Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R Prevoyance) won the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré yesterday after he and three other French riders - Frédéric Bessy (Cofidis), Anthony Charteau (Bouygues Telecom) and Frédéric Finot (Française des Jeux) - escaped from the peloton early in the race.
With none of them considered a long-term threat for the general classification, and the race's big guns wanting to conserve their strength for today's crucial 47km time trial, the four were allowed to gain a 12 minute advantage before a somewhat desultory chase led by T-Mobile, Phonak and Fassa Bortolo limited the damage to just over three minutes.
The diminutive 24-year-old Dumoulin, who stands just 158.5cm tall (5ft 2.5in), said afterwards that he had always had to put up with remarks about his height. "I have always shrugged off the mockery, at school and when I arrived in the peloton," he said, "But, little by little, my competitors saw that I did not do so badly. Now, I am recognized."
Coming into the finish Dumoulin said he knew he had a chance of taking the race lead. "I thought about the yellow jersey," he said. "I was confiding and tense at the same time. I did not know if it was necessary [for me] to start the sprint. I then thought about last year, and to the four month break after my fall in the Tour because of a dog."
Dumoulin's win in the final four-up sprint gives him the leader jersey for today's time trial, though he is considered unlikely to retain it.
When the riders roll out of the start house in Roanne for today's time trial loop, none will be watched more closely than Lance Armstrong, for whom this will be the a chance to assess his fitness before the Tour de France.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Armstrong after yesterday's stage. "It is the first real test before the Tour. Fingers crossed. There are strong guys out there and I don't know if I can win. I'm looking forward to it as much as you can when you face an hour of suffering."
Armstrong's form in the Dauphiné is an unreliable Tour indicator at best. In 2004 he was soundly beaten here by Iban Mayo but went to dominate in the Tour de France. The previous year he won the Dauphiné handsomely but struggled in the Tour and while he eventually won, it was clearly his hardest Tour victory. You have to go back to 2002 to find a Lance Armstrong Dauphiné victory that was followed by an all-conquering Tour victory.
It's not surprising, then, that the American does not seem bothered by the final outcome when the Dauphiné rolls into Sallanches on Sunday. "What matters is to win the Tour in July," he said.
Nevertheless, Discovery Channel directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel is looking to the time trial as a form indicator. "He seems strong, but you can never tell before the race proper. We'll know a lot more after tomorrow's stage. It's obviously Lance's most important test before the Tour," Bruyneel said.