The week long Critérium du Dauphiné begins Sunday June 7th. Continuing its recent strategy to out-do the Tour de Suisse as race of choice for Tour de France hopefuls, the Dauphiné will provide teams a perfect training ground for la grande boucle. This includes an exact duplicate stage of a key Tour de France stage, a Team Time Trial, a sneak preview of Les Lacets de Montvernier, and much crappier team hotels than Switzerland.
The race will have eight stages including:
- A fun circuit stage (6 loops)
- Three drool-worthy high mountain stages
- A Team Time Trial
- Three stages that are either mid-mountain or sprint stages
As usual it's a star studded field as most Tour de France participants race either here or the Tour de Suisse (the following week). Defending champion Andrew Talansky will be joined by Tour de France favourites Christopher Froome and Vincenzo Nibali (Mr. Quintana will ride the TdS while Mr. Contador will ride neither enjoying his new pink kit). Other notable Dauphiné participants include D. Martin, A. Valverde, J. Rodriguez. T.V. Garderen, B. Mollema, S. Yates, J.C. Peraud, and my podium pick: Romain Bardet. Allez!
Conor has a rider preview here. I'll focus on the course,
Official Race Site: here
Television: Note: stages 1,2,3,5,6 are scheduled to finish fairly early by 15:00 CET or so, perhaps to avoid conflicts with the French Open? N.B. I fully expect Chris and all other Podium Cafe west-coasters to set their alarms for 4:15 am and join our live threads (HTFU).
France 3 and Eurosport will have TV coverage. As usual go to Steephill.tv for all viewing options.
Some Initial Thoughts
It's a beautiful route: not quite Swiss pretty, but pretty in a more rugged sense. It's a balanced route: The sprinters will have their chances then head home. It's a challenging route: there are plenty of big mountains, but I don't think it's too over-the-top. Still, the last four stages are all difficult, and all four have uphill finishes.
The Queen stage? Sorry, I am not letting you vote this time. It's clearly stage 7. This will be a tough, tough day that may help convince lazy pundits that there are in fact steep roads in the French Alps.
Let's take a quick look at each stage:
Stage 1 - Circuit
When I only knew the start/finish towns, I assumed this would be a monster stage. Alps in every direction. But instead it is a circuit course with 6 loops (one bigger, 5 identical) through Albertville. It's bumpy, but not too bumpy: they will climb Côte du Villard 6 times: 1.2 kms at 8.7%. Should be fun.
For the Tourists: Sure, watch the stage, but first go cycle a mountain. Côte du Villard is the early slopes of the climb to Col du Tamié (960m). Not the hardest road with a beautiful abbaye famous for its cheese just over the col and the Fort du Tamié overlooking Albertville just above the col. Or just look up, dozens of big climbs nearby.
Stage 2 - Mid-mountains/Sprint?
A scenic stage that starts beside the biggest lake entirely in France - Lac du Bourget (strangely it becomes the 2nd biggest lake during winter). The first half of the stage passes through the French Jura mountains then heads into the Dombes region - about as flat as it gets, famous for its centuries old man-made lakes (for the fish!).
For the tourists: Lac du Bourget is a beautiful, under-rated mountainous region for cyclo-tourists. The early part of the stage passes by two of the tougher cycling climbs in all France. Col du Chat is next to the terrifyingly steep Mont du Chat, and Col du Cuvéry is in the same massif as Grand Colombier. See here for the best cycling climbs around Lac du Bourget. Your author cross country skis often at Col du Cuvéry.
View of Lac du Bourget (and Mont Revard at left) from just below Col du Chat:
Stage 3 - Team Time Trial
In keeping with its goal to be the top Tour de France prep race, there is a Team Time Trial. Not too long, not too bumpy.
For the Tourists: Roanne is known for its gastronomie (food culture). It's the home of the famous Troisgros family and site of their 3 Michelin Star restaurant La Maison Troisgros. I'd tell you more, but riffraff like me and Jens aren't allowed in places like that.
