The headliners for this year's Critérium du Dauphiné (June 9-15) include four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Team Ineos). The British rider missed last year’s Dauphiné owing to his Giro d’Italia ambitions but he returns to familiar territory with a team capable of taking overall honours for the seventh time in nine editions.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was the last non-Team Sky/Ineos rider to take the overall title in 2017 and the Dane also returns after a spring campaign that culminated in a hugely impressive win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Fuglsang will certainly find the terrain at this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné to his liking, with several stages capable of splitting up the race even before the peloton reaches the final three days of climbing.
Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) makes a previously unscheduled stop at the race for the first time in his career after his unfortunate departure from the Giro d’Italia on stage 5. The Dutchman needed longer than expected to heal after his crash and subsequent abandon in Italy but he arrives in France with an individual time trial to base his race upon. If he can survive the opening three days and put in a Dumoulin-style ride in the TT then he could become a factor as the race reaches the climbs. The priority for the Team Sunweb rider, however, will be to come through the eight-day race unscathed and without any setbacks. That in itself would represent a victory of sorts.
Nairo Quintana leads the Movistar challenge and returns to the race for the first time since his debut WorldTour year in 2012, while the French fans can focus their attention the attacking duo of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
The former will be racing on roads near his home, while Pinot has been in fine fettle since the season began. Adam Yates leads the line for Mitchelton-Scott and will be keen to improve on his stage win and second place overall from 2018, while Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Steven Kruiswijk (Jumbo-Visma) should also be in contention.
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Attacking intent and sprinters
While the GC contenders will decide the race, there is plenty of depth to the 2019 Criterium du Dauphine start list.
Julian Alaphilppe leads a Deceuninck-QuickStep squad unshackled from the GC fight and, with Philippe Gilbert also present, the Belgian team should be on the offensive as early as stage 1. Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) makes his first foray into stage racing this year, while veteran Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) will be looking to return to form after a recent injury. Expect Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team) to be in every break that counts, while Michael Woods (EF Education First) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) will be eyeing up stage opportunities whenever the race goes uphill.
In terms of the sprinters, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) represents the top rider in form. The Irishman is set to miss the Tour de France this year but will be in the hunt on stages 3 and 5. André Greipel (Arkéa-Samsic) will be searching for his first victory since January, while Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida), Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) all arrive with sprint trains around them.
Critérium du Dauphiné race route
Stage 1: Aurillac - Jussac, 142km
Race organisers ASO often alter the format for the opening stage, switching between prologues and stages suited to the sprinters. This year sees a soft departure from the typical format with a hilly 142km parcours between Aurillac and Jussac set to decide the first stage winner and the first yellow jersey. There are five categorised climbs in total, while the sprinters present at least have the knowledge that the climbs become progressively easier as the race passes.
The first category Puy Mary comes after 34km and will likely provide the terrain on which the opening break will be formed. However, the final climb – a second category ascent at seven per cent on the Côte de Roquenatou – could prove pivotal in deciding the outcome of the stage. Bahrain-Merida, on behalf of Sonny Colbrelli, and Bora-Hansgrohe, working for Sam Bennett, are the two teams most likely to chase but several riders might see this stage as an opportunity to win from either a break or a reduced bunch sprint.
Riders to watch: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
Stage 2: Mauriac - Craponne-sur-Arzon, 180km
Stage 2 takes in 180km of difficult terrain as the race heads cross-country. The roads are rolling, the tarmac grippy, and it’s hard to envisage anyone in the peloton calling this an easy day. The GC is unlikely to be a factor but if the sprinters’ teams chased throughout stage 1 they may think twice about doing the same for a consecutive day, such is the nature of the parcours that organisers ASO have simply labeled as ‘hilly’. The finale itself contains a short uphill drag to the line.
Riders to watch: Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Stage 3: Le Puy-en-Velay - Riom, 177km
If the previous two days were finely poised between the sprinters and the breaks, then stage 3 is a dead certainty for a bunch gallop. There are there still four small climbs as the peloton race towards Riom but the majority of the route is flat.
