Critérium du Dauphiné Preview
Come June comes another part of the season, and starting now the attention shits dramatically towards the Tour, and the Dauphiné has been since a long time the biggest launching pad for the riders focusing on the Grand Boucle, as a stint in the French roads, the Alps, and it allows for more time for training camps after the race, unlike the Tour of Swisse, starting later this week.
Stage 1 is one for the sprinters, the first yellow jersey should be one of the fast men and there are several choices between them, it isn't a flat stage but the climbs come somewhat far from the finish, a suited day for the break but there are several sprinter teams that will be able to resist and chase. There is of course a chance the breakaway makes it, but it will need a strong group and cohesion.
Stage 2 is a much harder affair, still a very hilly and rolling stage, the opening 70 kilometers are really hard with barely a flat meter, and this is a stage perfectly suited for a breakaway, as the GC men will surely keep their powder dry, and there are lots of outsiders capable of flying through the short powerful climbs. The final climb comes with 18 kilometers to go, it's 3.2Km long at an average gradient of 8.9%, it's hard enough for attacks to come, and they are very likely in case there's a break with a big lead, or a very hard race until that point, it's good terrain to make differences.
This one will see the sprinters again at it. Not a pan-flat stage, far from it, but it's much easier than the previous ones, and should come as an easy day for the overall men before they enter the vital part of the route.
Which begins in stage 4 with a 26.1-kilometer long time-trial, a classic in the Dauphiné, but it isn't a flat one, it's better to call it hilly. It's basically a come-and-go route, with a slight uphill leading to the intermediate point, atop a 2.3Km climb at 7.6%, following the trend of having hilly time trials, but this might very well be the most important day in the race, as the gaps are certain to come big here.
Stage 5 is the last chance for the sprinters. Another one that is flat but far from easy, with 201 kilometers in distance and over 2000 meters in climbing, the stage is filled with small climbs that go all the way to the finish, but those that would only disturb the heaviest of sprinters if the pace is full-speed all day long.
The final weekend in the mountains is the decisive one though if we let go the importance of the time-trial. With gaps made in it, it is in theory time for the climbers to start dealing blows head-to-head to each other, and this day is a good one for it. Although it can be said that the final climb isn't hard enough to create real gaps, what comes before it may change the scenario a bit.
There's 3700 meters of climbing in this day despite the lack of a big mountain, it's 229 kilometers long in the Alpine valleys, finishing in one of it's most reputated cities of Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, and the climb where it's likely to see the race winning moves is 8.1Km long at 6%, hard after 215 kilometers in the legs, but a preparation in a way for what's to come in the following days.
Stage 7 is perhaps the hardest, it's main argument is the very hard summit finish. The stage is short, only 133 kilometers long, but it doesn't mean it will be a fast one. En route to Pipay, there's a trio of first category climbs (7.7Km at 7.3%, 15.8Km at 5.5% and 10.2Km at 6%), which will make the stage a hard one but the real dificulty comes in the end.
With the final climb at the Montée de Pipay, a 19Km long climb at 6.9%, it's dificulty resembles that of some of the Tour's hardest climbs. It's long but steep at the same time, and after a hard stage it's set to cause serious damage, the only true summit finish of the race and in such conditions perhaps the most important stage.
Despite that, the race is known for having amazing twists in the final day, and the race organizers once again set up a stage with the ideal conditions for a mountain raid. To start of the day there's a trident of short climbs, starting right at Km 0 that can make damage if the climbers decide to go on early, 5.4Km at 4,8%, 4.4Km at 5.9% leading straight to a 6Km climb at 4%, favourable terrain for agressive racing.
Col du Corbier (7,7Km at 7.4%) and Pas de Morgins (8.3Km at 4.1%) provide further launchpads for attacks, if not than it will likely serve as further damage to the peloton, possibly in the breakaway aswell. If it comes to the final part of the stage, attacks will come in the Côte des Rives mainly, a 8.4Km climb at 6.2% that summits only 12Km away from the finish. After a short descent there's a pitch to the line, with a 6.1Km climb at 4.6% with a short flat section in the middle. This stage is very well made, with no real brutal climb, and lots of them in a short amount of distance, there's lots of places where the climbers can attack, and it isn't terrain where the strongest can easily dominate, the stage comes with a total of 3000 meters of climbing, very decent for this distance.
On stages 1,2,3 and 7 there's forecast of rain. It's still early to call it a sure thing, but there is a big chance those stages can have weather influence, and the first two stages are the ones where it's most likely to make differences, as stage 7 is the one with the summit finish, hence possibly the one where rain may have less impact on the race.
As it's classic there's a big division in the type of stage-racer that's a candidate for the final win, but as always this race promises a lot of show as the level of form the riders have is different and most haven't raced in a long time, and there are some riders rated as contenders that don't have the habit of performing very well outside the grand tours, so let's take a look at who they are.
