Route to the Tour - who goes where?

Doug Pensinger

June is the buildup month to the Tour de France. Two stageraces who are undoubtedly the best ones after the three Grand Tour both serve as preparation-races for the big show in July. As unfortunate as it is since the races really deserve more credit than that, it's a reality. So what are the teams focusing on?

In terms of which race is the most preferred as far as TdF contenders are concerned the Dauphiné wins in a heartbeat. It has a lot going for it. A little bit longer restitution period before the Tour which is probably not a huge factor but if you take the risk of minor injury or illness into account that extra week of recovery could be well worth it. Courses are probably the biggest factor. You can always count on the CdD to have a reasonably mountainous course but never any insane stuff that force the riders to go too deep, the Suisse courses are a bit more varied. Sometimes they throw in some really challenging stuff and the roads are slightly less know to the teams and riders. It seems that every now and then there are some surprises and curve-balls that no one was quite aware of before the race. To the Tour-pretenders, surprises are not on their wishlist, also I think they don't like cheese. Add to that the fact that the Dauphiné has made a tradition of including some key moments, often some new less-known climb or a timetrial, from the TdF course so that riders can use the race as recon as well. This year doesn't have much of that, ASO are only giving the Alpe d'Huez-Col de Sarenne passage a dress-rehearsal but no riders are presumably making the trip simply for that.

In the end personal preference and training-programs are probably the decider. You also get the feeling that Switzerland are a bit more for outsiders hedging their bets sometimes. You may not be a top contender for the Tour but with good form you may just walk away with a Suisse win at least (*cough* Fränk Schleck *cough*).Some teams are clearly splitting up their top riders, probably to honor their commitments to both races but also to spread their chances a little. There are too many World Tour points in these race to just diddle them away training. Very few teams have deep enough benches to dedicate top riders specifically to target these races with no regard for later TdF performances though.

So, what are the World Tour teams focusing on?

Ag2r - Tour de Suisse
Left with little choice, Switzerland it is. Having to quarantine themselves in accordance with the terms of their MPCC (Mouvement pour un Cyclisme Crédible ) after the positive test from Sylvain Georges the team has had to sit out the Dauphiné. This is a huge blow as that is the second most important race of the year for a french team and it's also a race where Ag2r have done very well historically. So Suisse it is for JC Peraud at least and presumably the core of the TdF team.

Argos-Shimano - Critérium de Dauphiné
The non-GC teams don't really factor in here. Argos seem to be splitting their focus pretty evenly, probably in an effort to try and poach whatever WT points that may be up for grabs. It's not as if either of the races offer much opportunity to hone your sprint-train so this is simply a matter of getting miles for many. The CdD squad has some interesting starts from youngsters Barguil and Janse Van Rensburg so lets say their focus is there.

Astana - Critérium de Dauphiné
After a full on successful assault at the Giro the Vinoans are taking much more of an outsider gamble at the Tour. Unproven guys like Brajkovic and Fuglsang are set to lead the team and they're both doing the Dauphiné. The general feeling is that they stand a better chance of a result at the dress rehearsal than they do in July.

Blanco - Tour de Suisse
Mollema gets his big shot at the Tour even if Fragile Frankie Gesink seems to be going too after his aborted Giro. Mollema did Suisse last year too before he went down like everyone else on Rabo in the Tour. Luis Leon Sanchez who seems to be in the doghouse and out of the TdF-squad should be one of the big hitters who actually fully targets a ToS result.

BMC - Tour de Suisse
Tejay Van Garderen coming off a mission accomplished in California has chosen Switzerland and we all know he's the undisputed leader of the team, right? Anyways, Cadel, like most who are doing the Giro-Tour double is electing to sit out the big ones in June in order to recover from the three hard weeks. The Suisse team looks like the bulk of theBMC TdF team with just a few names, Pinotti, Moinard and Thor doing the Dolphin crit. Results in the ToS will probably come down to guys like Gilbert and Greg van Avermaet and perhaps the local boys, can't imagine doing much.

Cannondale - Tour de Suisse
Basso and his bum backside are making a comeback here but what it all boils down to is the fact that this team will be all about Sagan this year. Caruso who was supposed to be their GC man for the TdF but got bumped up to the Giro when Basso couldn't be arsed to ride is still listed to ride the Dauphiné but I wonder if that is still in the cards? If not, they've got Le Bupkis.

Euskaltel - Tour de Suisse
Igor Anton in Switzerland and Mikel Nieve in the Criterium. Neither of them look like formidable TdF challengers but we'll see. Anton did all but win a Vuelta once, perhaps he can be an unpleasant surprise for the opposition both in Suisse and the Tour.

