One of the last countdown races to the Tour de France in July, the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, has its route all set and ready to go for the 2006 edition of the event. Starting in Annecy close to Switzerland with a pancake-flat 4.1 km-prologue on Sunday, June 4, the 58th Dauphiné Libéré will of course take on high mountains such as the Mont Ventoux, the Col d'Izoard, the Col du Galibier and La Toussuire amongst others. The race ends on Sunday, June 11 in Grenoble.
While stages one and two will be a sprinter's feast, stage three will shuffle up the general classification for the first time in view of a possible later overall winner: Wednesday June 7 is the day of the individual time-trial with a 42 kilometre route around Bourg-de-Péage. The route is undulating, and includes one fourth category climb at the nine kilometre mark.
The mountains arrive on the following day with a climb to the observatory at the summit of the either dreaded or loved Mont Ventoux, which will be climbed "traditionally" via its south side from Bédoin. Starting in Tain-l’Hermitage, the riders will have 186 kilometres in their legs at the finish on top of the 1909 metre "Giant of Provence", and Liberty's Alexandre Vinokourov might be looking to repeat his 2005 stage victory.
The race then transfers to the alpine town of Sisteron before the riders take on the 2,360 metre Col d'Izoard on their way to Briançon on Friday, June 9 - a good preparation for the French "Grande Boucle" just a few weeks after the event, as the Col d'Izoard will feature in the Tour de France stage 15 to L'Alpe d'Huez.
But the queen stage of the 2006 Dauphiné comes on the penultimate day: also featuring the same climbs as in the Tour de France stage 16 to La Toussuire, the riders will however be starting in Briançon and not Bourg d'Oisans. The peloton then faces a 169 kilometre stage including the 2,646 metre Col du Galibier before the long descent back to the valley. The riders then climb the 2067 metre Col de la Croix de Fer via the Col du Glandon before the 1,638 metre Col du Mollard. The final climb leads from the town of St-Jean-de-Maurienne up to the ski resort of La Toussuire, 1,700 metres in altitude.
The organisers of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré have announced the participation of all 20 ProTour teams, as well as French Continental Pro squad Agritubel. Last year's winner Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) is expected to attend in view of defending his title, with Alexandre Vinokourov (Liberty Seguros), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Francisco Mancebo (AG2R) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) all announced as participating to finetune their respective shapes for the Tour de France.
Prologue - Sunday, June 4: Annecy - Annecy, 4,1 km
Stage 1 - Monday, June 5: Annecy - Bourgoin-Jallieu, 207 km
Stage 2 - Tuesday, June 6: Bourgoin-Jallieu - Saint-Galmier,203 km
Stage 3 - Wednesday, June 7: Bourg-de-Péage - Bourg-de-Péage, 42 km
Stage 4 - Thursday, June 8: Tain-l’Hermitage - Mont Ventoux, 186 km
Stage 5 - Friday, June 9: Sisteron - Briançon, 155 km
Stage 6 - Saturday, June 10: Briançon - La Toussuire, 169 km
Stage 7 - Sunday, June 11: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Grenoble, 131 km