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Live coverage of stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, 156 kilometres from Tarare to the Col du Béal.
The Critérium du Dauphiné has long been the dress rehearsal of choice for the Tour de France – every year since 2002, the man who has worn the yellow jersey into Paris in July has opted for the Dauphiné over the Tour de Suisse – but this year’s race carries an ever greater resonance than normal. For the first time all season, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali line up together in the same race, a chance for some rare psychological point scoring before the main event next month.
All three riders could draw some positives from Sunday’s opening time trial – not a prologue (!) – even if Chris Froome (Sky) will naturally be the happiest, having won the stage and claimed the first yellow jersey of the race. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was best of the rest, 8 seconds off the pace, and while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) coughed up a further 5 seconds and finished 8th on the stage, he was the quickest man on the opening climb – an indication, perhaps, that the work he carried out on Mount Teide recently is yielding some benefits.
Monday’s stage provides a sterner examination of the their Tour credentials, with no fewer than six categorised climbs on the agenda, including an hors catégorie haul to the finish on the Col du Béal.
The climbs are:
Km 5.5 - Côte de Saint-Marcel-l'Éclairé (5km at 6.1%) – Category 2
Km 16.5 - Côte d'Albigny (2.3 km at 5.5%) - Category 4
Km 90.5 - Côte de Bard (6.3 km at 5.3%) - Category 2
Km 100.5 - Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort (5.6 km at 5.6%) - Category 2
Km 115.0 - Col des Pradeaux (7.3 km at 3.6%) - Category 3
Km 156.0 - Col du Béal (13.6 km at 6.6%) - HC
As we pick up the action a little over 20 kilometres into the stage, a five-man break featuring Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano), Kevin Reza (Europcar), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling) has a lead of four minutes over the peloton.
The move went clear as soon as the race hit the first climb of the day, the Côte de Saint-Marcel-l'Eclairé, where Kevin Reza (Europcar) led over the summit.
At that point, the break's lead was already 1:30, and it extended to three minutes over the Côte d'Albigny, where Reza was again the first man to the summit. He is the provisional leader of the mountains classification - Vincenzo Nibali wears the white polka dots this morning - while Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling) is the maillot jaune virtuel. The Austrian is the best-placed of the escapees in the overall standings, having placed 10th in the opening time trial, 13 seconds down on Froome.
The general classification picture before the start this morning was as follows:
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:13:14
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Team Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:08
3 Bob Jungels (Lux) Trek Factory Racing 0:00:09
4 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:11
5 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
6 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:00:12
7 Vasil Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:13
9 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
10 Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling
The Dauphiné is, as we said, something of a rehearsal for the Tour, and Chris Froome got in some early practice at avoiding questions about Bradley Wiggins in his winner's press conference yesterday, as you can read here.
As the break passes through Violay, their lead has stabilised at 4:20, while the Sky team of Chris Froome is setting the pace at the head of the peloton. The next 60 kilometres are so are in the valley before the climbing begins again with the category 2 Côte de Bard. The Col de la Croix de l’Homme Mort and the Col des Pradeaux then follow in quick succession but there are another flat 20 kilometres before the start of the final haul to the finish on the Col du Béal.
Although he lost eight seconds to Froome in yesterday's time trial, Alberto Contador declared himself pleased with his outing, although the face-off on the Col du Beal will tell us more about his condition. After a tub-thumping start to the season that featured wins at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country, Contador took an extended break from racing. Almost two months, in fact, have passed since he last turned a pedal in anger in the Basque Country in early April.
Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) is a prominent member of this breakaway and he has previous in this department. At last year's Dauphiné, he was the last survivor of the break of the day on the final stage to Risoul, where he held off Chris Froome to take the biggest victory of his career. A native of San Daniele del Friuli - home of the famous prosciutto and, as Cyclingnews once discovered, where every gelateria is denoted by an out-sized plastic ice cream cone - De Marchi arrives in France fresh from the Tour des Fjords, where he finished 9th overall.