FDJ - Tour de Suisse
Young Thibault Pinot is sending a pretty strong message. The follow-up Tour to his breakthrough last year will not be hampered by any unnecessary distractions. Distractions like the ones you get when you race the other big races in France when the press is proclaiming you the Next Big French Hope. He skipped Paris-Nice and he is skipping the Dauphiné in favor of Suisse. Couple that with him and his teammates zigzagging France to scout Tour-stages and it draws a picture of a serious assault on the TdF (and hence not a serious assault on the Tour de Suisse). Looking at the TT-light TdF course it's hard to fault his focus.

Garmin-Sharp - Critérium de Dauphiné ?
Talansky is prepping in France while Hesjedal is using the Tour de Suisse to bridge his Giro-form to the TdF. It looks as if some of the Tour-destined riders, like Dan Martin and Farrar, are joining Ryder. You don't manage to find a new surprise performance every TdF by putting all your eggs in one basket.

Katusha - Critérium de Dauphiné
Joaquin Rodriguez is tuning up in France with Dani Moreno by his side. Don't expect much from those guys but the Suisse team looks like guys more likely to score in June rather than July. Spilak a good bet on a Tour de Suisse winner?

Lampre-Merida - Critérium de Dauphiné
Is this when Damiano Cunego finally becomes a Tour de France champion? Is this his year? Well....... lets just say maybe not, but for reasons passing understanding Lampre are sending him to the Tour. Looking at the course he'd do well to say "f**ck it" and focus all on the Dauphiné instead, there are a bunch of stages that he could do really well on. And Levi isn't here to screw him over on the final day either.

Lotto -Belisol - Critérium de Dauphiné
Van Den Brouck wants to be seen as a legitimate TdF contender and legitimate TdF contenders go to the Dauphiné. So let's indulge Jurgen and pretend for a a second that the Tour for Lotto isn't all about helping Greipel crush Cavendish.

Movistar - Critérium de Dauphiné
Valverde did a solid piece of support riding last year helping Costa win Suisse. This year he really thinks he has a shot at the TdF and is going back to his trusted Dauphiné format. I'd say he is my odds on favorite to take the win actually.The CdD course is just rightly balanced for him and unlike Froome and Contador he can't help himself but race all out. Costa meanwhile wil try and defend his 2012 win in Suisse.

OmegaPharma-QuickStep - Critérium de Dauphiné
Huh? Ehhh...... what, is it April again already? No? Is Cav racing ? No? Let' move on then. That said, Chavanel and Kwiatkowski will probably kick all kinds of ass in the Dauphiné.

Orica-GreenEdge - Tour de Suisse ?
Another sprinter-centered team which looks pretty evenly spread out. Gerrans is in France and could poach some of the medium stages but their best shot is probably with the ever impressive Albasini (and the less impressive Goss) in Switzerland.

Radioshack - Tour de Suisse
The Shack's ToSuisse team totally looks like it could be their TdF squad. Their Dolphin-squad totally doesn't. Gallopin is pretty much left to defend the teams honor in France and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he does too actually. The slight quirk is that Cance isn't doing the TdF and Andy is...... well who the heck knows what shape Andy will be in for the Tour, let alone Suisse? How do you spell grupetto again?

Saxo-Tinkoff - Critérium de Dauphiné
Talkative-Bjarne's Boys are pretty evenly spread. The bulk of the TdF destined riders are in France with Contador but Kreuziger, Roche and Zaugg feel like they might be an almost better bet for a big June result and heaven knows Saxo coud need some results.

Team Sky - Critérium de Dauphiné
Sky really struggled in the Dauphiné last year, only managing to put four riders in the top 10. This year they will be back for revenge. Does anyone doubt that Froome will be wanting to put his foot down and prove he is the head honcho on this team before July. Suisse gets the Junior-Sky team. Oh, and Wiggins if he needs the miles.

Vacansoleil - Critérium de Dauphiné
These guys are almost as stacked as Sky in the Dauphiné. All their heavy hitters except for Rujano (bwahahahaha) are there. Question is, are they putting all their eggs in one basket hoping for a massive, sponsor-attracting, payoff in July or do they have ambitions for the Dauphiné too?

So clearly the Dolphin is the more stacked race by some margin. If you want a sneak preview of what to expect in the Tour, this is the week to tune in to. Switzerland on the other hand might serve up a bit more of unpredictable racing since Sky won't be sitting on the proceedings with their big fat GC-dominance pletwals.

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