Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott)
After a sensational 2016 season yielded podium finishes at both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, there was plenty of excitement when it was announced Esteban Chaves would make his Tour de France debut in 2017. Yet a knee injury picked up after the Australian summer has thrown the Colombian's season and Tour build-up way off-script.
Chaves told Cyclingnews in April that he was over the injury and was training his way back into shape, though there was still sufficient doubt for his team to pull Simon Yates from the Giro with two weeks' notice and parachute him in for the Tour. Yates has now been named as leader for the Critérium du Dauphiné.
"We are confident that Esteban has made a full recovery from his knee injury and is now back into his Tour de France preparation," said Orica DS Matt White in late April. "What we don't know at the moment is how that time off and lack of racing will affect his performance over the three weeks."
It's difficult to know what to expect from Chaves at the Dauphiné, but we can expect to find out how big a blow has been dealt to his Tour de France ambitions.
Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin)
As Dane Cash and Cosmo Catalano pointed out in our pre-Dauphiné Recon Ride podcast, wasn't it comforting when an individual time trial cropped up and you automatically knew Tony Martin would win it?
Things haven't seemed so certain in the past couple of years and, despite a quite dominant fourth world TT title in Qatar last October, there's still a sense that the German has something to prove. In his first season at Katusha-Alpecin, and first season on a Canyon, he has raced two ITT's and finished second in both – the first to Jonathan Castroviejo over 18km at the Volta ao Algarve and the second to Mathias Brandle over 13km at the Belgium Tour last week.
As the 32-year-old approaches one of the most important days of his season – the opening TT at the Tour de France, where the maillot jaune is up for grabs in his native Germany – the Dauphiné's largely flat 23.5km stage 4 time trial is an important test.
Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac)
Is Andrew Talansky's career back on track? The American admitted it had veered off the rails after his top 10 on his Tour de France debut in 2013 and his Dauphiné victory the following season.
Skipping the Tour last year, the American has hit reset, undergone a change in mentality, and the signs look good. He was fifth at last year's Vuelta and third at the Tour of California last month, though a big question mark comes with his lack of racing this year, due to the arrival of a baby. The Dauphiné, a big step up from California despite sharing WorldTour status, should provide some answers about what we can expect from him on his return to the Tour.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)
With seven victories in 14 days, Edvald Boasson Hagen has the hottest form of any pro cyclist. The glaring caveat, of course, is that they all came at a pair of relatively low-level races in his native Norway.
The winning touch is nothing to be sniffed at, but the Dauphiné represents a big step up, with far more at stake and a much stronger start list.
With serious doubts hanging over Mark Cavendish's participation in the Tour – and if he does end up going, then certainly over his form – Boasson Hagen might find himself with added responsibility this July. The Dauphiné's punchy opening stage looks like a perfect chance to step up to the plate.
Chris Froome (Team Sky)
Chris Froome has won the last two editions of the Dauphiné and the last two editions of the Tour. This route suits him perfectly. He's the big favourite to win it for a record fourth time. Yet there are question marks hanging over the Sky rider – bigger question marks, perhaps, at this stage than in any season since he assumed team leadership in 2013.
Froome has always won at least one stage race, usually more, before the Dauphiné, yet this campaign has been barren. His best results is sixth at the Herald Sun Tour, while there were shades of the Formigal in his implosion at the Volta a Catalunya, and he came away from a wet and miserable Romandie with a back problem and 18th place, while Richie Porte was flying to victory.
Froome's calibre and consistency is such that, injury free, he'll still be the overwhelming favourite for July, but the Dauphiné could tell us how close a race it might be.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
What next in the Nacer Bouhanni soap opera? Things are rarely dull with the French sprinter and June is the time things usually start hotting up. The Dauphiné has been kind to him in the past couple of years, with three stage wins, but his Tour de France build-up has been tainted, variously, by crashes, headbutts from lead-out men, and that infamous punch that landed on the nose of a hotel guest at nationals last year.
Cofidis signed Bouhanni on big money after his breakthrough season with French rivals FDJ in 2014, when he won three stages at the Giro and two at the Vuelta, but the all-important Tour de France breakthrough is yet to materialise. Having built a powerful lead-out train around him, they'll be growing increasingly anxious.
Bouhanni has racked up four victories so far this season, the highlight being his disposal of Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen at the Tour de Yorkshire. However, he was knocked unconscious in a crash the following day and hasn't raced since, missing the Tour of California.
The Dauphiné will be a chance for Bouhanni to showcase his form, though, as we know, that's usually only half the story.
Fabio Aru (Astana)
Jakub Fuglsang was promised leadership of the Astana team for the Tour de France, but, as politicians would tell you, circumstances can change. Fabio Aru picked up a knee injury in training in April, forcing him to skip the 100th Giro d'Italia, and the Tour was swiftly added to his programme.
So do Astana stick to their promise? Or do they back a proven Grand Tour winner? Or do they do neither one thing nor the other? The Dauphiné has become quite an important week in that respect, where there's seemingly more on the line for each rider than a decent result.
Aru hasn't raced since Tirreno-Adriatico in March so there are serious question marks over his form. He has, though, been training for a good while – and Aru does favour training over racing as preparation for his big objectives. Fuglsang has 35 race days under his belt but they were 35 mostly anonymous days.
Aru flopped on his debut Tour 12 months ago – ahead of which he flopped GC-wise at the Dauphiné but won a stage. The next week should give an indication as to what he can realistically achieve this time around.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Benjamin Button begins the second phase of his season after a start to 2017 that was nothing short of phenomenal, where one-day success – Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne, Vuelta a Murcia – was matched equally by stage race success – Ruta del Sol, País Vasco, Catalunya.
Valverde said at the start of the season he'll go to the Tour de France fighting for the Quintana cause, though his form is such that he may well have his own ambitions at the back of his mind, especially with Quintana's post-Giro shape so unpredictable. We've seen before Valverde's reluctance to risk his own position at the Tour for his teammate – in 2015 if not 2016.
Either way, Valverde is a potential winner of stages and the overall at the Dauphiné, a race he's won twice before.
Leopold König (Bora-Hansgrohe)
One race day all season – a DNF in January. Leopold König has had a terrible start to life at Bora-Hansgrohe, having made the switch from Sky in search of a leadership role. But now he's back.
The Czech rider has apparently been plagued by a nagging knee injury for months, one that flared up every time he thought he'd rested enough, and was ruled out of the Giro d'Italia, his big goal for the season.
He has been named on Bora's long list for the Tour de France, which seems fanciful, but the Dauphiné is his chance to convince the selectors. It's easy to forget that König has finished top 10 in all three Grand Tours and Bora had high hopes when they signed him. Is this the week his season splutters into life?
Richie Porte (BMC)
While Froome's results have been anonymous so far this season, Porte has racked up two overall victories from his three stage race appearances – all WorldTour level. He has now leapfrogged Nairo Quintana as the bookmakers' second favourite behind Froome.
Behind Froome, Porte was arguably the strongest rider at last year's Tour. Take out the two minutes he lost to a puncture on the second stage and he'd have been second overall, and take out the Mont Ventoux crash that hampered him on the Ardeche time trial, and he'd have been closer to his former teammate.
The Dauphiné will be a key chance to establish his authority and show that he's ready to provide a genuine threat to Froome's hegemony, and not just be the best of the rest.
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