The break's advantage has been pared back slightly over the past ten kilometres or so, and the gap now stands at 3:40.
The Dauphiné is a special event on the calendar of Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano), a native of Grenoble. The French climber won the king of the mountains classification at last year’s race but covets a stage win this time around. Speaking to L’Équipe before the start, he noted that the Col du Béal “could surprise some people,” explaining that there is a particularly steep section midway up the climb that might catch some contenders unawares. “The last part of the col is exposed. With the heat, there might be some surprises.”
Astana moved quickly on the eve of the Dauphiné to downplay rumours in the Italian media of a rift between Vincenzo Nibali and the upper management, with Alexandre Vinokourov pointing out that he didn’t send a letter of reprimand to the Sicilian after his spring campaign, but rather dashed off an e-mail of encouragement to everybody on the team. How thoughtul.
“In late March, after a Spring racing campaign that provided fewer successful results than expected, I sent an email to all riders and staff at Astana Pro Team to motivate and encourage everyone not to lose hope, and to continue training at the highest level,” said Vinkourov.
In any case, after a low-key spring, Nibali showed signs of form in yesterday’s opening time trial, setting the quickest time at the first time check before the crosswinds in the finale slowed his progress. He finished the day in 8th place, 13 seconds down on Froome but just 5 behind Contador.
“I paid for that a bit in the last two kilometres, otherwise I’d have been up there with Contador’s time,” Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport. “It wasn’t easy to control the bike, but so be it. When I crossed the line, I saw that I was close to Alberto’s time and that confirmed to me that I had done well.”
The leaders are trundling towards the foot of the Côte de Bard (6.3km at 5.3%) and their lead remains steady at 3:40.
The weather at the Dauphiné today only adds to the Tour de France feel around the stage, with temperatures touching 30 degrees Celsius, while it's also quite blustery on the final climb to the line. Gauging one's effort won't be a straightforward matter on the Col du Beal this afternoon.
Team Sky continue to control affairs in the peloton over the Côte de Bard, but the break's lead remains just under four minutes. The escapees are now making their way towards the category 2 Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort (5.6km at 5.6%).
Kevin Reza (Europcar), incidentally, maintained his 100 percent record on today's climbs by leading the escapees over the top of the Côte de Bard. Danny Pate (Sky) led the peloton past the same point some four minutes later.
The escapees have crossed the summit of the Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort with a lead of 4:35 over the main peloton. Next up is the gentle rise to the top of the Col des Pradeaux, 7.3km at 3.6%.
Sky's black jerseys are gathered on the front of the main peloton, but there is a platoon of yellow and blue Tinkoff-Saxo jersey lined up just behind them, as Alberto Contador keeps tabs an eye on affairs.
Meanwhile, Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) negotiates his way through the peloton with a clutch of bidons stuffed up his jersey. His leader Vincenzo Nibali is sitting near the front of the bunch in the red jersey of king of the mountains. Alberto Contador, incidentally, is wearing green today, having finished second in yesterday's opening time trial.
Large salt stains on Vasil Kiryienka's jersey provide a graphic illustration of just how warm it is out on the road this afternoon. Thus far the pace in the main peloton is steady rather than brisk, but Kiryienka et al will doubtless begin to wind up the speed on the approach to the base of the final climb.
The five leaders - De Marchi, Reza, Damuseau, Brandle and Gougeard - are continuing to work together smoothly at the front of the race, and their margin remains steady for now at 4:10.
Both the break and the peloton are on the relatively benign slopes of the Col des Pradeaux. In the main bunch, delegations from Europcar and Movistar are making their way towards the front.
Kevin Reza (Europcar) climbs out of the saddle and sprints to pick up maximum points at the topo of the Col des Pradeaux. Regardless of whether the break stays out in front - and it seems unlikely - the Frenchman will don the king of the mountains jersey this afternoon.
