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There has been a brief lull in racing after the Giro d’Italia but the wait for high-action drama will be over this Sunday when the Critérium du Dauphine starts in Champéry.
The Critérium du Dauphine is often seen as a mini Tour de France due to it’s preparatory nature and the fact some of the route also features later at the Tour. The race run by ASO is a perfect indicator of Tour contenders’ form as for many GC contenders it is typically the last race before they ride the Grand Boucle.
Despite being concentrated in the French Alps, the Dauphine provides opportunities for all kind of riders. But this year’s route seems to favour riders who prefer climbing. The queen stage of the race, Stage 7, will feature the climb of Alpe d’Huez-Col de Sarenne which will also feature in the Tour.
Stage 1 – Champéry to Champéry (121 km)
The race starts and finishes in the ski station of Champéry which also hosted the 2011 UCI MTB World Championship. Given it’s the first stage, the route is already difficult with four climbs, including two first category ascents of Cote de Morgins (9.2 km, 6%) and the more difficult Col du Corbier (7.6km, 7.5%). The uphill finish should suit strong puncheurs.
Stage 2 – Châtel to Oyonnax (183 km)
The race leaves the territory of the Alps and makes a pass in the Jura mountains. A lumpy stage with couple of steep ascents towards the end should make for fun viewing. A sprinter who can get over the hills should fancy his chances at the finish.
Stage 3 – Ambérieu-en-Bugey to Tarare (164 km)
On paper, this stage is tailor-made for the sprinters but it’s not completely straightforward. Col des Sauvages should provide a stern test for the sprinters and opportunistic riders will definitely keep their powder dry before this climb.
Stage 4 – Villars-les-Dombes to Parc des Oiseaux (32.5 km)
A flat individual time trial stage starts in Dombes, known for its numerous ponds, and ends at the Parc des Oiseaux (Bird Park). The route is completely exposed to wind and a strong powerhouse of a time-trialist should be the favorite for this one.
Stage 5 – Grésy-sur-Aix to Valmorel (139 km)
A short stage where the race makes its comeback to the Alps. The route looks fast before the final climb up to the ski station of Valmorel. The wide roads and steady gradient shouldn’t prove to be too difficult for the GC contenders.
Stage 6 – La Léchère to La Léchère (141.5 km)
The final “sprint” stage of the race before it heads for the skies. The climb of the Col du Barioz (7.1km, 7.3%) could be too much of a fancy addition to a stage which could have done with some fast finishing.
Stage 7 – Le Pont-de-Claix to Superdévoluy (183 km)
The queen stage, this one is for the hardcore climbers of the peloton with five high mountain climbs on the menu. The stage starts with the iconic climb of Alpe d’Huez which is immediately followed by the remote Col de Sarenne. From Ouisans, the race moves towards the scenic Col d’Ornon. The finish features the climb of Col du Noyer, a tough but beautiful beast with long stretches in the 11-13% range. The finish up the ski station of Superdévoluy is a 4kmclimb at 6% with wide roads.
Stage 8 – Sisteron to Risoul (152 km)
The third summit finish on another difficult mountain stage to wrap up the race, Stage 8 will tackle two category 1 climbs. First, Col de Vars which has been included in the Tour de France 33 times, is 10.4km at 7% (the highest in the race, 2108 m) and the finish climb up the ski station of Risoul is 14km at 6.7%.
The race is hotly anticipated as the face-off between Team Sky leader Chris Froome and Team Saxo-Tinkoff’s leader Alberto Contador. The duo has already met twice this season at Tour of Oman and Tirreno-Adriatico. Throw in other contenders in the mix – Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andrew Talansky and Jurgen Van den Broeck – and the race already feels like the Tour.
Chris Froome will be the favorite to win this race. In 2013, he has won Tour of Oman, Criterium International and Tour de Romandie. He also finished second behind the Giro winner Vincenzo Nibali at Tirreno-Adriatico. At his service will be strongmen like Richie Porte, Vasili Kiriyenka and Davi Lopez who are more than capable to set a suffocating tempo on the tough climbs of the French Alps. Froome will be extra motivated to win the race to prove his credentials as the deserved leader of the team at Tour de France. Edvald Boasson Hagen will mostly be the team’s designated sprinter.
Alberto Contador looks to be Froome’s nearest rival although the Spaniard has hardly hit top form this season. He had strong showings at Tour of Oman, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of the Basque Country but has only been a shade of rider who won the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. Like Froome, he too will be ably helped in the moutains by strong climbers Michael Rogers, Jesus Hernandez and Chris Anker Sorensen.
This year Alejandro Valverde might want to do more than just win a stage at the Tour which means he will give it a proper go at the Dauphine, a race he won in 2009. Another Spaniard to watch out is Joaquim Rodriguez. Purito has focussed all his energies this season to win the Tour de France which features a more climber-friendly parcours. With only a second place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege to boot from his Ardennes Classics campaign, Purito will look to provide some fireworks along with his trusted lieutenant Dani Moreno. Jurgen Van Den Broeck will be there or there-abouts but will definitely animate the racing.
A new element to this year’s Tour will be the young American, Andrew Talansky. Talansky came very close to winning the 2013 Paris-Nice and will be super-charged to thwart the dreams of more experienced GC riders. Another young gun to watch out in the race is Michal Kwiatowski. He had a fairly strong showing at Tirreno-Adriatico and then carried that form throughout the Classics campaign to rack up some solid results. With Gianni Meersman and Tony Martin in his team, together, they will probably look to score few stage victories. Tom-Jelte Slagter has not shone since his season-opener win at Tour Down Under and will look to be in the mix with other young riders.
Dauphine being a French race, ideally one should expect a local rider to be among the leading contenders. Jérôme Coppel looks to be the best GC bet of the Frenchmen starting the race. Team Europcar brings a strong team in the form of Pierre Rolland, Thomas Voeckler and Natnael Berhane who finished second at the Tour of Turkey. Voeckler has been missing top form but then he always surprises at big races. There are many big names in the startlist who are capable of winning stages in their own right. Nacer Bouhanni, Thor Hushovd, Tony Gallopin and Simon Gerrans will be up there for the lumpy stages. Damiano Cunego, Thomas De Gendt, Jakob Fuglsang, Kenny Elissonde, Mikel Nieve, Rein Taramae and Leopold Konig will try to impress in the high climbs of the French Alps.
Click here to see the provisional startlist for 2013 Critérium du Dauphine.