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Live coverage of the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, 131.5 kilometres from Megève to Courchevel.
The margins are tight on the final day of the Critérium du Dauphiné, with just eight seconds separating yellow jersey Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) from Chris Froome (Sky) at the head of the overall standings. Today’s stage to Courchevel is a short one, but it promises to be explosive.
There are four climbs crammed in the 131km of racing – the category 2 Côte de Domancy, and the trio of category 1 climbs of the Col des Saisies (13.4km at 5.2%), Côte de Montagny (8km at 6.5%) and the final haul to Courchevel Le Praz (5.9km at 6.2%) – and it looks set to be an aggressive day of racing.
As we pick up the action, there is a 23-man group 3:20 up the road and it features Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp). The American was third overall this morning, 39 seconds down on Contador, and so he is the virtual yellow jersey as the break heads tackles the lower slopes of the day's second climb, the Col des Saisies.
Indeed, there are a number of danger men in this breakaway move. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (5th at 1:14), Romain Bardet (7th at 2:11) and Adam Yates (10th at 2:52) are all in there, along with Richie Porte (Sky), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
The break had its genesis on the Côte de Domancy, where Tejay van Garderen led Bardet over the summit, and the group swelled to 23 riders over the other side. After 25km, their lead was 1:45 on a peloton led by Tinkoff-Saxo and IAM Cycling.
The 23 riders in the break are: David Lopez, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte (Sky), Tanel Kangert, Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Dani Navarro, Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Adam Yates (Orica GreenEdge), Igor Anton, John Gadret (Movistar), Romain Bardet, Alexis Gougeard, Jean-Christoph Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Jurgen Van den Broeck, Tony Gallopin, Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), Kristjan Koren (Cannondale), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha), Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura).
Sky have Porte, Nieve and Lopez patrolling the move but behind, the men in black have realised the danger posed by Talansky and Van Den Broeck, and have begun to help Tinkoff-Saxo's chase effort.
Talansky has been particularly prominent in setting the pace in the break on the Col des Saisies. It's remarkable that Contador and Froome allowed the American out of their sight in the first place.
Chris Froome attacks from the peloton on the Col des Saisies, in the company of teammates Geraint Thomas, Danny Pate and Vasil Kiryienka. The yellow jersey Contador follows but he does not have any teammates left with him.
The Froome/Contador group has swollen to 17 riders, but the yellow jersey remains completely isolated in a group with three Sky riders, three Astana riders (including Vincenzo Nibali) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin).
The yellow jersey group is as follows: Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome, Vassil Kiryienka, Danny Pate, Geraint Thomas (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Luis Maté (Cofidis), Mikaël Chérel, Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Sébastien Reichenbach (IAM), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Dani Moreno (Katusha), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Wilco Kelderman, Martijn Keizer (Belkin) and Leo König (NetApp-Endura).
Meanwhile, Richie Porte (Sky) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) have sat up from the break on the Col des Saisies and are waiting for the Froome/Contador/Nibali group behind.
Froome, of course, was in the news before a pedal was turned this morning. Le Journal du Dimanche reported today that the UCI fast-tracked a request from Froome for a TUE during the Tour de Romandie without following the correct protocol. Froome used the oral corticosteroid prednisolone to treat a chest infection during the race, which he went on to win. It's a treatment that requires a therapeutic use exemption, which Froome received, but Le Journal du Dimanche reports that it was authorised by UCI medical supervisor Michele Zorzoli without referring the case to a TUE committee, as required by the WADA code.
Speaking at the start in Megève this morning, Sky manager Dave Brailsford insisted that the team "acted in good faith." "We followed the rules, we respected the procedures," Brailsford said, according to L'Equipe. "We asked the UCI for an urgent TUE and Zorzoli told us what could or couldn't be done."
Back out on the road, Koren has led the escapees over the top of the Col des Saisies. The Froome-Contador group reaches the summit 2:35 down, while the main peloton is 3:35 behind.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) attack on the descent of the Saisies and briefly open a lead of 20 seconds over the rest of the breakaway group, but they are swallowed up again as the road flattens out at the base.