Stage 4 - Sprint Stage
There are no major airports near Sisteron, so the sprinters will have to take a train home after stage 4. Could we take a moment and mock the last category 4 climb of this stage? It doesn't even look difficult on a profile, huh? (it's 1.3 kms at 6.7% and 13 kms from the finish, so I suppose it's a good spot to attack).
Stage 5 - High Mountains
Now we're talking. Sticking with recent tradition, the Dauphine includes a stage through the Alpes de-Haute-Provence (the hilly part of Provence) that will also appear in the upcoming Tour de France (stage 17).
The highlight of this stage is the stunningly beautiful Col d'Allos - the highest point in this Dauphine at 2250 metres (higher than the Cima Coppi in the recent Giro). Pra Loup is a little ski station, far from the most interesting road in the region, but perhaps perfect for an exciting stage finish.
Prepare for Eddie Merckx stories. The great Belgian was attempting to win a record 6th Tour de France in 1975. A French spectator (an Anquetil fan?) punched him in the liver during stage 14. Stage 15 finishing at Pra Loup would be the last stage where Merckx ever wore yellow - losing two minutes to eventual Tour winner Frenchman Bernard Thévenet.
Pra Loup loosely translated means "wolf meadow" - there is a howlingly fun wolf statue in town.
For the Tourists: Below Pra Loup is the town of Barcelonnete, perhaps the best base-town for Col hunters in the south French Alps. Completely surrounded by huge climbs including Cime de la Bonnette at 2802 metres. The quintessential big south Alps cycling loop is here: Col d'Allos, Col de la Cayolle, and Col des Champs: 120 kms almost completely on quiet roads over 3 huge cols. Stunning.
Stage 6 - Mid Mountains
A beautiful mid-mountains stage starting in the Hautes Alpes. Col du Rousset is a hairpin-lover's dream road and is the stairway that will lead the peloton into the Vercors Massif.
Les Gorges de la Bourne will feature at the end of this stage. Wifey:
Stage 7 - High Mountains (Queen Stage)
I cringe every time I hear the trite saying that the French Alps are not steep like Italy or even the Pyrénées. Trust me, there are plenty of very steep roads all over the Alps. This stage is a good example.
Don't let the 8% average grade of Col de la Forclaz fool you - it includes strange math that subtracts metres for the kilometre long downhill section. It is very steep - but rewarding with perhaps the best views of Lake Annecy available by road bike. Col de la Croix Fry similarly has an average grade diminished by a long flattish stretch. I won't say much about Col des Aravis as they sell cow pelts at the summit (boooo!). Finally the finishing climb above the spa town of St. Gervais begins on a little road at +11% for almost 3 kilometres. Ouch. (near Hinault's legendary Domancy climb) This will be a tough stage.
Col de la Forclaz is steep:
Col de la Croix Fry is the site of my favourite hairpin anywhere:
For the Tourists: Col des Aravis is seen by Swedish pros as the perfect place to sleep at altitude:
Stage 8 - High Mountains
Get ready for the Lacets (hairpins) de Montvernier. This crazy little road across the valley from Col de la Croix de Fer was long not well-known by cyclotourists. But as it gets ready for its first Tour de France appearance riders will get an early preview mid-way through this stage. See this Podium Café article for a detailed look at this unique road.
There is plenty of uphill in the final 50 kilometres of this final stage of the Dauphiné. Let's hope the GC is still undecided as they approach the little ski station of Valfréjus.
Les Lacets de Montvernier:
For the Tourists: While the paved road ends near Valfréjus, adventuresome mountain bikers can go a full vertical kilometre higher on old military roads to the Italian border at Col du Fréjus. Along the way are the remains of several military installations. There was high alpine fighting between the French and the Italians here during WW2 as described in Lionel Terray's great alpine climbing book Les Conquérants de l'Inutile (Conquistadors of the Useless).
A Final Thought
OK, as I re-read the above the course seems harder than I first thought. It will be a tired peloton that pedals up to Valfréjus. But four uphill finishes makes me very excited.
Allez Romain Bardet!
Below: Jens and Col de la Croix Fry looking beautiful: