The Critérium du Dauphiné is a training ground for the Tour de France in more ways than one. Overall winner Chris Froome not only tested his condition and his leadership credentials during the eight-day race, he also faced some of the questions that will doubtless resurface if he takes the yellow jersey at the Tour next month.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Froome politely batted away comparisons between the dominance of his Sky team and that of the US Postal Service squad of Lance Armstrong, and expressed his belief that cycling has changed radically since the halcyon days of the discredited American squad.
“I’m sure that cycling has changed since that period,” Froome said, according to L’Équipe. “All those revelations about Armstrong were a big blow for cycling and all riders were put in the same bracket.”
Froome made a dramatic emergence at the highest level when he finished second overall at the 2011 Vuelta a España, and he has followed that up with second place at last year’s Tour and fourth at last year’s Vuelta. He maintains that his performances are proof of that doping is being eradicated from cycling.
“The fact that I’m able to finish at the front in the mountains and in the general classification means that the sport has changed since 10 years ago,” Froome said. “You learn from the past. The sport is going in the right direction and my results are proof of that.”
Froome won the Dauphiné by 58 seconds from teammate Richie Porte to claim his fourth stage win of the 2013 season. The similarities between his year and Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 campaign are striking and he explained that he had simply followed the same principles as his teammate and rival, who will miss the Tour because of injury.
“I saw last year that everything starts with a big winter of training. That’s been my model,” Froome said. “The plan wasn’t to win every race from the start of the year but to use them as a test to see how my form is and what I need to work on. I wasn’t on peak form in February and I’ve progressed since then. The objective is to be at the peak for the Tour de France.”
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) is expected to be Froome’s biggest rival for the maillot jaune in July although the Spaniard could only manage 10th overall at the Dauphiné. After struggling in the stage 4 time trial, Contador raced in support of teammate Michael Rogers during the final weekend in the mountains.
“You can’t underestimate Contador, he’s a dangerous rider and he’ll be very strong in July,” Froome said. “Personally, I know that I’m going in the right way and my teammates are confident too. But the Dauphiné is the Daupiné, and the Tour is something else…”