Traditionally, the Criterium du Dauphiné is a rehearsal for the Tour de France. This 68th edition was no exception, and ended with a Tour de France winner, Chris Froome (Sky), who earned his third victory in the event.
It all started in Les Gets where Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) used his pure climbing skills to master the uphill prologue; 3.9 km of time trial which gave a first impression of the form of the main contenders, such as Froome and Richie Porte (BMC Racing).
Stage 1 was dedicated to the sprinters — 186 km without any major difficulty offered the perfect setting for Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis). The former French road race champion used his speed and his shoulders to cross the finish line in first place at St-Vulbas. It was his third win in a Criterium du Dauphiné stage.
Serious business was to start the next day, in Chalmazel Jeansagnières. Jesus Herrada of Movistar stormed to victory, ahead of France’s Tony Gallopin. Contador and the other GC contenders had no problem reaching the top together, except Romain Bardet. The AG2R La Mondiale leader fell in the finale and lost precious seconds.
Tournon sur Rhone was the glory day for a great champion: Fabio Aru (Astana), the Vuelta a España champion came out of the main field and then resisted his rivals’ comeback to take his first stage win of the season. The Italian reminded the competition that he will soon bid for Tour de France success.
Stage 4 was another sprinters’ course, on the way to Belley. Would Nacer Bouhanni sign a second success? His ambition was upset by Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, who out-sprinted the bunch in the final meters to give Dimension Data its first success in a Criterium du Dauphine.
The long-awaited mountain stages, dreaded by some, finally arrived and the big guns started their fight on the slopes to Vaujany. Froome was the strongest in the finale. He attacked hard and Richie Porte was the only one able to follow the Britton; Contador had to relinquish his yellow jersey.
The queen stage of this 68th edition, between La Rochette and Muriel, delivered an Hors Categorie pass, the Col de la Madeleine. France’s Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet made the best of their time difference on the favorites’ to attack. The mano a mano between France’s most-talented GC riders settled in favor of Pinot, more efficient in the sprint. Froome retained the yellow jersey.
A last round in Superdevoluy offered the surprise stage win to Steve Cummings (Dimension Data). The British rider broke off the front group 60 kilometers to the finish line and never slowed down. Cummings’ efforts paid off as he crossed the finish line cheered by the crowds.
In the favorites group, Contador tried a last time to shake up the hierarchy, but Froome dominated any attempts. The only change of the GC came from Dan Martin and Romain Bardet who, thanks to the bonuses, climbed on the overall podium at the expense of Porte.
It was Froome’s second consecutive success in the Dauphiné, his third in all.
The week was profitable for the French, who won two stages and a third place of the GC for Romain Bardet, as well as the best young rider’s jersey for Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep).
All eyes are now turn to the Tour de France, the start at Mont St Michel will take place in less than 3 weeks.