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Critérium du Dauphiné Preview

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Will talks mountain passes and countryside, Andrew jinxes some riders

The Dauphine visits Lac de Roselend twice
©Will

Arrivederci Italia, salut France. This Sunday the 8-day Critérium du Dauphiné begins. It’s my backyard so I am biased, but, as usual, it’s a very fun course. As in recent years, the Dauphiné will “test” a Tour de France stage, it’s an effective way to attract top talent away from next week’s Tour de Suisse. And it’s a superb stage.

The Critérium du Dauphiné has run since 1947. It was created by the Grenoble-based newspaper the Dauphine-Libéré. But in 2010 the newspaper ended all involvement with the race - hence the name change. There hasn’t been a French champion since 2001 (Christophe Moreau) with 6 of the last 7 winners having English or near-English as their first language (Froome ‘16,’15, ‘13, Talansky ‘14, and Wiggins ‘12, ‘11 - but Fuglsang ‘17).

Did you know: The Dauphiné is a former province in south-east France whose area roughly corresponded to that of the present departments of Isère, Drôme, and Hautes-Alpes. It was a sort of independent principality until 1349 when the indebted Dauphin Humbert II sold his land to the King of France, Charles the V. Here began the tradition where the King of France would cede control of the Dauphiné region to his heir apparent.

Will: Most Tour de France contenders use either the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse as their final serious preparation race. So the standard question: Which race has the strongest field? Where are the Tour contenders?

Andrew: Normally an easy question, this. The good contenders go to the Dauphine. The outsiders go to Suisse. The deluded go to the Giro.

It’s harder to say this year, with perhaps the biggest contenders currently recovering from the Giro. If Doom and Froome both start the Tour, we’ll get a serious test of whether you can race both, and I still don’t think you can. I certainly don’t think you can ride 20 stages of the Giro, catch pneumonia, and contend in the Tour, so let’s hope Pinot takes some time off.

There are plenty of good riders in Switzerland, including Movistar’s trio (plus many sprinters, time triallists and other assorted non-climbers) but I think the strength in depth for GC is here. It makes sense; the race is set up to be as good a warm-up as possible. As we can see if we look stage by stage, there is some serious foreshadowing going on.

In fact, that’s a good idea. Let’s go stage by stage. Will, over to you:

Prologue - Flat

6.6 kilometres - pancake flat.

Will: I am not even going to post the “profile.” Seriously. So Instead, let me post the race’s King of the Mountain jersey. Now that is class. How can the organiser’s not have a classified climb in the prologue just so someone can start wearing this? /rant

I am considering getting a tattoo version

Andrew, what is the point of a 6 km flat prologue?

Andrew: What is the point? I don’t even have a joke. What is the purpo$€, however? Now I have a joke to work with.

One thought, though, looking at the order of the stages; we could see a different leader at the end of every day of the race. I don’t think we will, but it isn’t impossible. A little bit of separation from the prologue gives us some interest early on. It is great news for Geraint Thomas and Bob Jungels, and bad news for Bardet. I think Tom Bohli will be wearing the leader’s jersey at the end of the day.

You’re right about that jersey, though - that’s fantastic and I would wear it, and I don’t even ride a bike. I look forward to seeing you taking it to meet cows at altitude.

Stage 1 - Sprint?

Will: Despite seven categorised climbs (remember, climbs are categorised easier here than in the Tour) I am going to call this a sprinter stage. Note, barrage means “dam” so there might be a nice view near the end of this stage. Andrew, am I crazy expecting a sprint here? And are any sprinters attending the event?

Andrew: The sprinters making the trip are... uninspiring. Looking at the parcours as a whole, you can see why the cream of the crop might have gone elsewhere. On the other hand, the guys that have turned up aren’t pure power sprinters and should get over the late bumps. I don’t think you’re crazy, and anyone from the pile including Impey, Eddy Boss Hog or Ackermann could make it to the finish. I wouldn’t be surprised if EBH took the stage and grabbed the leader’s jersey, too. If those three don’t make it, there are plenty of classics types with a sprint who could contest it - Dylan Teuns looks a likely beneficiary of a tough run-in and would be my pick of the puncheurs.

Stage 2: Hilly? Sprint?

OK, not a gigantic stage, but scenic. Much through the Beaujolais region. Beaujolais nouveau is the popular red wine released on the 3rd week of November with grapes that have only recently been fermented. No drinking water while watching this stage.

In 2011 the Dauphiné was in this neck of the woods and this young man wrote podium café graffiti all over the road (far more than in view). Not certain, but I believe he may now be the President of France (again, I am not certain).

Andrew, my goodness, this must be another sprint stage, no? Are there any punchers in the crowd? Or did Thomas Voeckler retire?

Andrew: Can I copy and paste my list of riders from above? If the teams with sprinters want to bring this together, there’s nothing in the last 30km to stop them. It doesn’t look thrilling, but the list of towns they head through make me thirsty. Mmm... Fleurie. Anyway, as well as the guys I listed for stage 1, Bryan Coquard is here, and I think he’ll pick up a home win, something I know you’re rooting for. Puncheurs? Yeah, loads, but I think they’ll have gone for stage one and be back for more later.

