I’ll just start by making it very clear that my headline is correct — the Dauphiné is the best one-weeker there is for numerous reasons: its part in the season’s storyline, its attacking racing year on year and its tendency to have the cycling equivalent of a will they/won’t they, only instead wondering if two Hollywood actors will get together and ride off into the sunset we wonder if a rider and form will pair up to send them riding towards a podium finish. That is much of the charm of the Dauphiné — the chances we get to see Tour contenders racing each other are limited, especially in these days of Canarian training camps. Perhaps though, it is those training camps that are to be thanked for turning the Dauphiné into less of a training session and more of an event.
This year, an event it certainly is. The course and startlist is set up for quite an unpredictable event, so let’s see what we have in store. Before that, though, I’ll explain why this preview is up late: I was cycling around locally when a car I was riding alongside abruptly turned left, turfing me off my bike. I was fine apart from a few bruised and bloody fingers, but that stopped me writing for a good portion of Friday. Anyway, time to look at the parcours.
Here’s stage one, it looks absolutely ideal for a breakaway. If I’m a sprinter, I’m not telling my team to push all day on that terrain so it looks like our first race leader will be an escape artist. To pick a name out of nowhere I’ll say José Gonçalves.
Stage two continues the theme of being just horrendous for anyone trying to organise a chase.
Look at all that climbing without any descent. This is exactly the sort of stage a breakaway artist manages to stick around, do no work all day and sprint from the back of the group to win.
Stage three is a real sprint stage.
Sam Bennett will win.
Stage four is where it gets interesting and where the race will in all likelihood truly be won. It’s a twenty-six kilometre individual time-trial where a few guys will lose both time and the burden of the possibility that they will win the race.
The hill in the middle of the stage makes it more difficult but shouldn’t really impact the results too much. Porte will ride well, Alaphilippe will ride well. Jury is out on Dumoulin.
Stage five is a strange one. It looks like another breakaway stage in what is fast becoming the year of the breakaway but I have a feeling it’s a late attack that takes this one.
Stage six is where climbing finally becomes the big decider.
Alaphilippe could not dream of a better stage. He’ll probably go into the leader’s jersey, sparking round ten of the “can Alaphilippe hold on” debates, the answer to which is always no.
Stage seven is a seriously tough one.
Climbing for twenty kilometres is a big challenge by itself. When that twenty kilometres is placed after three first-category climbs it’s even harder. The fact that this stage takes place in a compact one hundred and thirty-three kilometres means that control will be at a premium. Trains can only get you so far on this stage. The strongest individual should win it.
Then there’s the final stage, almost always a cracker in Dauphinés of recent years and there’s no reason why this one shouldn’t follow suit. It’s only one hundred and fourteen kilometres, which practically guarantees aggressive racing (it’s almost, but not quite inducing me to say that these short stages are starting to take the mickey).
There will probably be about five riders in contention for the win and they’ll all be going for it. Hard to pick exactly how it will unfold but it’s a prime opportunity to have a bit of a pre-Tour battle with your rivals.
So, time to look at who’s going to win the GC. Froome is an obvious pick at the Dauphiné, having won it in 2013, fought hard in 2014 and taken it again in ‘15 and ‘16. He hasn’t raised his arms on a bike since Rome last year and he needs to assert dominance in his team if he wants to lead for the Tour. Probably.
He’ll be fighting his former team-mate, Richie Porte and his compatriot, Adam ‘Right’ Yates, who ripped the form charm from his brother while Simon was sleeping off a post-Vuelta hangover. Porte is Porte. He’s likely to fall off or get a puncture at the worst possible time but he’s still one of the best climbers in the world. I picked him to win the Tour last year and I’m not ashamed of that. Will I do it this year? I will not. Is he still a brilliant bike rider? Yes he is. As for Adam Yates, he’s been keeping a steady run of top-ten finishes but he’s been good in the Dauphiné in recent years so I expect good things.
Also expected to bring form is Jakob Fuglsang, who is riding better than ever before this season because we live in the Matrix and at this point they’re just fucking with us. He could win it or come nowhere. I refuse to predict Fuglsang’s actions and you can’t make me.
Future waste of Arkea-Samsic’s money Nairo Quintana is also riding and he’ll probably win to punish me for that description but it won’t help him for the Tour. Likely to have the opposite form pattern is Tom Dumoulin who must surely be using this race as a test rather than a chance to improve his palmarés.
Then comes the host of good climbers who I could spend all day listing. Dan Martin, Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot, Kruijswijk, Buchmann and Gaudu all look like potential top ten finishers but ten is a small number. Good job half of them will probably crack unexpectedly.
My prediction: Yates to win it by fewer than ten seconds.