A dreary Sunday morning in Saint-Etienne welcomed Chris Froome and a raft of other Tour de France contenders to the Critérium du Dauphiné. Ahead of them, eight days of racing that should tell them and us a good deal about what we might expect in July. In the more immediate future, a 170km out-and-back stage with a punchy finishing circuit around Saint-Etienne.
Cyclingnews did the rounds at the team buses at the start to catch up with Tour hopefuls and stage 1 hopefuls alike. Below is what they had to say.
Our live coverage of stage 1 of the Dauphiné is underway at live.cyclingnews.com.
"There are some really tough stages. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday we have three pretty big mountain stages, all back-to-back. That will be a big test for us. I'd love to try and win but it's not easy. There are a lot of GC contenders here and I'll have to see how the racing goes. The whole mental aspect [ed. before the Tour de France] is important. I'm looking to leave this race with good feelings and knowing that I'm in the right form heading into July."
"The legs are good. I've been training very well in the last month. Now we have a good week to work on my intensity. I'm very happy with things at this moment. Maybe we're going a bit slower in preparation for the Tour than in previous years but I think that's the most intelligent thing to do.
"If you look at the profile today, it's up and down all day. There are lots of corners and there's no easy day. We need to pay attention if there's rain, because that can make it more dangerous, but it's a good day for training.
"I think that there are perhaps too many hills today for me. I'm also not that healthy. I've had a cold for three days so things aren't super. Today I'll try and see how I feel but, on paper, it's on the edge as to whether I could survive for today's sprint even when I'm in top shape. But we'll see."
"Healing [ed. from a broken pelvis] has gone well. It could always be better but I'm happy to be here. I've not been riding my bike again for that long but I wanted to come here and get some kilometres. It's not since Romandie that I last raced and it's been only two weeks since I've been able to training again. I had to take three weeks totally off the bike so that I could recover.
"This has all changed my plans. I was originally hoping to go to altitude before the Dauphiné but then I couldn't do that because of my physiotherapy. Now the plan is to just arrive at the Tour de France in the best shape possible. This race is all about getting in kilometres and building my shape. I would like to do something later in the week but we really need to see. The weight is okay, it's not bad, but it's more about the fitness."
"I've had a really good period of training. We've been up to Tenerife for a training camp. It's been a long period without racing but honestly I needed that. So far, so good. Of course we have to be aware of what the main objective is with winning the race with Chris [Froome]. Let's hope we can bring some good morale before the Tour de France. The first stage is going to be hectic and we'll see how I feel after a period of not racing. There are some good sprinters around and I'm sure they're going to try and take their chances."
"Today is a really hard stage, especially after a month without racing, since Romandie. It will be a really aggressive finale, but we're going to give it a go. This stage can suit me well but we'll see at the end. There are many possibilities here for me. The following couple of days are more for the pure sprinters, but I'll still give it a go there too. This is a big race ahead of the Tour de France, so it's going to be a really important week for us."