Let's start with INEOS, it's a tradition to have them enter with big favourites as they've won 6 of the last 8 editions. This year Chris Froome comes in as the leader, he's showed good form last month unlike his usual Tour preparation, hence why some consider him top favourite, but he's always an incognite. Wout Poels and Michal Kwiatkowski can very well lead the team when it comes to the decisive part, it's something that will be decided on the road likely, with even Gianni Moscon a possibility.
In the time-trialist section I'll mention Tom Dumoulin at first, but he shouldn't be in for the fight as he is coming back from injury in the Giro and signs haven't been the best, but if he does feel good he's obviously one to consider. Richie Porte comes as another outsider in a way, no way of knowing what form he's carrying into the race but this season the signs have been far from best.
Now onto the climbers who can time-trial decently and can defend themselves pretty well against the specialists, there's Jakob Fuglsang who won the race in 2017 and this season has been in the best legs of his career it seems, shining in the Ardennes. The hilly and explosive race suits him very well but he isn't below any of them in the long climbs. Adam Yates who has been brilliant and very consistent in every stage-race he's been this year with already 3 stage wins in the book, supported by Jack Haig who is another rider slowly evoluting into a very complete stage-racer, he has been Mitchelton's plan this year and in Paris-Nice he finally lead the team and climbed with the best. Steven Kruijswijk comes as a bit of an outsider with such a strong startlist, he's very strong but benefits more in the 3-week races, these aren't his specialty but barring disaster he is a great prediction to be in contention. Bora's got the Buchmann/Gorssschartner duo who can also be dangerous, two power climbers who can time-trial well to ass more into the mix.
In the pure climbers section there's also very very strong candidates, Nairo Quintana can be the first mentioned as he's targeting the Tour again this year, Thibaut Pinot and David Gaudu may be part of the main contenders aswell as both have shown their great qualities as climbers this year, and they are coming in with great support with Molard and Reichenbach, FDJ are bringing their A-game to the Tour and in France they will always look to perform.
Dan Martin has also been a constant in this race's contention, since 2015 he's always been here and worst GC was 7th, the time-trialing won't be good for him but there's lots of ground to make up and he's the type of rider who can benefit from the sharp racing that's set to happen. The other is Romain Bardet who is also a constant in this race but also lacking something to win it. The time-trialing is the main obviously, but he also never seems to have the climbing needed to gain time on his rivals. Still he comes with a strong team backing him up, and is another explosive rider and this race suits him better than the Tour, so if he puts on a good ride in the time-trial he is a solid contender.
Then there's Michael Woods of EF, riders like Dylan Teuns or Guillaume Martin can also be a factor in the GC, and of course Julian Alaphillipe but only if he is given the freedom to go on breaks as the long climbing won't come to his play.
The sprinters field is very interesting, the amount of fast men isn't big but there's the particularity that the majority can climb very well.
Sam Bennett is the first name to mention, he's been definetely one of the strongest this season aswell as the whole Bora setup, which is having a fair share of success these past few months. Sonny Colbrelli, more known as the sprinter/climbers, he's had his weakness in Romandie in not having enough of a team to chase down the moves when he had the legs, with some possible allies and Dylan Teuns there's a bigger possibility of seeing the Italian fighting for the stage wins, specially as he loves the wet weather.
Deceuninck have Alvaro Hodeg, with the team more focused in the punchy stages he won't be getting such a strong leadout as Deceuninck are usually capable of providing, but the Colombian is very fast and on his own can be there in the couple of flat stages. André Greipel is the other pure sprinter to mention, his sprinting power seems to still be there but the German has clearly lost his edge in positioning, and rarely even gets to be up there. He's a possibility for the sprints but only in special scenarios.
Nacer Bouhanni comes as part of a climbing-focused team, but he will also fancy his chances after looking solid in California, as the same level as him Edvald Boasson Hagen is a good possibility, he has performed really strongly in Norway recently and has good history with the race, a push and a win from him would definetely be important for his team who are having a hard season so far.
Lorenzo Manzin, Jens Debusschere, Luka Mezgec, Jens Keukeleire and Clément Venturini are other sprinters to consider in the faster battles, with riders like Daryl Impey and Davide Ballerini to consider in the harder stages, and of course, Julian Alaphillipe and Zdenek Stybar in the same.
⭐ Gaudu, Kruijswijk, Kwiatkowski, Buchmann, Haig, Dumoulin, Porte
I would rate Adam Yates as the strongest rider. There will be a chemistry, Froome and INEOS will be the men to beat even if they aren't the strongest, so whilst there will be focus on them there are riders that will benefit, Yates can defend himself against the clock and is the ideal combination of a punchy and pure climber, who is agressive and tactically astute, and he always comes in form for pretty much every race.
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