauphine and finished second overall in both 2010 and 2014 – but, perhaps surprisingly for a seven-time Grand Tour champion, has never won the race.

His battle with Froome in this race in 2014 offers a taste of what could be in store this time out and, unlike Froome, Contador has shown good form this season.

Alberto Contador has enjoyed a fine start to the season without actually winning a race (Pic: Sirotti)

There is one monkey El Pistolero would no doubt like to get off his back, however – despite a strong start to the season, his first at Trek-Segafredo, he is yet to win a race for his new team.

But having finished second overall at the Ruta del Sol, Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, while also securing top three finishes on five separate stages too, it has looked only a matter of time all year.

And a victory over Froome in the final warm-up for the Tour de France would be a handy reminder that Contador is very much still in the mix.

2017 season highlights: Ruta del Sol (second on stage two, second overall), Paris-Nice (second on stages four, seven and eight, second overall), Volta a Catalunya (second overall), Vuelta al Pais Vasco (second overall)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: second (2010, 2014), three stage wins

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

Where Contador has been one of Froome’s traditional rivals, former team-mate Richie Porte is one of his newer nemeses.

Porte rode at Froome’s side when the Kenyan-born Brit first won the Dauphine in 2013, and even finished second himself. Since then, Porte has lived up to his billing as a serious GC contender since switching to BMC Racing in 2016.

Richie Porte has proved his class in week-long stage races (pic – Sirotti)

Porte has raced just three stage races this season but has made an impact at all three – winning two stages and the overall title at the Tour Down Under, winning on the Col de la Couillole at Paris-Nice, and then winning the Tour de Romandie.

His fifth place at last year’s Tour de France, after losing time in crashes early in the race, proved he can compete at a Grand Tour too, but his ability in the week-long stage races has never been in doubt.

His successes at this year’s Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie, add to two Paris-Nice triumphs, and the Volta a Catalunya, making the Dauphine one of few major week-long prizes Porte is yet to win.

And his form this season, and indeed since joining BMC Racing, proves he is well capable of adding the yellow jersey to his collection.

2017 season highlights: Tour Down Under (two stage wins, winner overall), Paris-Nice (one stage win), Tour de Romandie (winner overall)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: second (2013)

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

Second overall at last year’s Criterium du Dauphine, before going on to finish second at the Tour de France, Romain Bardet has had less to shout about so far in 2017.

A strong showing at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he finished sixth, was his most recent outing after an enforced change to his planned pre-Tour calendar before that.

Romain Bardet was second at last year’s Criterium du Dauphine (Pic: Sirotti)

Bardet was disqualified for holding onto the team car at Paris-Nice, as he chased back after a crash, and the Frenchman now has a point to prove in front of his own fans.

He has enjoyed success at the Dauphine before, however, and after a lengthy training block it will be interesting to see how he is shaping up, as the French continue to await a first ‘home’ Tour de France winner since Bernard Hinault.

2017 season highlights: Tour of Oman (sixth overall), Volta a Catalunya (tenth overall), Vuelta al Pais Vasco (second on stage five), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (sixth)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: second (2016), one stage win

Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)

After misfortune ultimately cost his twin brother Adam the white jersey at the Giro d’Italia, Simon Yates will now co-lead Orica-Scott into the Dauphine and Tour de France.

The Yates twins were initially set to ride the Giro d’Italia together, but with Johan Esteban Chaves spending time off the bike injured, the decision was made to pair the Colombian with Simon Yates for the Tour, and ease any pressure.

Simon Yates will co-lead Orica-Scott at the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de France (Pic: Sirotti)

Simon has responded to his change of program with a stage win at the Tour de Romandie and second place overall, while the Dauphine marks Chaves’ return to action for the first time since kicking off the season at the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour.

Realistically, it is Simon who stands the better chance of a good overall result and the target will be a second Tour white jersey, after brother Adam was crowned best young rider in 2016.

Between the two of them, the Yates twins have been in the top ten of each of the last three Grand Tours now, and a strong showing at the Dauphine will prove Simon is ready to continue that trend.

2017 season highlights: Paris-Nice (stage win, ninth overall), GP Miguel Indurain (winner), Tour de Romandie (stage win, second overall).

Criterium du Dauphine best results: fifth (2015), youth classification winner (2015)

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Veteran Spaniard and two-time Criterium du Daupine winner Alejandro Valverde is showing no signs of slowing down, and after another hugely successful spring with one-day victories at La Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he switches focus back to the longer stuff for the summer.

Valverde will co-lead Movistar at the Tour de France with Giro d’Italia runner-up Nairo Quintana, but the 37-year-old will first bid for a third Criterium du Dauphine win, to continue his fine start to the season.

Alejandro Valverde has more wins (11) than any other riders so far this year (pic – Sirotti)

Valverde has won all three stage races he has started so far this season – the Ruta del Sol, Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco – before those one-day victories in the Ardennes. No rider has come close to his 11 wins so far this season.

And if he can carry that form into the Dauphine, you would not bet against him adding to his 91 career victories on some of the race’s mountainous stages.

Valverde’s last Dauphine triumph came back in 2009, but he has proved himself to be a man for all seasons. If Quintana has not fully recovered from his Giro exertions, there will be plenty expected from the Spaniard this summer.

2017 season highlights: Ruta del Sol (stage win, winner overall), Volta a Catalunya (three stage wins, winner overall), Vuelta al Pais Vasco (stage win, winner overall), La Fleche Wallonne (winner), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (winner)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: winner (2008, 2009), two stage wins

Fabio Aru (Astana)

After missing the 100th Giro d’Italia, Italian climber Fabio Aru is another rider returning to action at the Criterium du Dauphine – keen to make up for lost time.

Aru started the season with a decent showing, and third place overall, at the Tour of Oman but after abandoning Tirreno-Adriatico in March, the 26-year-old has not raced since.

Fabio Aru has suffered an injury-hit season, but has the chance to restart his campaign at the Dauphine (P:ic Sirotti)

Last year’s Criterium du Dauphine saw him overcome a difficult start by picking up a stage win, but he could not replicate his Vuelta a Espana 2015-winning form at the Tour de France.

He now has an unplanned chance to make amends at the Tour de France, but if he is to challenge for GC honours he has a lot to prove fitness and form-wise at the Dauphine first.

2017 season highlights: Tour of Oman (third overall, second on queen stage), Abu Dhabi Tour (eighth overall)

Criterium du Dauphine best results: one stage win

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