Porte, Contador and Chaves ease through Dauphine's opening stages

'I think the first test will be the time trial to see the real feelings in the legs,' says Chaves

Two stages down at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the majority of the leading GC contenders haven't put a foot wrong, and while the yellow jersey rests on the shoulders of Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), a cluster of overall contenders lie in wait with Wednesday's individual time trial expected to alter the standings head of the mountains.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is the best placed GC rider at 1:09 with Chris Froome (Team Sky), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac), Romain Bardet (AG2R), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) all tied on the same time.

For Chaves, the Dauphiné is a somewhat of a voyage of discovery. The Colombian only returned to training in April after a lengthy knee injury and is tentatively making his way through the opening days before testing himself against the best in Wednesday's time trial. While the mountains that punctuate the final three days offer more favourable terrain on which his skillset can excel, the Orica rider is taking each stage as it comes.

"Physically it's still hard to say," he said when asked how he feels after two days of racing.

"The first two stages were hard, but not super hard, and we have all arrived together. I think the first test will be the time trial to see the real feelings in the legs."

That said, Chaves' return to racing has not been easy. Although there has been relative calm across both of the race's opening stages, they still mark his first competitive outing since the Herald Sun Tour in February.

"My feelings have not changed too much from yesterday. I'm still a little scared in the bunch but we have time to habituate to that, we knew it would be like this. But I'm happy, like always, and I'm enjoying being back racing with the team."

For Porte, there is more pressure on his shoulders. Although he too is thinking long-term, unlike Chaves he arrives at the Dauphiné with greater expectancy on his shoulders after commanding rides in the Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie. The 32-year-old has come through the opening two stages here in France without a hitch and looks set to rival Froome, Bardet and Contador for the overall title.

"It was quite hectic," Porte said after stage 2, "but the guys were always around me today and kept me in a really good position. It was a nice stage to get ticked off and day-by-day we're getting closer to the real mountains. These stages are quite tricky. There is so much to lose, but I think we did another great job today."

As for Contador, his form is harder to predict. He has been competitive since the season started and has been unlucky not to win several races, including a nail-biting edition of Paris-Nice in March, but he arrived at the Dauphine talking down his chances. While he does not have the strongest team here – and is unlikely to put his men in a toe-to-toe fight with Froome's Team Sky or Porte's BMC – it's hard to envisage that he will use the Dauphine as little more than a training exercise.

"Today was a day easier than yesterday," the former Tour winner said after stage 2.

"Nobody wanted to fight, although at the middle of the stage Astana wanted to catch the breakaway and made a higher pace that made some riders lose contact."

One such rider was Contador's teammate Edward Theuns, who missed the time cut, leaving the Spaniard with a man less as the race heads towards the most defining stages. How they play out is still unclear, but few would bet against Contador playing a significant role.

"Most riders coming to compete for GC are in great condition because all come here after training camps, working very well in the last month and all of them are at a high level," he said. "When the mountains come, some will be better than others, but for now you cannot see who is well and who is not."

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