In the long valley between the Saisies and the Côte de Montagny, the gap between the leaders and the Froome-Contador group has dropped to 1:55. Belkin's Martijn Keizer is now contributing to the chase, but the Talansky group still outnumbers the Froome-Contador group and it won't be brought back easily.
As it stands, Talansky is in the provisional overall lead, with Jurgen Van Den Broeck in second place.
The general classification picture at the start this morning was as follows, with the riders in the break in bold:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Team Tinkoff-Saxo 27:46:51
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:08
3 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:00:39
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:00:59
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol 0:01:14
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:16
7 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:11
8 Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) IAM Cycling 0:02:14
9 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:02:50
10 Adam Yates (GBr) Orica GreenEdge 0:02:52
The Ag2r-La Mondiale trio of Romain Bardet, Alexis Gougeard and Jean-Christophe Péraud are driving the pace at the head of the breakaway, aware that as things stand, Bardet is on the provisional podium of the Dauphine.
The Froome-Contador group is continuing to make inroads into the break's lead. The gap is now down to 1:45, and there are still some 28 kilometres to cover before the beginning of the penultimate climb, the category 1 Côte de Montagny (8km at 6.5%).
Tony Gallopin leads the escapees through the intermediate sprint at La Bathie, still 1:45 ahead of Froome, Contador et al. The average speed so far on the stage has been a brisk 41kph.
As rain begins to cascade down on the break along the valley floor, their lead has been pinned back slightly more. The gap is now down to 1:25.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) surges to the front in a bid to inject a bit more urgency into the break's efforts. The Canadian has put in a huge shift in support of Talansky today.
Richie Porte is riding on the front of the Froome-Contador group, and the gap has been snipped back to a shade over a minute with just over ten kilometres to go to the foot of the Côte de Montagny, the beginning of the two-part climb to the finish.
Alberto Contador is completely isolated in the this chasing group although for now at least, Team Sky's chasing is bringing Talansky's move under control.
Porte and Nieve slip away up the road from the chasing group in a bid to force Belkin and the other teams to contribute more forcefully to the pursuit effort. It's a tactic that works briefly, as Keizer again comes to the front and pegs them back.
Just after Porte is brought back, Geraint Thomas and Froome go on the attack, but Contador follows immediately. Froome swings over and looks for Contador to take a turn on the front, but the Spaniard ignores the request.
When Froome and Contador slow, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) takes a flyer and opens a small gap. The stop-start pace in the yellow jersey group has allowed the Talansky group to extend its lead once again. The gap is back up to 1:20.
There's a degree of brinksmanship from Contador here but it's wholly understandable in the circumstances. He has no Tinkoff-Saxo teammates for company in a 17-man chase group dominated by Sky riders. He's happy to let the men in black do all the work for now, confident, perhaps, that he can pin back Talansky's lead himself once the climbing begins in earnest in a few kilometres' time.
Contador and Froome's man marking has shades of Contador and Schleck at the 2010 Tour de France. Nibali and Kelderman have taken advantage of the deadlock and slipped away, and they have already gained 45 seconds on the yellow jersey group. Froome and Contador are now some 2:13 behind the Talansky group.
The situation on the lower slopes of the Côte de Montagny. A 21-man group is at the front of the race, containing Talansky, Van Den Broeck, Bardet and Adam Yates. A group featuring Nibali and Kelderman is 1:08 down, while Contador and Froome are in a group 2:37 behind.
Contador attacks alone on the lower slopes of the Côte de Montagny and immediately opens a large gap over Froome.
The yellow jersey group has fragmented completely, and Froome has shown no sign of being able to follow Contador. The Briton is sitting on the wheel of Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, and is losing ground on Contador, who is bounding through the rain in pursuit of the leaders.
Contador has already gained 20 seconds on Froome but he is still 2:34 down on the Talansky group and 1:28 down on Nibali and Kelderman.