Stage 3: Team Time Trial - 35 kms

How many stage races have a team time trial? Edit: Not the Tour de Suisse Will’s an idiot. Another Dauphiné recruiting tool for Tour de France hopefuls?

Will: Trivia question. This Team Time Trial is 35 kms long. How long do you think the Team Time Trial in the Tour de France is? Do you think any teams will have identical squads here and in the Tour in part because of this “practice” stage?

Andrew: I didn’t come here for trivia tests, but I see your point. Markedly similar to the Tour stage and we’re starting to see why this race attracts the bulk of the Tour hopefuls.

Too early to say how many teams we’ll see with guys who end up in the Tour, but I’d be surprsised if we see anything identical. There are Giro guys to reintegrate, and some riders are using California or Suisse to warm up. AG2R look the likeliest - they could add one guy from their Suisse team and have a pretty good Tour squad to support Bardet.

Who’ll win? Well, Mitchelton-Scott and Sky look to have well-rounded time trial units. BMC and Sunweb have good records in this specialism, but their big engines are elsewhere. I’m going to follow the rule of 2018, I think - when in doubt, back Quick Step to win.

Stage 4 - Mid-Mountains

A mountaintop finish in the Vercors Massif just south-west of Grenoble. Mont Noir (black mountain) was named after a fire designed to cull a local wolf population got out of hand. Oops.

Will: Here’s my hot take: The Vercors massif is the most under-rated Alpine cycling region in all of France. Incredible cliff roads, gorges, etc. Not the highest altitudes, but highly recommended. The last time I cycled Col du Mont Noir, a bunch of French soldiers jumped out of the woods, stopped me, and asked for GPS coordinates from my Garmin. Young recruits on exercises. Hopefully, the peloton doesn’t get lost. Andrew, are there any young French recruits riders in this race that could win?

Andrew: Oh, there’s French guys who could win. I can’t see it being Jerome Coppel, I’m afraid, but the home crowd and transplanted Canadians will have a few to shout for. Romain Bardet is the obvious shout, and Warren Barguil is always one to watch, but if you want youth, this course is set up to be a coming out party for David Gaudu, who is gradually ramping up his intensity this year and leads FDJ. Neither of them would be a surprise winner.

Pierre Rolland is not young but is French, and he’s the sort of rider who could grab this form a breakaway... if a breakaway has a chance. I think the GC contenders will keep this one tight, and bring things back together on the climb to Lans en Vacours. I agree with you that this is mid-mountains, but it is a tough stage and we’ll start seeing serious separation on GC. Let’s bring in a graphic of Mont Noir, to back up your personal account from above.

Tough enough. Apart from Gaudu, Barguil and Bardet, this will be a stage where all the climbers come out to play, looking to put time into the guys who went well in the prologue and TTT. I don’t think this will decide the GC, but you’ll want to be in the main group. Let’s pick a winner who is French, a talented climber and a great finisher from a group. Julian Alaphilippe.

Stage 5 - Mid-Mountains

Valmorel is a ski station in the valley next to the far more famous Col de la Madeleine. Not particularly steep, high or long, the hors-categorie rating is overstated. Tip: The best cycling at Valmorel is on a mountain bike to the many cols high above.

Will: Let’s get it out in the open, this is a tough course - at least the last three stages. But Valmorel a hors-categorie is a joke relative to several far tougher climbs in later stages that are only Cat 1.

Andrew, how does a Tour hopeful look at a course like this? Managing his efforts and using it as training, or looking to win the Dauphiné?

Andrew: Here’s a mealy-mouthed, but true, answer: it depends on the rider. There are guys who need tough racing and should be right up there. That’s the Team Sky approach. There are others who’ll be simply looking to get some miles in and are weeks away from their best form. Don’t rule out Nibali if he has a bad week.

Some riders, of course, are coming to a second peak after the Ardennes, whilst for others this is the beginning of one long period of intense racing. Curiously, this year, there are lots of guys coming off the Giro. What they have left in the tank will be an intriguing wrinkle. Brambilla and Bilbao both lead teams under these conditions.

This stage will certainly answer some questions about how fit the climbers are, whatever their stage of preparation. As the old cliche goes, you can’t win the race on this stage but you can certainly lose it. Looking for a winner? Put your orange spotty shirt on Dan Martin, who can climb with the best these days but might enjoy a late foray on a climb like Valmorel.

Stage 6 - High Mountains

This is is the annual stage that replicates a Tour de France stage (stage 11). And what a stage.

Will: Montée de Bisanne appeared in the 2016 Tour. It’s a hyper steep climb better known locally as Signal de Bisanne, but the Tour skips the last couple of steep kilometres (to the Signal), as it’s a dead-end. But there is plenty of consistent 9%-10% climbing here. Ouch.

Signal de Bisanne
© Will

But the truly exciting news is climbing Cormet de Roselend via Col du Pré. Roselend has been in the Tour many times but never via this “third” alternate, tougher route. From the summit of Col du Pré are fantastic views of Lac de Roselend, and even better, the Peloton will ride over the barrage (dam).