As the break plunges down the Col des Pradeaux, Matthias Brandle (IAM) takes the initiative in a bid to to inject some urgency into their efforts. The Sky-led peloton has pegged their lead back to 3:46.
Five Sky riders sit in front of the maillot jaune Chris Froome and lead the peloton down the fast, open descent of the Col des Pradeaux. We can surely expect the men in black to approach the final 13km climb in familiar style.
The five escapees are now off the descent and rattling towards the intermediate sprint at Ambert.
Matthias Brandle (IAM) clips off the front and takes the points at Ambert and then sits up again and waits for his companions. The escapees should continue to collaborate well until the base of the Col du Beal, but from there it will doubtless be every man for himself.
A delegation from Astana moves up on the left hand side of the road, positioning Nibali for the final climb. On the opposite side are groups from Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo, while Sky remain the arrowhead at the front of the bunch.
The bunch is now ten kilometres from the base of the Col du Breal and the scramble for positions has begun in earnest. The pace is rising accordingly and - in time - the break's lead of 3:40 will begin to tumble consistently.
As if on cue, there has been a crash in the main body of the peloton, with Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) among the riders to go down.
Taaramae is quickly back on his bike and chasing the peloton, which continues to be led by Sky.
There was a slight lull in the pace in the bunch following that crash, and the break's lead has yawned back out to 3:40.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is chasing his way back through the motorbikes and on to the back of the peloton. He doesn't seem to have been involved in the crash but it's possible he had some mechanical trouble. In any case, he is safely on board ahead of the climb.
Sky are no longer in sole command at the head of the peloton, but their black jerseys remain massed near the front. Froome is settled on the rear wheel of Geraint Thomas.
The break hits the foot of the Col du Béal with 2:45 in hand on the peloton. Immediately, Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) hits the front and opens a small gap on his companions.
There is precious little organisation at the front end of the bunch on the final approach to the climb, although Sky are attempting to restore some order. For now, however, it's Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) who is setting the pace.
The break's lead drops to 1:45, and as if in response, Damuseau accelerates. De Marchi responds in kind and has now gone clear alone.
De Marchi opens what looks to be a decisive gap on the rest of the break, with Damuseau and Reza chasing some 150 metres back.
Geraint Thomas is laying down the tempo at the front of the bunch for Sky and his pace-setting is shedding the field of riders - Simon Gerrans and Damiano Cunego are among those who have sat up.
Froome still has four Sky riders around him at the front of the bunch, including David Lopez, Thomas and Richie Porte. They are 1:12 behind De Marchi and the gap is closing steadily.
Nibali and Contador are both lined up behind Froome as Thomas climbs out of the saddle and continues his stint of pace-setting.
The Sky-led bunch is beginning to pick off the remnants of the early break. Brandle and Gougeard have both been caight. Up front, De Marchi ploughs a lone furrow and is doing well to maintain a lead of 1:12. There is, however, a lot of climbing still to go.
Mikel Nieve shares the pace-making with Thomas at the head of the bunch. The main peloton has been reduced to around 40 riders, with Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) among the riders to be dropped.
De Marchi's lead drops to within a minute as the bunch catches Damuseau and Reza. Meanwhile, Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) has been deposited out the back of the peloton.
Thomas' long, searing effort is shredding De Marchi's lead, which is now down to 38 seconds.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) begins to feel the bite and is dropped by the dwindling yellow jersey group. And after a quick consultation with Froome, Richie Porte (Sky) swings over and sits up. The Tasmanian has had a difficult start to the 2014 season and his struggles here are in keeping with the tenor of his campaign to date.
De Marchi has been caught by the yellow jersey group, where Froome now has just Mikel Nieve for company after Thomas and Lopez swing off. The Spaniard is continuing to tap out a ferocious tempo, with Michal Kwiatkowski and Voeckler among those dropped.
