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Is the Dauphiné the gateway to Tour success?

Due to its position on the cycling calendar, the Critérium du Dauphiné is perennially used as a preparation race for the Tour de France. This has been the case going all the way back to the seventies when Eddy Merckx, Luis Ocana, Bernard Thevenet and Bernard Hinault all won the week-long race before going on to take victory in the Tour de France a month later.

Last year, the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper ceded organisation of the race to ASO, the company who also take care of the Tour de France. This change has seen the race embrace its moniker as a Tour preparation race even further by including a carbon copy of the final time trial of this year's Tour de France.

As we all know by now, Bradley Wiggins won the race overall thanks to a great time trial followed by defensive riding in the mountains. His performance was by no means the wonderful, fantastical, incredible ride that Carlton Kirby of Eurosport would have us believe.But Wiggins played to his strengths and won the race in the same manner that Indurain went about winning five Tours de France. It's hard to fault. Wiggins can only ride the route that's in front of him and he did so effectively and efficeintly, albeit without panache.

Naturally, the British press are salivating at Wiggins's prospects for the Tour. Perhaps rightly so. But historically, does success in the Dauphiné translate well to success in the Tour de France a few weeks later?

The answer is, sort of. On face value, there hasn't been too many riders who have doubled victory in both. Since the time of Bernard Hinault, only Miguel Indurain (1995) and Lance Armstrong (2002,2003) have managed it. But then there haven't been too many years since Hinault when the Tour wasn't won by either Indurain or Armstrong.

If we take a look at how the winner of each edition of the Dauphiné has fared in the subsequent Tour de France, again on face value, it doesn't look too promising for Wiggins. Other than Indurain and Armstrong, only one other rider in the past 20 years has won the Dauphiné and gone on to finish in the top 10 of the Tour, Alejandro Valverde in 2008.

The 2005 Dauphiné winner Inigo Landaluze finished a lowly 100th in the Tour. Other former winners like Christophe Moreau, Tyler Hamilton, Alexandre Vinokourov and Janez Brajkovic all finished the subsequent Tour well outside the top 20.

But if we consider the flipside scenario, how did the Tour winner get on in the preceding Dauphiné, the stats are more encouraging for Wiggins and Team Sky.

In the past 40 years, there have been 20 occasions where the Tour winner raced in the Dauphiné as preparation (rather than the Tour de Suisse or the Giro). In all but one of those years, the Tour winner finished in the top 20 of the Dauphiné.  The exception being Bjarne Riis who abandoned the Dauphiné in 1996 and also went on to start and abandon the Tour de Suisse in the same year (hmmm.....).

Of the other 19 occasions, Carlos Sastre finished 20th in the Dauphiné in 2008 and Oscar Pereiro ended up in 14th place in 2006. On each of the remaining 17 times where the Tour winner has ridden the Dauphiné, he finished in the top 10. That's a fairly solid stat showing that carrying form from the Dauphiné to the Tour is probable.

In the past few years, Contador has finished on the podium of the Dauphiné in 2010 and 2009 and finished sixth in 2007. While Armstrong finished in the top four on five occasions throughout his tenure as Tour champion.

But, as suggested over on the excellent Inner Ring blog, it's one thing riding defensivley against the likes of Cadel Evans and Jurgen van den Broeck, it's another prospect entirely trying to keep up with Contador and Schleck when the roads of France start to rise. Realistically, Wiggins must know he has no chance of finishing ahead of either of these two and is surely aiming to be best of the rest in third place.

A major concern must be whether Wiggins has peaked too early. Because the winner of the Dauphiné has tended to struggle in the Tour, whereas finishing lower down in the top 10 of the Dauphiné seems to signal that a rider's form peak is on the rise just in time for July, rather than at an apex.

Regardless of his lack of panache, it's hard to dismiss the chances of a rider who has already finished on the podium of France's two biggest stage races so far this year, as he also finished third in Paris-Nice back in March. Should he manage to finish on the podium of the Tour, Wiggins will become the seventh rider to finish in the top three of the three biggest stage races in France. The others are Alberto Contador (2010), Urs Zimmermann (1986), Bernard Hinualt (1984), Eddy Merckx (1971), Raymond Poulidor (1966) and Jacques Anquetil (1963). Only Merckx and Anquetil have managed to actually win all three in the same year.

For your perusal, here's a table of information regarding the performances of the Dauphiné winner in the Tour and vice versa for the past 40 years:

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