It's been an untypical start to the Critérium Du Dauphiné. No predictable prologue and dreary sprint stage to start things off. Instead we saw an aggressive first medium mountain-stage with a breakaway win for Europcar's Canadian David Veilleux. Controlling a breakaway is always dicey on a first day when no team has the leader's jersey and it isn't a stage that the teams of the top sprinters feel a 100% motivated to bring together for a sprint. This way the race is already a success for the french ProConti team results-wise and their two top guys, Rolland and Voeckler are looking like they are right where they are supposed to be with the Tour in sight.
Others aren't looking as convincing. The entire Vacansoleil top ranks for example seem to be phoning it in this week. De Gendt has had major issues and dropped like a rock and Poels/Westra have both managed to drop out of contention too. This is the trouble with the Dauphiné, you can never quite know what to read in to the efforts here. All three of these guys are desperate to do well in July and even if they and the team are ideally suited to grab a result in a race like the CdD they can't decide to commit a rider or two to actually try to win the dang thing. Instead they are all anxiously looking ahead to July where they will, at best, end up with some zubeldian ninth place on GC or some random stage-win. Good for publicity perhaps but not a huge result points-wise or as a milestone in their careers.
Garmin's Andrew Talansky is the other highly notable floundering favorite here. Struck with a stomach bug he hasn't been getting the answers he would have wanted this week. I can't imagine he had peaked to challenge for the win here but I'm guessing he did want some answers that he would be close to riding with the big boys when the road turns upward. Now he will go into the TdF a little less reassured but as long as the illness doesn't stick around he shouldn't have too much of a setback in his Tour-prep. All in all though there are a lot of questionmarks for Garmin before this years TdF. Will Talansky be set back? Is Hesjedal 100% after the Giro disappointment and was the fragility he showed there a one time thing? Are Vande Velde and Millar coming back to useful form or has age got the better of them? Neither of them have shown anything this year so far but I'm assuming they are still on for July? No one knows if Dan Martin is cut out for three weeks of GT racing and Farrar isn't exactly dominating the sprints. Interesting times.
In the absence of the biggest sprinters (and plain straightforward sprintstages) we've seen some intriguing winners. Elia Viviani came and grabbed the big win that has been eluding him and he got it in the race where his form was supposed to be tailing off and on a stage that wasn't supposed to suit him. Amazing what a little lack of competition can do isn't it? Perhaps more interesting for the future was seeing the Welsh-Norwegian Sky duo pull off a win today. I know no one is expecting Sky to try anything imaginative in the Tour since the full focus will be on Froome but they really have a nice little weapon in their arsenal with those two if the need for a Plan B ever arises. It's also quite clear that they are more than ready to do their share of of work, I have the sneaking suspicion that the Sky support will be every bit as formidable as last year even if it looked better on paper last year. Plus there is no Cav-distraction.
Tomorrow's TT should give some fun answers. For the big favorites I don't think we'll learn much. T-Mart will win of course, Froome will want to secure his Wiggo v.2.0 status by trouncing Contador and Contador will smile, pedal away and not give a hoot, he needs a comeback in July, not here. More exciting will be seeing how the french guys are doing. Guys like Rolland and Coppel need to take all chances to build some credibility in the timetrials if they want to gain some confidence in actually being relevant in the TdF. For them stages like this matter. Both of them have kept to the front thus far and I really think they could do with a a result here, Coppel especially. Rolland has some TdF cred already and the few TT kms this year play in his favor but Coppel needs to take another step if we aren't to start writing him off and turning our eyes to the next French hope (who is Barguil btw, also another name to watch but probably not until we hit the real mountains, TTs are probably a later river to cross for him). With these guys, plus Voeckler and kids like Gallopin and Elissonde and Pinot who we will see next week in Suisse it's hard to think of a more exciting summer for in French cycling. All they need is someone to guide Bouhanni with some sense in the leadouts and world-domination is next.