Given how much our experience of the Giro was enhanced by the presence of Girbecco, major races are scrambling to find their own mascots. (Wait till Chris sees the 2010 Tour of Flanders mascot.) The Dauphine, being the first major race after the Giro, had to scramble to find its mascot and so they turned to the California design firm of Crash + Dan who came through big-time with Savant! You will find Savant! in all PdC Dauphine-related posts this year to increase your viewing pleasure.
2. Video coverage. Go to either Cycling Fans or Steephill.TV for links to the various video outlets for this race. The actual feed looks to be on Eurosport and France3 and also Cycling.TV-remember them? Also Versus TV in the US will have coverage on the two Sundays plus a daily recap on their website as they gear up Phil and Paul for their Tour coverage. Have they ever done a daily recap of a race that's not the Tour of California?
3. Valverde vs Basso-three years late. Remember June of 2006? Two of the big favorites of the first non-Lance Tour were Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso before OP broke open and the two were banned from that year's Tour. So now three years later they finally meet in a race of some importance. Both should be going for the win. Valverde is the defending champ who is fighting to race this year's Tour (some things change only a little) while Basso will try to hold his Giro form for another week before hitting the beaches.
4. Sandbagging. Ivan and Alejandro aside, Alberto Contador is the natural favorite with various big names also participating. But the always big question you will hear for this race is who is going all out and who is holding back for the Tour? Actually I don't think that is the big question as all the big GC riders and their domestiques will have the Tour in the back of their minds and they want to peak for that race. Kinda obvious, no? That of course doesn't mean that they won't be racing hard here; it just means that they may not quite have their July form yet. We all know how the big GC guys prep for their big races. Some of them are well known for just logging in the miles while others compete harder. Cadel Evans for example has finished 2nd the last two years on the way to finishing 2nd at the Tour. So the question is who is sandbagging for this race? My advice: Just ignore most of the pre-race quotes.
5. Boonen's back- and by himself. Some are billing Boonen's entry in this race as attempting to put some pressure on ASO so they allow him to race the Tour. Yeah, right. If ASO allows Tom to race in July it won't be because of what he does in the Dauphine. Meanwhile because this year's Dauphine only has two stages that might include a bunch sprint (stages 2 & 3) basically all the other big-time sprinters are at the Tour de Suisse next week. Actually there is an interesting sprinting story here as Micro Lorenzetto, fresh off his bad Paris-Nice crash, is back in the peloton. The bad news for Lorenzetto is he's still riding for Lampre.
6. Mt Ventoux. The Dauphine is known for racing the same roads at the Tour and this year they get real coincidental with stage 5 finishing up Mt Ventoux. It's not the exact same stage as the approach is different but that big climb at the end is the same. My advice: call in late in late or miss any scheduled meetings. (Albertina, I'm looking at YOU.) An interesting aside about this mountain is that Alberto Contador keeps saying that he does not like it. Yes, this is in contrast to such climbs as the Angliru (which he looked forward to) but it's not clear why he singles out Ventoux. Maybe because he finished 10th on his only other race up the mountain in 2007? Don't know. At any rate it might be interesting to time the ascent and compare it to what happens in the Tour.
7. Hills, schmills-this race will be won in the time trials. Stage 1 is a 14 km time trial, while stage 4's chrono course is 42 km with a hill in the middle-very Pais Vasco-ish. With two time trials before Mt Ventoux and the rest of the climby stages, we'll have a definite race leader before the race goes up. That says to me that Bert will be leading the race after stage four with the other contenders needing to attack him on mountain stages. Normally with that scenario you are looking at game over before the climbing begins with Bert possibly leading wire-to-wire (if Rabon or Grabsch don't take the first TT over Bert) but as this is the Dauphine we'll see if Contador has the form yet to defend his lead.
8. Everyone but Saxo. Comparing the Dauphine and Suisse Tour's startlists, what strikes me is that, Sastre and Menchov aside*, most of the Tour GC contenders are at the Dauphine-except Saxo and the Schlecks (currently engaging in a war of exclamation points in their home race.) Okay the Suisse Tour has some credible GC riders but I tend to put them as top ten but not really podium-ready for the Tour: Kreuziger, Kirchen, Kloden, Colom and Valjevec being the best non-Schlecks in that race as opposed to the Dauphine having Contador, Evans, Gesink, Basso, Nibali, Valverde, Vlad Efimkin, Astarloza, and Zubeldia. Slight advantage to the Dauphine.
* I'd normally include Leipheimer alongside Sastre and Menchov but no doubt he's using The Tour de France as training for the Tour of Missouri. I'm sure Levi would say that Missouri will be "more fun". In other news, Levi is a jerk wad.
9. The Kids. We all know Bobo Gesink. Same with Vincenzo Nibali. Could this Dauphine be a coming out party for Dan Martin of Garmin? They could use some luck. You also have Jacob Fuglsang on a Saxo team that doesn't have an obvious leader and who also had a good Catalunya. (There's Lars Bak as well.)
So who do you like? This is a VDS cat 3 stage race so some decent points to be had.