Pinot keen to test himself against Tour de France favourites at Criterium du Dauphine

Frenchman says Contador is the favourite for the opening uphill prologue

Thibaut Pinot has already raced against Chris Froome and Alberto Contador this season but will head to the Critérium du Dauphiné on Sunday for the first time in five years for an important pre-Tour de France shakedown.

The Frenchman has always chosen the Tour de Suisse as his preparatory June outing but has changed his schedule this year to race what has become the more definitive Tour prelude. Nairo Quintana is the only notable absentee from the big favourites for July, with Froome and Contador joined by Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru, along with Richie Porte and Romain Bardet.

"It is certain that the big Tour de France favourites come to this race," Pinot said in an interview with the Dauphiné's website.

"When I scheduled my programme, I wasn't necessarily preoccupied with knowing who would be here, because all the races are difficult to win. But it is very interesting to see exactly where I am against the competition."

Pinot has gone up against Contador twice this season and has come off second best on both occasions, finishing fourth as the Spaniard won the Vuelta al País Vasco and fourth earlier in the year at the Volta ao Algarve, where Contador was second.

He was second behind Quintana - who was third at País Vasco - at the Tour de Romandie  but some way ahead of Froome, who finished the race some 21 minutes back. It all adds up to Pinot's best start to a season, which included the overall win at Critérium International, and he has finished no lower than fifth in the six stage races he has entered.

"Among the favourites, we all function differently," said the FDJ rider. "Alberto Contador likes to be on form rather early, which has been the case this year. Chris Froome has already shown that you can start a little late and then be very strong in July. Each of us has his own strategy.

"As for myself, I prefer to get the season started and get good results as soon as possible. This how it has gone this year, I am pretty pleased so far."

Pinot insisted he will not be at the top of his game during the eight stages of the Dauphiné but, with the Tour de France drawing into focus, nor is that the priority.

"I gave myself a week off [after Romandie] and then we did the reconnaissance of the stages for the Tour and the Dauphiné in the Alps," he said. "Since then, I have done a lot of training, with some very big sessions the past few days. I will not be 100 per cent, because after a break there is still work to be done to return to the form I had at Romandie. In any case, the month of May was very important. I think I have progressed well.

"My objective is to do the best I can, without putting any pressure on myself, while remembering that I am here to continue my preparation for the Tour de France."

Pinot's performances against the clock have improved immeasurably this year and, as a pure climber, he is one of the favourites for the devilishly steep 4km opening prologue up Mont Chéry in Les Gets on Sunday.

However, the 26-year-old insisted that Contador will be the favourite to pull on the first yellow jersey of the race.

"I went to have a look at it during our training programme not long ago and for sure I feel good on this type of ride. It is a very difficult climb that will demand massive efforts," he said.

"But I would say Alberto Contador will be the favourite for this one. It is very similar to the time-trial on this year's Tour of the Basque country and he put more than a minute on me!"

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