From the sprints to the time-trials to the climbs, we had a surprising week watching the peloton trek around the Hautes-Alpes, capped off by a surprising victor in Astana's Jakob Fuglsang. Speaking of whom:
Jakob Fuglsang has probably peaked for the year
Let's underreact. The three mountain stages of this race belonged to Fuglsang - I can't argue that stage six, where he won a three-up sprint against Froome and Porte having crested one of the toughest passes in the region, or stage eight, where he soloed to overall victory on another were not some of the best performances of his career - but the Dane always finds a way to end up as a domestique. I can see a scenario where Fabio Aru stays a little way ahead of him on GC and the Dane is forced into working on the front for the umpteenth time in his career. It's possible also that Fuglsang ended up in the right place at the right time — he was ahead of the favourites when they attacked on Mont du Chat and if sticking on Porte's wheel on Alpe d'Huez was impressive, most of Porte's effort to dislodge him came on the easier upper slopes.
But actually... Fuglsang was the fastest in the race over the Plateau de Solaison and his ability to pull out such a huge gap over Froome, Contador and the rest is surely indicative of a Fuglsang capable of challenging for a high placing at the Tour. He's gotten a top ten before, remember, and surely this is a new level of climbing talent from the Dane.
Fan the flames? Perhaps not. I can't take much from a Dauphiné victory based around one big attack — then we'd have had to be promoting Talansky's chances for the Tour three years ago, something I certainly don't remember doing. Still though, Fuglsang's come into a bit of form I don't remember ever seeing from him. It's enough to place him on the "Riders to Watch" list for the Tour, if not to contender status.
Alberto Contador is not in as much trouble as it looks
Let's underreact. Contador is in the peloton long enough to have ridden this race when it was purely for the purpose of preparation, so if he says he's racing to a plan it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that he's speaking the truth. Add that to his good performances in Paris-Nice and País Vasco, and you can see that while his season has been less than stellar, he's still Contador and he's still going to the Tour with the intention and ability to make an impression. If we're going to accept that Froome is going to turn up in Düsseldorf in some sort of shape to win the Tour de France, surely there's scope to believe the same of Contador.
But actually... This is a performance unlike anything I remember seeing from Contador since...when? The same race four years ago, when he got gapped by Froome on Valmorel and started working for Mick Rogers, coming to the Tour in no condition to challenge. In almost every race Contador has ridden since then, we have seen him attack. In vain, often. But the attacks have still come. Even in races where he's been left behind by Pinot, Valverde and Bardet, he's been aggressive. The fact that he wasn't here shows that something is off. I don't believe he was riding too far within himself — he was undercooked. Given how pessimistic his interviews usually are, the fact that he seemed happy about his chances also seems very unusual for him.
Fan the flames? Maybe. I've been saying all year that we have seen the last of a Grand Tour-winning Contador so I struggle to see his performance in the Dauphiné in anything but a pessimistic light. The fact that he was unable to hold the wheels in a race where he has looked strong in the past surely can't be seen as anything other than weakness from the Spaniard.
Sam Oomen (21), Emanuel Buchmann (24) and Guillaume Martin (24) might not be here to stay just yet
Let's underreact: For Oomen, known as a strong climber, to lose only fifty seconds to Porte in the time-trial was very impressive, but he lost out badly in the mountains. Then Buchmann climbed strongly, but he wasn't taken as a serious threat by the contenders and was given much more rope than he might otherwise have been. Guillaume Martin hung around the back of the peloton, altogether making less of an impression than the other two.
But actually...Buchmann's GC performance was quite brilliant. Fourth place on the final stage showcases the climbing talent of which we should expect to see more. Oomen has so far shown less, but we can expect more of him and Martin in the future.
Fan the flames? Yeah, I can't even pretend to be unenthusiastic about these three. They seem set to climb to greater heights in coming seasons.
Chris Froome is still the big Tour favourite
Let's underreact. Ever since 2012, Chris Froome has turned up at the Tour de France in the form to win, so the fact that he isn't gobbling up stage races now that he has nothing to prove isn't a major blip in his preparation to join the exclusive "Four Tours de France" club, population nobody. Rather than make many moves on the climbs, Froome chose to war mentally with Porte, outclassing him on the descents and harming his chances of winning the overall on the Col de Colombière. The fact that he was able to do all of that while still managing a decent ride to fourth place makes me reasonably confident in his ability to reach his peak by the start of stage one of the Tour.
But actually...Remember the Col du Béal (Still one of the most exciting summit finishes I can think of) in the 2014 Dauphiné? Or the same race last year, where Froome lost no opportunity to attack? Or the year before where he crushed Tejay van Garderen on the final stage to take the yellow jersey? Froome likes to make a statement in this race. Or liked to. The fact that he turned up with less form than previous years certainly marks a departure from Froome's old strategy of pounding his opponents to a pulp in June and finishing the job in July.
Fan the flames? Nah. Does anyone really think Froome's lost it, or is anywhere near losing it? He'll turn up fine in July. Whether Porte or someone else can beat him there is another matter, but as it stands there's no reason not to believe Froome's still on track.