This time last week we were wondering about the form of Chris Froome in this the final preparation race ahead of the Tour de France. The Sky rider had been beaten by his rival Alberto Contador in the uphill prologue of the Criterium du Dauphiné with former team-mate Richie Porte even finishing in front of him.
Fast forward a week and it is clear that any fears as to his form were unfounded. Froome bounced back in style winning the first big mountain stage of three over the final three days of racing to seize the yellow jersey before taking more time from his nearest rivals a day later and marking them tight on the final stage that seen him wrap up the overall victory ahead of Romain Bardet and Daniel Martin with Porte and Contador back in 4th and 5th respectively.
Following that prologue win by Contador, stage victories on flat to rolling roads were taken by Nacer Bouhanni, Jesus Herrada, Fabio Aru (in a superb opportunists move to attack late and hold off a charging peloton in an attempt to take something from his race after losing a heap of time in previous stages) and Edvald Boasson Hagen, while the GC remained largely untouched as the contenders kept their powder dry for the three mountain stages.
And as he likes to do, Froome struck on the first of those three stages to Vaujany. He left Contador for dead and only Porte could remain close as Froome took the stage and a 7sec lead over Porte with Contador dropping to third at 27sec. Only Froome’s former lieutenant Porte was of a serious threat.
A day later on an epic stage to Méribel, Froome marked his rivals for the majority while the young Frenchmen of Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, down far enough on GC for Froome to take his eyes off of them, went up the road to duke out the stage. Bardet looked the stronger of the two, putting in incessant attacks only for Pinot to dig deep and hold the wheel. So it was with great admiration that Pinot then took the sprint between the pair, digging deeper still to remain Bardet that he remains the greatest French hope for July. A little further behind Froome was attacking again and nobody but Dan Martin could react. The result increased Froome’s lead overall to 21sec on Porte and Bardet.
The final stage was tough but not quite as challenging and it was perfectly suited to Britains Steve Cummigns who thrives on a lumpy stage in which he can spring a late move. Bardet and Pinot will have been glad not to have seen him the day before, with stark reminders of when the French duo were mugged by Cummings at stage 14 of last years Tour de France. But Cummings took his victory and was followed in by a small group of names that included Bardet and Martin, but not Froome. He was only 5sec further back, with his eye on Porte and Contador and safely the winner of the Dauphiné for the third time.
The last two times Froome won the Dauphiné he went on to win the Tour de France so confidence will be high.
Criterium du Dauphiné final classement:
|1. Chris Froome (Sky)
2. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale)
3. Daniel Martin (Etixx – Quick Step)
4. Richie Porte (BMC)
5. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)
6. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick Step)
Tour de Suisse underway
Elsewhere, another Tour de France prep race got underway just as the Dauphiné was coming to its climax. I’ll have more on the Tour de Suisse next week as it comes to its nine stage conclusion but with three stages now complete, it’s very much the Peter Sagan show. Fabian Cancellara rolled back the years with a win in the race opening time-trial, but Sagan won the next two stages with moves that caused time splits and put him into the overall lead by 3sec over Jurgen Roelandts.
The major climbing here doesn’t start until stage 5 at which time Sagan is expected to fall away from contention as the GC contenders take over. Look out for Sky’s Geraint Thomas who is looking to add this result to his Paris-Nice victory and prove his ability to lead Team Sky should Froome falter at any time during the Tour. Also keep an eye on defending champion Simon Spilak as well as Rui Costa who won this race three times between 2012 and 2014.
Rider of the week
Only one real winner here: Chris Froome. Bounced back from the uphill prologue to take a stage win and the GC and show complete control over his rivals.