Riders to watch: Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), André Greipel (Arkéa-Samsic), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Stage 4: Roanne - Roanne (ITT), 26.1km
Stage 4 should define the GC race before the race hits the mountains proper. The 26.1km time trial course is near replica to the one riders will contest on stage 19 of the Tour de France in Pau, and contains a shallow rise towards the only time check at 11.5 kilometers. This will be an important test for the likes of Froome, as this will be the British rider’s only individual time trial this year ahead of the Tour de France. In a similar stage two years ago at the race, Richie Porte came out on top, while Froome struggled for form. Although an exact repeat of that situation is unlikely, there could be significant gaps between the overall contenders.
Riders to watch: Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Ineos), Chris Froome (Team Ineos), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).
Stage 4 time trial race profile (copyright ASO)
Stage 5: Boen-sur-Lignon - Voiron, 201km
Stage 5 gives the race back to the sprinters for the final time. Although there are a number of places in the early hour of racing where the terrain points towards a break going clear, there will be a number of riders who soft-pedalled through the time trial on the previous day with the break in mind. However, the second half of the stage seems perfect for the sprinters and their teams to control proceedings.
Riders to watch: Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), André Greipel (Arkéa-Samsic), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Remi Cavagna and Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Stage 6: Saint-Vulbas - Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, 229km
Stage 6 sees the climbers and the overall contenders begin their true assault on the race. The first of three mountain stages includes eight climbs in the final 140km of racing, with the Col de Beaune the last summit before a five-kilometre descent into Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne.
If the roads are wet, the finale could be crucial, but we’ve seen in previous editions of the Dauphiné that riders are not quite on their Tour de France form. That will open the door up to several opportunists or a GC rider who has perhaps lost time in the stage 4 time trial. If Alaphilippe is on a good day then the stage could be perfect for him but watch out for former Dauphiné winner Fuglsang and the home favourite Bardet.
Riders to watch: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Michael Woods (EF Education First).
Stage 7 race profile (Copyright ASO)
Stage 7: Saint-Geniz-les-Villages - Les-Sept Laux, 133.5km
If stage 6 was the appetizer then stage 7 is the main event, with a summit finish on the Montée de Pipay and three first-category ascents dotted along the 133.5km route from Saint-Genix-Les-Villages. There are a total of 4,150 meters of climbing during the stage.
The first climb of the Col de L’Epine comes at 43km and is really a warm-up for what’s to come. The following ascent of the Col du Granier is 12km in length, with an average gradient of 5.8 per cent, before a similar climb at the Col de Marcieu and the final assault of the Montée de Pipay. This is a new climb for the Dauphiné peloton but, at 19km in length and with an average gradient of 6.9 per cent, it will split the race to pieces. The road goes up in stages but there’s little respite in terms of gradient and, given it represents the hardest climb in the race, we should expect fireworks. With the Tour de France just a few weeks out, Froome, Quintana, and Pinot will be eager to lay down a positive marker ahead of July’s main event.
Riders to watch: Chris Froome (Team Ineos), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Stage 8: Cluses - Champéry, 113.5km
The final stage of the 2019 Criterium du Dauphiné sees the riders take on just 113km of racing but ASO has served up a potentially exhilarating day of racing with seven climbs in total. Three of the ascents come in just the opening 22km of racing before the race heads towards the brutally tough first-category Col du Corbier and then the milder third-category ascent of the Pas de Morgins. What follows is under 40km of action that could decide the race. First, riders must navigate the long descent towards the base of the Côte de Rives, before the final climb to the Swiss ski resort, Champéry. The Rives is certainly the tougher of the two, with 8.5km at 6.2 per cent, but it tails off towards the top before another short, sharp descent and the final climb. The gradient on the Montée de Champéry is shallower but if the previous kilometres have been raced at full-tilt then expect gaps to quickly open up.
Riders to watch: Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).