The Dauphiné has always seemed quite a special race to me, I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it’s Robert Millar’s fault. It encompasses many of the parts I enjoy most about the Tour de France, notably some familiar mountains, but also it allows the drama to ignite between the Tour contenders. It’s a huge race to win regardless of what happens at the Tour, some riders honing form, some taking psychological blows on rivals, others fighting for team places, the shadow of the Tour de France is all over this race. The Critérium du Dauphiné is where things really start kicking off between the major stars in cycling, but also between the domestiques, this & the Tour de Suisse are battle grounds between GC contenders & the final places on Tour de France rosters, the stakes are high.
The Story So Far
We’re up to stage six & looking forward to the finale of the weekend mountain stages, with Saturday likely to be the most brutal. What have we learned about the form of the Tour contenders present at this race?
The opening 10km prologue was won by Froome, which isn’t really a surprise. Interestingly we saw Contador finish in 2nd place, his time trialling hasn’t really been up to its former incredible level for a while now, but it looks like he’s back to near his best, but hopefully not up to the Cancellara beating performances of 2009*. Contador’s interviews have shown that he’s been doing much more aerobic training than ever before during the winter, so using different methods for base training looks to be paying off for him, showing he was always a talented rider. Bert is a joy to watch on the bike, while Froome is as ungainly as ever, his upper body always seeming unable to deal with the power passing through his legs, but it seems to work for him. The contrasting styles make their battles even more compelling, the third week in July is going to see many casualties if these two remain or improve on the form they currently have.
The accelerations we saw on the Col du Béal from Froome were impressive. Seated accelerations under high load to reach a high cadence are not unfamiliar to anybody from a track background. Although some marvel at them, it looks to me like an attack on a fixed gear in a velodrome, something of which the coaches from the BC system who now work with Sky will have had many years of experience in developing. When people ask what exactly can we transfer from track to mountains, I’d suggest that the seated acceleration Froome is displaying is potentially one of the un-noticed ones. I can’t really remember anybody else making this so effective in the past, even in the ‘bad old’ years. It’s an incredibly efficient way to attack if you can do it, he stays aero & crouched, especially important for him as he has the upper body mass of Gollum, if he got out of the saddle too much he’d snap.
As for the performance being extraordinary, there were no huge time gaps over other contenders, such as Nibali, who although being touted as being out of form, still managed to finish within 30 seconds. Froome’s accelerations were mightily impressive, but his ability to sustain that effort didn’t seem possible, had it been he may have been able to break Bert, but that never happened & they slowed to allow the others to re-group. I found Talansky & Kelderman to be showing signs they can also be challenging for high positions in July. The Garmin rider is looking much more like a top 5 Tour rider now, the teams 2014 protected rider it seems, Kelderman for the white jersey? Van Den Broeck was also riding well, all these riders took their chances & had a go at attacking, we’ll see what happens on Saturday.
Otherwise so far the only significant point for the GC was when Contador attacked on a descent, which I’ll cover later.
* (Before anybody else tells me Lac d’Annecy was a very hilly TT, it wasn’t, there was one wee bump, I’ve ridden the course, he rode 40.5km in 48 & a half minutes, not exactly a mountain TT speed).
Porte in a Storm
When Sky decided to make a point on stage 2, the Col du Béal being the battle ground. Thomas did a huge turn, but we saw Richie Porte ‘attack out the back’ of the group, when we expect him to one of the last riders at head of the Sky train. Nieve is looking like the last guy who’s going to lead Froome in the latter stages of the Tour mountains, unless Porte can pull something together & sort out his consistency.
I suspect Richie doesn’t recover as well as Froome, but if given a rest for a day or two can be right up there with the best again. Perhaps not indicating he’s a Grand Tour winner (yet), but certainly a super-domestique & week-long stage race winner when the big boys are not in town. This was evident yesterday, Contador attacked on a descent (which I hope he keeps doing) & the gap went out to over a minute, Porte was working on the front, with only himself & Nieve left to help Froome. As the gap went out I thought Porte was unable to close it, but he quickly increased the pace & took 40 seconds from Contador, on a climb over a short distance. This shows he’s still got the ability after all his problems this year, but he needs to be used wisely, insisting on him going for a high overall placing isn’t going to help anybody, he needs used, rested, then used on another stage, he can’t double up. A vanity attempt to get a good result on GC is going to end in tears I suspect, plus a rider falling apart & seeming to fail isn’t going to help Sky’s PR after leaving the bearded one behind.
The Gist Of It
You can’t bluff on Saturday, 161 km through two 2nd cat climbs, a 1st cat & two beyond category, anybody suffering will be found out. I’ve ridden the Forclaz, but not familiar with the Finhaut Emosson, which rides to nearly 2000m for a mountain top finish. I’ll be finding some excuse to be sitting in front of the telly to see what happens there tomorrow, hopefully Froome’s crash today won’t blur anything & we’ll see a true Froome/Contador battle on the final mountain.