Lac de Roselend from just below Col du Pré

Cormet is a local word for pass or col. Cormet d’Arèches is another big climb crossing this section of the Alps. Note, the flat part on the profile below after Col du Pré is when the Peloton rides beside Lac de Roselend.

View of Lac de Roselend and its dam from near Col du Pré:

The classic direct way up Roselend skips the dam, but in 2018 the peloton will ride over it, around part of the lake, before heading higher. Fun!

In the 1996 Tour de France Johan Bruyneel crashed descending Roselend. A Youtube video here, or for those wanting a less violent version, my wife reenacts the crash here:

The final climb is to La Rosière ski station. This is on the road to, but a few kilometres short of, Col du Petit Saint Bernard (2188 metres) and the Italian border (remember Jens Voigt crashing descending this road in 2009 TdF?). It’s not the steepest climb, but almost 20 kilometres uphill.

Andrew, this is a big, big stage. We may even know the race winner at the end of this stage. Who are the contenders?

Andrew: I just need to take a minute and recover from looking at all those pictures. Man, this is going to be a pretty day, as well as being tough for the riders.

Okay, I’m better now. Except I’d also like to say that ASO haven’t included so much as a climb profile for Roselend. They obviously think this is all about the final climb. I don’t agree, and thank goodness we have the information above to educate us.

Like you say, this is a stage for all the contenders to come to the party. A few lucky teams are double-handed. QuickStep bring Alaphilippe and Jungels, who’ll both be competitive but I think will be found out here as neither is an elite climber yet. Sky bring Thomas and Kwiatkowski, and I think the former has a very real chance, though calamity is always around the corner. Movistar are still to show their three Tour contenders, but Soler and Roson are both more than decent and could go well here.

Who else? I’ve talked about Barguil, Bardet and Gaudu, but add Adam Yates seeking to match his brother’s glory, an allegedly not-fit-yet Nibali, Ilnur Zakarin and Dan Martin. Not a bad startlist, by any standards. You can even throw in Benoot, Vuillermoz and Tolhoek if you’re feeling generous. Bardet can take the stage and give more joy for the home fans.

Stage 7 - High Mountains

Another truly monstrous stage. They will climb back over the beautiful Cormet de Roselend, and then encounter 4 more categorised climbs including some very steep slopes on the final two hills.

Will: I have no problem with the Dauphiné using Cormet de Roselend twice. Both sides are stunning. And at least now they climb the side that Bruyneel crashed on.

lac and chapelle de Roselend

Like Cormet de Roselend, Col des Saisies is on the Route des Grandes Alpes. At the top of Saisies is a French/American monument commemorating a weapons drop to the Maquis (French Resistance) during WW2.

Note, the final two climbs of this stage are the same as stage 19 of the 2016 Tour (Bardet!!!). Although, unlike in the 2016 Tour, the route descends after climbing Côte des Amerands (2.7 kms at 11.2%!) and takes a slightly easier start to the route to Bettex. Regardless, both climbs have some very steep ramps.

Start of Côte des Amerandes climb - near famous Domancy climb (Hinault WC)

Not easy, very difficult, ouch. I know a short-cut mid route to an airport. If any rider is interested contact me at slowguypolkadots@gmail.com. This is an exciting stage. I will turn off the TV sound and just enjoy.

Andrew: Soooo pretty. Again, our readers will get far more from your reports than they ever would from the underwhelming race book. This stage is shorter than stage 6 and probably less threatening, but there will still be some separation. This is a day that we might see a breakaway rider getting a chance. Who’ll win? I have no idea. Still, when you’re looking at a hilly stage without an obvious winner, look to Lotto. Crazy Thomas de Gendt FTW!

Final Thoughts

Will: OK Andrew. It’s prediction time. Who’s going to win? As we all know, I know nothing about bike racers, but I’ve been told I can’t pick Pinot. WTF? So tell me your choice and please give me a French “hopeful” to support.

Andrew: You can pick Pinot if you want. It’ll be as good as Jens’ pick. This is also a very good race to opt out of predicting. There are lots of riders with serious chances.

David Gaudu Getty

The French threat is getting more real every year, and looks good this time around. I wouldn’t rule out a stage win for Alaphilippe or Barguil, maybe Coquard can pop up in one of the sprint stages. Who knows, maybe Pierre Latour or Alexis Gougeard for the prologue (nah, probably not). For the overall, though, it is all about Bardet, with Gaudu and Barguil as wildcards. Bardet deserves his place among the favourites and looked better than ever this spring, though I fear the TT trips will stop him winning.

Like a good whodunnit, I’ve mentioned my pick to win, but not drawn much attention to him. Not young, not exciting, not the best climber, but a solid and consistent rider who’ll enjoy this varied parcours and might come in under the radar and then be difficult to beat. Ilnur Zakarin. Incidentally, I’ve had a few quid on Gaudu (40/1) and Zakarin (22/1).

Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Will: Excellent, thanks Andrew. Please place 1 quid on Bardet for me! To everyone else, enjoy the race.