Dimitri Fofonov has taken his first victory in more than six years after outsprinting Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step) and the revelation of this year's Dauphiné, Yuriy Trofimov (Bouygues Telecom) on the final stage to Grenoble. The Kazakh from Crédit Agricole last tasted victory on the final stage of the 2002 Tour of Catalunya.
Rolling across the line some two minutes later was overall winner Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard claimed the most prestigious victory of his career and positioned himself as a favourite for the Tour de France, while Cadel Evans also served notice that his best form is not far away.
The most spectacular rider of the day, however, was once again Trofimov, already a winner at the Dauphiné on stage five to Morzine. A member of the seven-man breakaway that went clear on the flat roads before the mountains, the Russian rookie from Bouygues Telecom attacked on the first of the three climbs, the Col du Granier. Fofonov marked him and passed him before the summit as he threatened the polka dot jersey of his team-mate Pierre Rolland. The same scenario occurred a second time on the Col du Cucheron, but on the final climb of the Col du Porte it was impossible for anybody to follow the unbelievable Trofimov, but Fofonov wasn't worried.
"I let him go but I kept a short distance between him and me," the Kazakh explained. "I caught him on the downhill. In the sprint, I was more afraid of the third guy, Jurgen Van de Walle from Quick Step, because he didn't ride before as he waited for (Matteo) Carrara to come across. I know I have a bit of a speed and I had good legs today."
Fofonov is known for being a consistent domestique. He was full of praise for the good work done during the Dauphiné by the whole Crédit Agricole team. "Yesterday our chiefs congratulated us already for our good job," Fofonov revealed. He also mentioned the search for a new sponsor by his team manager Roger Legeay. "He told us: do you job, I do mine, just keep the spirit of the competition."
That spirit led to winning the polka dot jersey with 21 year-old Pierre Rolland. The youngster was equal on points with Trofimov, but having grabbed first position on the hors-category Col de la Croix-de-Fer, secured the mountains classification. As he crossed the line after going strongly in a counter attack to score points on the climbs, he asked Legeay if he had won it. The boss said yes and a delighted Rolland kissed his jersey in a true moment of happiness.
"The polka dot jersey pleases me and I'd like to get it at the Tour de France as well," the young man from Orléans explained later. "I like to climb but I don't know yet what kind of a rider I am exactly. The Dauphiné has been a formidable experience every day. I've learned a lot about myself. I had a hunger flat yesterday and I found the health again today. I have no regret not doing the Tour this year. There are plenty of other nice races."
Overall winner Valverde reckons the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré is one of the best on the cycling calendar. "This is the most important victory of my career so far," said the Spaniard. "Because of the prestige of this race but also because of the time of the year when it's held. This week allowed me to judge the condition of my adversaries. I came with a good condition myself after the training camp we had in the Alps."
It wasn't necessarily an obsession for him to win the Dauphiné, but his motivation increased day by day. "I did a phenomenal prologue," he said about his third place behind Levi Leipheimer and Thor Hushovd. "It gave the motivation for the next day and winning stage one gave me even more motivation. The time trial gave me the yellow jersey and I rode like Miguel Indurain did: after the time trial I controlled the situation."
Valverde said he saw the attack by Cadel Evans' team-mate Yaroslav Popovych on the Col du Granier as a test. "But my team was phenomenal," he insisted. Therefore, the Australian didn't try to attack him again after his unsuccessful but spirited offensive the day before on La Toussuire.
Evans got another second place overall at the Dauphiné after beating beaten by Christophe Moreau last year, but he proved to have overcome the knee problems he had before the French event and gave his fans the guarantee that he'll start the Tour in Brest on July 5 with the best condition he could have hoped for.
"The Tour de France will be a different story because the time trial will be a very different one from the Dauphiné's," Valverde added. "I'll take it day by day. Now I'll take a rest and try and maintain my condition towards the Tour de France. Winning the Dauphiné gives me the confidence for the Tour as well."
How it unfolded
After 15 kilometres covered at a very high speed, seven riders broke clear: Yuriy Trofimov (Bouygues Telecom), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux), Dimitri Fofonov (Crédit Agricole), Daniele Righi (Lampre) and Jurgen Van de Walle (Quick Step).
Five kilometers later their advantage was already 3'35 with the highest ranked rider being the winner in Morzine Trofimov, 16th at 8'20. The advantage of the leaders reached 6'45 at km 41, while 50.2 kilometres were covered in the first hour alone.
At the bottom of the first climb of the day, the Col de Granier, the gap between the seven leaders and the bunch, led by Caisse d'Epargne, was reduced to five minutes. Four riders formed a counter-attack: Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto), Matteo Carrara (Quick Step), Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) and Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole) who wore the polka dot jersey.
Chavanel was the first man dropped from the front group while Lars Bak (CSC) rejoined the four counter attackers. The front group was reduced to five men as Augé was the next to fall of the pace. It was only four when Righi also found the going too tough.
Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) successfully bridged to the second group on the road, while at the top of the Granier, only two riders stayed together in front: Fofonov and Trofimov crossed the line at the summit in that order as the Kazakh worked in defence of Rolland's polka dot jersey. The classification was the same at the top of the Col du Cucheron.
Trofimov then went solo on the Col de Porte. At the summit he had 21 seconds advantage over Van de Walle and Fofonov. Casar and Rolland were 1'26 behind with the peloton at 3'41. Fofonov and Van de Walle rejoined Trofimov on the descent towards Grenoble.
Fofonov won the three-man sprint while Valverde, Evans and Leipheimer maintained their positions as the top three overall, finishing in a group 2'21 behind the stage winner.