Chris Froome (Team Sky) sealed overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a second-place finish on the final stage to fire a warning shot to his rivals ahead of the Tour de France.
The Kenyan-born Brit finished 24 seconds behind Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Alessandro De Marchi, the last remaining survivor of the day’s break, on the 155.5km mountain stage.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) finished third on the stage ahead of Richie Porte (Team Sky), who finished second overall behind team-mate Froome.
Bradley Wiggins won the Critérium du Dauphiné in both 2011 and 2012, going on to win the Tour de France last year, and Froome will now start the 100th edition of the Tour as favourite – but the 28-year-old insists he is just one of several riders capable of winning the yellow jersey.
“I have won the Dauphine, and other races before, but the counter is back to zero when the Tour starts,” said Froome. “There will be six to seven main contenders for overall victory.
“The names? Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez, Evans, Van Garderen, Quintana are all capable of strong rides.”
A 24-man break went away early in the stage, which finished with the category one climb to the ski resort of Risoul, but only five riders were left ahead of the peloton after the descent of the Col de Vars and ahead of the final climb.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) attacked his breakaway companions on the lower slopes of the climb to Risoul, a 13.9km per cent ascent with an average gradient of 6.7 per cent, but was passed by De Marchi in the final five kilometres.
Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff squad set the pace in the peloton going into the climb before Team Sky took to the front, immediately shelling a number of riders from the group.
Contador, who fell out of overall contention after Wednesday’s individual time trial, dropped back on the climb in a bid to pace team-mate Michael Rogers, who went into the stage third overall, to the finish.
But the Australian, who joined Saxo-Tinkoff from Team Sky at the start of the season, finished nearly two minutes behind De Marchi to drop to sixth overall.
There was no such trouble for Froome, however, who continued an imperious run of form which has also seen him win the Tour of Oman and Tour de Romandie in 2013.
Froome added: “This win is a massive achievement for me. I was using the Dauphine as build up to the Tour de France, but to have come away with the victory here, I couldn’t have asked for any more, and to have my best friend in second place is the perfect scenario.
“It would have been great to win the stage as well but we have already won two of those this week and it just proved impossible to reel in De Marchi in the end.”
Critérium du Dauphiné 2013 – stage eight – result
1) Alessandro De Marchi (ITA) – Cannondale Pro Cycling – 4:28:09 hours
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +24″
3) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp – same time
4) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +31″
5) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +38″
6) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +49″
7) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha
8) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha
9) Daniel Navarro (SPA) – Cofidis +55″
10) Rohan Dennis (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +1’00”
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 29:28:46 hours
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +58″
3) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +2’12”
4) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +2’18”
5) Daniel Navarro (SPA) – Cofidis +2’20”
6) Michael Rogers (AUS) – Saxo-Tinkoff +3’08”
7) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +3’12”
8) Rohan Dennis (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +3’24”
9) Samuel Sanchez (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +4’25”
10) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo-Tinkoff +4’27”