All the big names feel concerned about the Dauphiné this year: Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Alejandro Valverde sprinted to the win on stage one in the uphill finish and only missed the yellow jersey by one second, and it's the first time in his career that Thor Hushovd leads the Alpine race.
It was also notable that Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer and Haimar Zubeldia took part in the sprint for the stage win. They finished 5th, 6th and 8th respectively - none of them hiding their strength, setting up expectations of a great battle in the mountains later in the week.
"Since yesterday I had good sensations," said Valverde who took third at the prologue in Avignon. "With this stage win, I have completed one goal already, now we'll see how it goes in the mountains, I hope I'll keep going well. It means a lot to me to win a stage here. It's a good motivation for the team who has done phenomenal work today."
The Astana team of race leader Levi Leipheimer chose to sit out of the work to control the race rather than use up their energy so early, and it was up to Crédit Agricole to do most of the work.. "All the other teams knew that I wanted to take the yellow jersey," explained Hushovd who did so by only one second. "I'm very happy to become the race leader because it's my first time at this race and I like the Dauphiné a lot. I came here to win a stage. After tomorrow, it will only be training for me and I'll enjoy the landscapes of the mountains."
Sébastien Joly (Française des Jeux) was part of the breakaway which stayed away for most of the stage, but was ultimately reeled in by the team of Hushovd. "They didn't let us play much of our game in the front," said Joly. "But I don't have anything bad to say about Crédit Agricole today. I felt the same when I led the Tour du Limousin, I wanted to defend straight away."
It was two second places for Hushovd in two days. "Yesterday I had a good prologue and there was nothing more I could do against Leipheimer, today it's the same feeling," the Norwegian underlined. "My team trusted from the start and was the only one chasing, but at the end, there was nothing I could do against Valverde. I did a good sprint myself. When he accelerated, I was at my maximum already."
The Murcian appreciated the uphill terrain in Privas. "I'm a complete rider," he admitted. "But as a sprinter, on a flat road, there's no way I can beat riders like Hushovd. Today's sprint was a special one. I accelerated with power 300 meters before the line."
"I'm having a good season so far," he continued. "I race less and my preparation is different. It pays off apparently, and I have the Tour de France in mind. I considered myself as one of the five or six contenders for GC. It also requires a bit of luck to win the Tour de France but I'll try."
At the Dauphiné, there's one more stage open to the sprinters, and Hushovd hoped that his team would get more help controlling the race. "I hope somebody will give us a hand, maybe High Road for Andre Greipel," he suggested.
How it unfolded
Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) was the most active right after the start but the bunch didn't let him go. Sébastien Joly (Française des Jeux) managed to go clear after 15km into the race. He was chased down by Christian Kux (Milram) and Arnaud Labbe (Bouygues Telecom). They formed a group of three riders at km 23. The peloton was quickly located 3.10 behind the trio.
At km 29, the whole Crédit Agricole team occupied the front line. They never allowed the gap to beyond 4'40". At km 38, it was 3'20".
Kux was the first at the top of the climb of Puy-Saint-Martin and became the king of the mountains. With 25km to go, finally one team gave a hand to Crédit Agricole in front of the bunch, it was High Road. Joly, Kux and Labbe got caught with 12km to go after 167 kilometers of breakaway.
With 300 meters to go in the uphill finish in Privas, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Épargne) took the lead and won the stage easily in front of Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) who became the new race leader.