Nibali, Contador, Jakob Fuglsang and Jurgen Van Den Broeck are all safely in the yellow jersey group, which numbers around 20 riders. Nieve continues to set the pace, with Froome on his wheel, and then Contador and Nibali lined up behind him.
Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) is also still in this increasingly select group, along with Romain Bardet (Ag2r), although Dani Moreno (Katusha) is beginning to struggle at the back Nieve surely can't main.tain this pace for much longer.
Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Andrew Talanksy are also still in this group, while Nibali has two teammates for company - Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang.
Still it's Nieve who cranks out the pace at the front. The familiar bobbing figure of Contador stays fixed tightly to Froome's wheel.
Nive swings over and then a seated Froome accelerates away, but Contador is able to follow. Nibali is initially distanced but makes his way back up with three others.
Froome climbs out of the saddle and accelerates again. Once again, Contador is able to withstand everything Froome throws at him. The pair have moved around 100 metres clear of Nibali, Van Den Broeck and Kelderman, who are scrambling tog et back on terms.
Froome looks for help from Contador but the Spaniard demurs. Froome slows the pace and allows Nibali, Van Den Broeck and Kelderman get back on.
As they catch Froome and Contador, Kelderman takes a flyer and the young Dutchman has opened a small gap at the front of the race. Froome looks for help, but Contador and Nibali are forcing him to lead the chase.
Nibali cracks and is dropped by the Froome, Contador and Van Den Broeck, who are in the process of bridging back up to Kelderman.
There are four men in front - Kelderman, Froome, Contador and Van Den Broeck - while Nibali chases alone, although Talansky is woking is way up to him.
Attacksf from Kelderman and Van Den Broeck peter out, and as the pace lulls, Talanksy and Nibali make contact with the leaders. There are now six riders in front.
Talansky pulls the same move as Kelderman and tries to jump clear as soon as he bridges across, but Froome isn't giving him an inch.
Contador is locked on to Froome's wheel on this climb, and he has resisted every one of the Briton's accelerations to date. It's been more laboured for Nibali, but the Italian is still hanging on.
Kelderman puts in another dig. Nibali is struggling but stays in contact with the leading group of six.
Froome is the man responding to every one of the attacks and he is the first man across when Talansky makes another effort. Contador, meanwhile, dances comfortably on Froome's wheel.
Talansky lays down a steady tempo on the front of the leading group of six as they approach the red kite. Kelderman, Froome, Contador, Van Den Broeck and Nibali sit on his wheel.
Froome takes over inside the final kilometre, mindful, surely, of Contador's ability to jump away.
Froome tries another long acceleration with 800 metres to go, but Contador is matching him pedal stroke for pedal stroke, as is Kelderman.
A second onslaught from Froome but he can't shed Contador.
With 300 metres to go, Froome kicks again, taking Contador clear with him. He is unable to drop the Spaniard, however, but Contador isn't able to come around him either...
Chris Froome wins the stage, just ahead of Contador, and points to his chest as he does so. He has won the day, but the gap to Contador seems has clearly shrunk since last year.
Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) takes a fine third place on the stage, 4 seconds down. Van Den Broeck takes 4th, 10 seconds down and just ahead of Talansky.
Nibali struggled in those final kilometres and cracked with sight of the line. He crossed the line in 6th place, 27 seconds down.
Neo-pro Adam Yates, meanwhile, took an impressive 8th on the stage, 42 seconds down on Froome.
In the overall standings, Froome will now lead Contador by 12 seconds, while Kelderman climbs to third overall, 21 seconds down.
1Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
2Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo
3Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin00:00:04
4Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol00:00:10
5Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp00:00:12
6Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana00:00:27
7Igor Anton (Spa) Movistar00:00:40
8Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge00:00:42
9Sebastien Reichenbach (Swi) IAM Cycling00:00:44
10Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis00:00:45
1Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
2Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo00:12
3Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin00:00:21
4Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp00:00:33
5Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol00:00:35
6Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana00:00:50
7Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing00:01:22
8Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana
9Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge00:01:31
10Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana00:01:35