Esteban Chaves rides into the unknown as Dauphine mountains loom

'I’m getting better and better each day,' says Colombian

He's completed five days of racing for the first time since February. While Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) have made the majority of the headlines at the Criterium du Dauphine so far, Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) has enjoyed his own mini-victory as he races pain free.

In April, it looked as though Chaves' season was in danger. A knee injury picked up ahead of the Colombian nationals had ruined his spring and although he was back on the bike within a matter of months, a number of races were scratched from his programme. A shot at the Tour de France looked in real jeopardy.

The Colombian arrived at the Dauphine undercooked but in need of race days, and while Simon Yates was pulled from the Giro d'Italia squad and put on the Dauphine-Tour de France programme, Chaves has slowly but surely began to find his rhythm. That said, as the race moves into three difficult days in the mountains, it's Yates and not Chaves who is likely to lead the line in the overall standings. The British rider has been a consistent force this season and finished on the podium at the Tour de Romandie after taking a gutsy stage win in the mountains. For Chavez, it's about taking one step at a time and walking before he can run.

"I'm getting better and better each day and I'm getting more comfortable in the bunch," he told Cyclingnews at the end of stage 5 in Macon.

"It's also super important that the knee is completely fixed. There's no more pain and that's really good. Now we've got three days of really hard racing and we'll try hard for the team. The knee is perfect. It's perfect and that's really good news.”

After the stage 4 time trial, Yates sits 14th on GC, 1:30 off Thomas de Gendt's lead, while Chaves lies 2:41 off yellow.

"We want to put one guy in the top 10 overall in this race and get ready for the Tour de France," Chaves said rather modestly of the team's ambitions.

"We'll take it one day at a time and we've got Yates here who is in the top 20 in GC. For me, it's one day at a time, and if I can I'll take possibilities, I'll help him and he can maybe take the white jersey here."

In the time trial, Chaves was put on the back foot in a discipline he naturally struggles in even when at the height of his form. That said, he can take the result with a pinch of salt after the difficult build-up he endured.

"I felt really good, but the other guys went really fast," he joked.

"It was normal for me but I've improved a little bit if you look at the times between me and Froome and the Vuelta last year. If I'm to win a Dauphine in the future then that's the one area where I need to improve."

The bigger question is how far Chaves is from his best form and the condition he showed in last year's Giro d'Italia and the Vuetla a Espana. It might be too late to find, but the next three days will give the clearest indication yet as to how far he has to go.

"That's a good question. I can maybe answer that a little bit better after the final stage on Sunday. I've felt good when training at home, but it's totally different when you're in races. I've been training at 2,500m at home so it's all a bit different. I don't know how I'll perform in the coming days, but it's a beautiful sport."

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