There are still 4 kilometres to go to the summit of the Côte de Montagny. Contador is slowly pegging back time on Talansky, Nibali and Kelderman but perhaps not at as quick a rate as he needs.
The dancing figure of Contador is picking off the remnants of the early break and is now a minute behind Nibali and Kelderman. Froome, meanwhile, is struggling to hold the wheels as Porte lifts the pace in his group.
As things stand, Contador needs to peg back another 1:30 on Talansky to save his maillot jaune. The Spaniard is beginning to take flight and has picked off Ryder Hesjedal, who has been dropped from the front group.
Contador has gone into overdrive and is eating huge chunks out of the Talansky group's lead. The gap has dropped suddenly to 1:32.
News of Contador's progress has sent a frisson through the leading group. Romain Bardet accelerates but Talansky, Van Den Broeck, Navarro, Nieve, Yates and Van Garderen are all able to follow.
The situation is as follows approaching the top of the Côte de Montagny - Talansky, Bardet, Van Den Broeck, Nieve, Yates, Van Garderen, Gadret and Navarro are out in front; Kelderman and Nibali are 48 seconds down; Contador is 1:26 behind and a struggling Froome is 2:25 behind.
Contador dances out of the saddle once again and continues to shave time off Talansky's advantage and add to his own buffer over Froome.
Froome, meanwhile, looks unrelated to the rider who forced the pace on the Col du Beal on Monday. The Sky man is 2:42 down on Talansky and 1:20 down on Contador, wearing a thousand-yard stare as he pedals grimly on Thomas' wheel.
Contador crosses the summit of the Côte de Montagny 1:16 down on the Talansky group and he is almost within sight of Nibali as he begins the descent.
Talansky, Van Den Broeck and Bardet are 45 seconds up on Nibali and Kelderman, 1:16 up on Contador and 2:42 ahead of the Froome group as they attack the descent.
There's a short and irregular descent, interspersed with false flats, between here and the final climb to Courchevel (5.9km at 6.2%). Talansky is still the provisional overall leader and is forcing the pace on the descent in a bid to hold off Contador's startling progress.
Talansky began the day 39 seconds down on Contador. He is 1:11 up on the Spaniard on the road, so his provisional overall lead is 32 seconds as things stand.
Froome, meanwhile, is 2:54 down on the leaders. His group has grown in size on the descent but all urgency has dissipated from their pursuit.
Talansky drives the pace once again at the front of the race. Whatever the final result this afternoon, the American youngster has shown considerable panache in his approach to today's stage.
Contador hasn't managed to make any further inroads into the break's lead on this descent. It's going to come down to one, final time trial for the Spaniard, who must recoup a little over half a minute on Talanksy on the final climb to save his yellow jersey.
Contador has Konig, Darwin Atapuma and Elia Favilli for company as he approaches the final climb, but they'll do well to stick with him once the road pitches up in earnest.
Talansky leads the break onto the final climb. Nibali and Kelderman are just 20 seconds back, while Contador is still 1:20 behind. Froome, meanwhile, has slipped to 4:20 in what has turned into a jour sans in every sense for the Sky man.
A seated Talansky continues to lead the break on the climb, dictating the tempo with Jurgen Van Den Broeck sitting on his wheel. Just behind, Nibali and Kelderman are inching their way across the to the leaders.
Contador has closed the gap to 1:03 but he might run out of road in his bid to salvage his maillot jaune.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck has plenty to gain too, and the Belgian comes through and puts in a long turn on the front of the break as Contador closes to within one minute.
Contador still has Konig sitting on his wheel as he bobs up the climb. The gap is down to 54 seconds, although there are also time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds on offer for the first three riders across the line.
Contador shifts into the big ring and hauls himself out of the saddle. He has at least 17 seconds to make up if he is to win the Dauphine, and that's assuming Talansky doesn't pick up a time bonus.
Mikel Nieve jumps away from the break in a bid to salvage a stage victory from a calamitous day for Team Sky. He is no threat on GC, and Talansky, Van Den Broeck and Bardet are happy simply to keep tapping out their tempo.
