During the race, it’s easy to become absorbed in the day-to-day action but, now that we are looking back on the eight days of high-quality racing that was the Critérium du Dauphiné, it's impossible not to filter the results through the prism of the upcoming Tour de France.
For decades, the Dauphiné has been a key lead-in race to the Tour, attracting the top general classification riders as they gauge their form ahead of the big one. It was no different this year, though the GC battle was admittedly a little miserly when it came to handing out clues about who would be on the top of the podium in July.
It wasn’t just a means to an end, however, with the race winner Richie Porte riding to what he described as his own Tour de France win, while up the road, the stunning breakthrough of a previously unheralded young climber unfolded.
Elsewhere, an old champion kept on fighting, though he won't be repeating Dauphiné-Tour doubles of years past, while the race's top sprinter savoured his second green jersey in as many races.
With all that and more to take stock of, here are our 6 conclusions from the 2021 Critérium du Dauphiné.
Ineos' strength in depth
The fact that Ineos Grenadiers came away with the title is hardly surprising. The British team have won seven of the last 11 editions of the race and, while their triumph comes in the absence of the two best stage racers on the planet over the last two years in Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar, this was a thoroughly comprehensive display from what is likely to be the nucleus of the team's Tour de France squad. The number of times they were put under considerable pressure can be counted on one finger, while three riders inside the top-10 demonstrated their superiority.
Tao Geoghegan Hart has gone from Giro d'Italia winner to super domestique - a role he is likely to repeat in a few week's time - while the renaissance of Richie Porte continues apace. Geraint Thomas has been consistent - both in terms of results and his knack of finding the tarmac - but the Welshman looks on track to at least mount another respectable tilt at the yellow jersey.
With Richard Carapaz racing the Tour de Suisse and still to find his role as either co-leader or mountain domestique, the British team looks far better equipped than they did on the eve of last year's Tour when poor form and uncertain line-up questions riddled the camp. The remaining question is whether their collective strength will be enough to match Roglic and Pogacar. (DB)
Mark Padun's unexpected introduction
With two major mountain showdowns scheduled for the final weekend of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the main focus was always going to be on the GC contenders. Few, though, would've laid money on 24-year-old Ukrainian Mark Padun creeping into the spotlight by picking up back-to-back solo victories to take his first wins in a shade over two years.
He did exactly that, though, and it's hard to tell which of his triumphs was more impressive. On stage 7 he struck out from a small elite group of contenders midway up the 17-kilometre ascent of La Plagne, riding off with Jumbo-Visma climber Sepp Kuss before soloing the final five kilometres. On the road to Les Gets the next day, he was in the early break, securing the blue polka dot climber's jersey along the way, before attacking the 17-man group 30 kilometres out on the Col de Joux Plane and riding to the finish 1:36 ahead of second place.
After La Plagne, he said he was just hoping to get on TV for his mother to see, while he has also talked about having suffered knee problems and issues with weight and fuelling in the past. He attributed his stunning rides to having lost 4.5 kilograms at a recent altitude camp. Padun, who can count a Tour of the Alps and an Adriatica Ionica stage among his palmarès, now seems to be delivering on the promise he showed as the U23 rider who won the Flèche du Sud and took third at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.
After this weekend, the next stop will surely be a Tour de France debut alongside a crop of more experienced climbers, with Mikel Landa and Jack Haig at the head. If Padun were to continue this kind of form there, the team is suddenly looking a lot stronger. (DO)
Porte's return to Ineos a huge success
At the end of the 2019 season it looked as though Richie Porte's stature as a stage racing force was all but over. He had moved to Trek-Segafredo but a combination of illness and bad luck had seen his star fade, and outside of his usual Tour Down Under exploits, he had failed to sparkle in Europe, with a somewhat disappointing 11th place at the Tour de France. This site called his transfer one of the flops of the season and although in isolation - based on those results - it was probably fair, Porte has rediscovered himself and established himself as one of the best stage racers in the current peloton.
A career-high of third place in the Tour de France came in 2020 and, while a move back to Ineos was seen as a final hurrah as mountain domestique, the veteran rider has shown no signs of settling for a role in the pack. Second at the Volta a Catalunya, and Tour de Romandie, and with a Dauphiné title to his name, he is showing signs of riding with the best form of his career. Gone seem to be the self-doubt and nervous energy that shadowed phases of his earlier career, with a mature, resilient, and relaxed athlete once again riding as though he's one of the best week-long racers on the planet.
