By Jean-François Quénet
If one above all of the cycling events has benefited from the UCI's ProTour it has to be the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. The French stage race, running this year from June 8 to 15, surely must be close to the top of the list of events that have changed for the good since the inception of the new series in 2005. When questioned about what the ProTour is worth for him, race organiser Thierry Cazeneuve answered, "It's the condition for getting the TV [coverage]."
Before 2005, there was a maximum of two days of live coverage of the Dauphiné, now it's seven days with the prologue broadcasted in the late evening by Eurosport after the final of the French Open of tennis. From an audience of 35 million viewers in 2005, the event has extended its impact to 59 million last year. In addition, there are more and more countries eager to get the rights for the pre-Tour de France race held in the French Alps.
There will be something different this year with the Tour de France being at odds with the International Cycling Union (UCI). The Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré is clearly in the camp of the UCI, while Cazeneuve is also the president of the French league of professional cycling that includes all the races organised by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) - there's also no harmony these days inside the French cycling community.
Therefore, the defending champion will not be on the start line in Avignon since Christophe Moreau now belongs to the Professional Continental outfit Agritubel. The Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré sticks with the 18 ProTour teams and doesn't invite any other teams this year. It means Astana is welcome in the Alpine event although they are sidelined by ASO.
"Before getting their last minute invitation to the Giro d'Italia, Astana wanted to bring its best team, including Alberto Contador, to the Dauphiné," Cazeneuve explained. "Now, I understand that it was impossible for them to stop him after one week in the Giro as he was so close to the pink jersey."
To read the full preview of the Dauphiné, click here.