Contador stays safe in sprint final at the Criterium du Dauphine

Spaniard and his team unwilling to let any seconds slip away

What started out as a relatively routine, almost placid day at the Criterium du Dauphine, exploded into life inside the final few kilometres.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) boxed his way to victory ahead of Jens Debusschere and Sam Bennett, while Cofidis and Katusha fought for supremacy ahead of a finish that saw several riders touch shoulders and push the lines of leadout regulations to their limits.

Onlookers were even treated to the sight of Chris Froome (Team Sky) riding near the front in third wheel with just over a kilometre to go. Resplendent in the king of the mountains jersey, he almost paid for his actions, and was lucky to stay upright when the direction of the peloton suddenly changed.

For race leader, Alberto Contador, the day effectively ended a few kilometres earlier when his Tinkoff squad pulled off the front and guided their leader to the line. He finished 49th, in the same time as Bouhanni and with his race lead of six seconds over Richie Porte intact.

No frills and no risks was the order of the day, although the Spaniard was quick to point out that he and his team were unwilling to let any silly seconds slip through their fingers.

"We actually rode at the front and really fast so we could avoid falls, all the way until the final three kilometres," Contador said at his post-stage press conference.

"I think that I lost Paris-Nice by four seconds because I had not been careful enough in the closing stage and lost time here and there. I tried today to make sure I didn’t lose any time."

A certain Geraint Thomas might disagree with that last statement, but Contador’s desire to protect his lead illustrates the importance of the Dauphine. As he rightly stressed, the Tour de France is the major objective of his season but the Dauphine is more than just a warm-up – it's where teams and riders can demonstrate their form – if they have it – and where seeds of Tour success can be planted.

Stage 2 will no doubt see Contador and his Tinkoff team employ a similar tactic, loading the front with a number of other teams. The only difference when compared to stage 1 is that Tuesday's stage to Chalmazel-Jeansagnière sees the race take on a summit finish. The riders will face a second category climb before a final third category one to the finish, and any weaknesses are likely to be exploited by the GC contenders. After two days of racing, only a minute separates the top 28 riders, meaning that control will be the order of the day for the GC team.

During his press conference, Contador played it cool but few would suggest he and his team would be taking any risks.

"I don’t know that much about the final climb," he said.

"All I know is that the final climb isn’t that tough. It's more of a stage that would suit someone like Dan Martin or Simon Gerrans. A lot will depend on the pace of the stage, but I don’t think that it will be a real stage for the GC riders." 

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