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The Giro d’Italia is over and it’s now time for the first one of two warm-up races for the Tour de France: Critérium du Dauphiné.
Over the past two years, the overall winner of Dauphiné has gone on to win the Tour de France – Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013. This year, we have all the top favourites for the Tour de France starting the Dauphiné. No matter who wins overall, this will be a very interesting race to follow.
To spice up things, the race organizers have decided to bring back the bonus seconds. This means there are now 10, 6 & 4 seconds on the finishing line each day – except for the opening time trial. Stage 1 is the only ITT in the race and its 10.4 km won’t make big gaps amongst the favourites. This year, the race will be settled on the climbs – and there are plenty of them!
Stage 2 and 7 are most likely where we will see the biggest time gaps between the riders aiming at the general classification. Both days end on an HC-climb. It will be interesting to see the form of the Tour de France favourites just a few weeks from Le Grand Départ. Stage 3 is the only day for the sprinters. Stage 4, 5 and 6 seem prime for a breakaway, while stage 8 is the last chance to move up in the GC.
Naturally, the two big favourites for this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné are also the two big contendors for the Tour de France.
Chris Froome won this race last year. He’s the prime pick. Froome has only done three races this season, which is two less compared to this time last year. In Tour of Oman, Froome easily won the big mountain stage (stage 5) and the general classification in Volta a Catalunya, he finished 6th overall after skipping Tirreno-Adriatico a few weeks earlier due to a back-injury. Last month, Chris Froome showed to be in great shape when he won the Tour de Romandie overall after winning the final time trial in front of the triple world champion Tony Martin. Compared to last year, Chris Froome’s lead-up to the Tour de France hasn’t exactly been smooth. Injuries and sickness have kept him out of important races and the media hasn’t held back on the Wiggins/Froome-dispute stories. Bradley Wiggins doesn’t seem like he’ll be doing the Tour de France this year. Some may say this weakens Team Sky. I’m sure Chris Froome, Richie Porte and the rest of the team in Dauphiné (which very much looks like the Tour de France team) will be eager to prove those critics wrong.
The biggest threat to Chris Froome is, of course, Alberto Contador. The Spaniard is back to his former self, doing well in all the races he competes in. Contador has done four stage races this year. He has won two of them (Tirreno-Adriatico and Vuelta al Pais Vasco) and finished 2nd overall in the other two (Volta ao Algarve & Volta a Catalunya). Clearly, Alberto Contador is doing very well this season. The Dauphiné will be his first race in nearly two months but usually this is not a problem. Tinkoff-Saxo is having a great 2014-season and they seem to deliver in every race they take part in. Contador is very eager to show the world that he is back at his best level. He wants to win the Tour de France, but in order to do so, he has to beat Chris Froome. So far, the two riders have only been up against each other in Volta a Catalunya. Contador won the fight back then, but this is something different.
Neither Chris Froome nor Alberto Contador has to win this race in order to prove they can win the Tour. However, neither one wants to lose face either. Whoever ends up winning this race – and I’m confident it will be one of these two – will enter the Tour de France as the top favourite. Personally, I think it will be a very close fight.
The other contenders
On the level just below Froome and Contador we will find Vincenzo Nibali. After winning the Giro d’Italia last year, Nibali is now aiming big at the Tour de France. The talented Italian started his season already back in January, in Tour de San Luis where he finished 44th overall. Nibali usually knows what he’s doing and how to get ready for his big targets. However, without a single win or an overall podium place this season, it’s starting to look a little worrying for Astana. So much that Gazzetta reports that Alexandre Vinokourov has sent a letter to Nibali, regarding the Italian’s “poor performances”. In Tour de Romandie, Nibali finished 5th overall, almost two minutes behind Chris Froome. On the big mountain stage, Nibali made the first attack on the final ascent. However, Froome quickly responded and it didn’t take long before Nibali was struggling behind. He finished 7th that day. It is obvious that something isn’t working for Vincenzo Nibali. Still, you can never count him out. Astana wants to see results. Nibali is very proud and I’m sure he will try to show both his fans and his team, that he’s ready for the Tour. I don’t think he will win Dauphiné overall, but I would expect him to win a stage.
The same goes for Tejay van Garderen. As I have already mentioned many times this season, this is an important year for Van Garderen. For the first time, the young American will lead BMC in the Tour de France and this year, he has had to prove that he’s up for the task. So far, he has done very well. Van Garderen finished 2nd overall in Tour of Oman, 3rd overall in Volta a Catalunya (after winning the big mountain stage) and 6th overall in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Unfortunately, he crashed in the prologue in Tour de Romandie and abandoned a few days later. According to Tejay van Garderen, he’s doing very well right now. He has been able to train without problems and he feels confident going in to Dauphiné. While many others are using this race as a wam-up race for the Tour de France, Tejay van Garderen aims to be at 100 % already in Dauphiné. He wants to test himself and his BMC teammates. I expect Van Garderen to do well in the opening time trial and stay with Froome and Contador on the climbs for a long time. In Catalunya, he attacked all the top favourites (Contador, Froome, Quintana, Purito, Pozzovivo etc.) on Vallter 2000 and won the stage. This proves that Tejay van Garderen definitely is a serious contender not only for Dauphiné but also for the Tour de France.
Within the last three years, a long time trial has made a big impact on the overall result in this race. This year, the short ITT on stage 1 is the only fight against the clock for the riders. Naturally, the stage will create some time gaps, but they won’t be of huge importance with bonus seconds back in the mix. Therefore, it’s much more important that you can climb than that you are strong on the time trial bike.
This is also the reason why I don’t see Michal Kwiatkowski as a top favourite. The opening time trial is an advantage for him – actually I think he will win it – but I don’t think he will be able to beat the riders mentioned above on the big climbs. Kwiatkowski is a once-in-a-generation-talent, there is no doubt about this. He will soon be a strong contender for the Tour de France, but not yet. He still needs to improve on the difficult climbs. The way I see it, the top five is the best the young Pole will be able to do in this field.
Regarding other strong outsiders, look to Jurgen van den Broeck, Andrew Talansky, Simon Spilak, Leopold König, and Wilco Kelderman who’s hoping to use his good shape from the Giro to gain a result in Dauphiné. Not to forget youngsters like Adam Yates, Bob Jungels and Kenny Ellisonde.
My two personal smokies are Edward Beltran and Sebastien Reichenbach. Every team wants a Colombian rider these days and Edward Beltran was Tinkoff-Saxo’s choice. He’s from the golden 90’s-generation but he has been struggling to show his talent after his impressive performance in the Baby Giro in 2010. Beltran is a very strong climber and it will be interesting to see how long he can stay on the climbs with Alberto Contador. Personally, I think he will be doing very well. This goes for Sebastien Reichenbach as well. Dauphiné is a big goal for the Swiss rider who has been doing very well this season. You may not have noticed him, but Reichenbach has finished 11th in Paris-Nice, 15th in Critérium International and 15th in Tour de Romandie. He’s very good on the climbs and not afraid of attacking. I’m sure Sebastien Reichenbach will show his talent again in this race, making another good result. If everything works out for him, he may make the top ten overall.