Contador is still 57 seconds to make up with just three kilometres remaining.
Meanwhile, Kelderman has rid himself of Nibali and is moving closer to the break, which is fragmenting once again under the impetus of Talansky.
Contador catches Nibali but he remains 58 seconds down on Talansky et al.
Indeed, Contador's deficit is to Nieve. He is approximately 50 seconds down on the Talansky group as he catches and passes a tired Nibali.
Talansky is showing no signs of weakening as he hits the front of the break once again and sets the pace. Nieve remains out in front and has stretched out his lead over the rest of the break.
Nieve enters the final kilometre. He is ten seconds up on the Talansky group, which suggests that Contador, who is 55 seconds down, needs only make up another 10 seconds or so on Talansky in the finale.
The leading group has fragmented in the final kilometre and Talansky is struggling now. Van Garderen, Van Den Broeck, Bardet, Yates et al all drift past him. It's going to be touch and go for the American now, especially as he won't take any bonus seconds.
Mikel Nieve (Sky) is going to win the stage, even though Adam Yates is chasing ferociously in the final kilometre.
Mikel Nieve wins the stage. Talansky crosses the line 7 seconds down in fourth place. Contador must finish within 46 seconds of Nieve to win the Dauphine...
Andrew Talansky wins the Criterium du Dauphine, as Alberto Contador crosses the line 1:14 down.
Talansky bursts into tears on learning the news. It looked as though he had cracked in the final kilometre, but the Garmin-Sharp man buried himself in the finishing straight to come home just 7 seconds down on Nieve. Contador, meanwhile, appeared to pay for his earlier flourish on the final ramps and actually lost time to Talansky in the closing mile or so.
Chris Froome, meanwhile, is still out on the road, slowly making his way towards the summit on the wheel of Geraint Thomas.
Romain Bardet took second on the stage, just ahead of Adam Yates. Talansky crossed the line in the company of Van Den Broeck right behind them.
1Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky
2Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale00:00:03
3Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge00:00:05
4Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp00:00:09
5Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
1Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp
2Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo00:00:27
3Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol00:00:35
4Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin00:00:43
5Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale00:01:20
6Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge00:02:05
“You put your whole life into something, the sacrifices, the training and it's the moments like this that make everything worth it,” Talansky says. “This is why we do this for moments like this.
“It was a very hard start and we had Ryder Hesjedal on the front and I rode up to him. He sacrificed himself for me all day. It was the perfect opportunity and we had to try,” Talansky said of his day off the front of the race, but he was careful to point out that he is not a contender for top honours at next month’s Tour de France. “No, I still wouldn't say that. This is the Dauphiné,” he said. He was a fine 10th overall last year, however, so he will surely aim to better that result this time around.
Froome crossed the line with teammate David Lopez in 20th place overall, 5:05 down on Nieve. The Briton closes the Dauphine in 12th place overall, having been dealt a considerable blow by Contador ahead of the Tour de France.
Contador has a broad smile and a handshake for Talansky on the podium. He'll be disappointed to have lost the yellow jersey but he comes away from the week with the knowledge that he is on course for the Tour de France, where he ought to have a stronger supporting team at his disposal, which would certainly have helped his cause this afternoon.
Confirmation of the top ten on the stage:
1Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky
2Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale 00:00:03
3Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge 00:00:05
4Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 00:00:09
5Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol
6Tejay van Garderen (USA)BMC 0:00:15
7Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin0:00:32
8John Gadret (Fra) Movistar0:00:36
9Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis0:00:41
10Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo0:01:15
And the final overall picture:
1Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp
2Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 00:00:27
3Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol 00:00:35
4Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin 00:00:43
5Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale 00:01:20
6Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge 00:02:05
7Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana0:02:12
8Mikel Nieve (Spa) Team Sky0:02:59
9Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis0:03:04
10Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana0:03:17
Thanks for joining our coverage of the Critérium du Dauphiné this afternoon on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here and we'll have all the news and reaction from a dramatic day of racing. We're back with more action from the Tour de Suisse as it happens tomorrow.