A first Dauphiné title also goes a long way to making up for what happened in 2017, when he lost the yellow jersey on the final day, with his palmarès now stacked even higher with yet another stage racing win. There are obvious questions as to whether he deserves more than a support role at the Tour, and who knows, maybe that's how the road will play out, but such a prospect looks far more possible than it did a few years ago. If 2019 was a let-down, then a return to Ineos must be seen as nothing but a huge success. (DB)
A more even GC race without the Slovenians
"I guess that maybe it's not having Primož or Tadej here… but everyone is very similar," was the judgement of AG2R Citroën's Ben O'Connor shortly after the finish of stage 8 on Sunday.
Yes, the absence of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar was unmistakeable this week. The pair have combined for 13 stage race victories in the past three seasons, winning half of the Grand Tours in which they have participated.
Without the two Slovenians there was a feeling that the race might not have provided onlookers with a real indication about the winner of the maillot jaune in July. Instead, it was a tight race, won by a rider who has been keen to point out he'll be a Tour de France super domestique at Ineos.
The summit finish at La Plagne saw the most separation, with the aforementioned super domestique, Porte, dropping the Tour leaders of Movistar, AG2R Citroën, Groupama-FDJ and Bahrain Victorious. Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse saw 20 men finish together, while the finale at Les Gets brought a stalemate, with only O'Connor able to steal away.
After eight days of racing, it's hard to come to a definite conclusion about the state of the general classification riders. Thomas looks in slightly better shape than many of his rivals, though when you scan the rest of the top 10 it's an ask to imagine many as true yellow jersey contenders at the Tour.
We'll see reigning champion Pogačar in action at the Tour of Slovenia, while Roglič will rock up in Brest on June 26 with no racing in his legs since April. We won't really know anything definitive about them until the vital stages of the Tour, and – based on the past week's evidence – we can say the same about the GC men at the Dauphiné as well. (DO)
It's far too easy to write Froome off
There's a big difference between social media telling us that Froome has no overall prospects at this year's Tour de France and the man admitting it himself, but that's where we are now, with the four-time Tour winner publicly declaring that a tilt at yellow this year isn't within range.
The results back that up. At no point this year has the Israel Start-Up Nation rider been at the pointy of stage races and, while there are obvious mitigating circumstances, the Tour is in less than a month and no rider can realistically make up that amount of ground. That doesn't mean that Froome has become a redundant part of the ISN project; he should still make the Tour team and will bring experience and publicity in equal measure. However, he will need to find a new remit for himself during July as he allows the likes of Dan Martin and Michael Woods to take centre stage.
Long term, it's far too easy to write Froome off. Mark Cavendish, Richie Porte (see above) were all consigned to the scrap yard, and look what happened there. This is cycling, after all. Just when we think we have a grasp on what's going to happen, something or someone comes along and completely redefines what we initially thought was a normal trajectory. (DB)
Another touch of green for Sonny Colbrelli
In the early stages of the race – before the mountains and the Mark Padun show –another Bahrain Victorious rider looked to be in the form of his life, picking up three second places and a win in the five days. Yes, Sonny Colbrelli decisively proved himself to be the strongest sprinter in the field, albeit in was a race that offered few proper sprint opportunities and, as a result, drew few top-tier sprinters.
Brent Van Moer and Lukas Pöstlberger foiled the peloton from the break on the opening two days but Colbrelli was there to take second. On stage 3's uphill finish in Saint-Haon-le-Vieux he seized his chance to power past Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) and take his second win of 2021.
A further second place, this time centimetres behind Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) after the Welshman's late ambush attack on stage 4, sealed another points jersey to go with his Tour de Romandie triumph. The big question now, though, is can he do it at the Tour de France?
Colbrelli has raced the Tour four times before, finishing fifth, ninth, fourth and a distant 72nd in the points classification. This year looks just as challenging, with eight likely sprint finishes (stages 3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 19 and 21) looking more suited to the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sam Bennnett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) rather than Colbrelli or Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
We'll have to wait and see whether he can match those 'pure' sprinters on flat roads to mount a bid to add another green jersey to his collection. You would suspect, however, that taking a first Grand Tour stage win (he twice finished second to Sagan at the Tour in 2018) would more than make his summer. (DO)
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