A star-studded lineup heads to France this weekend for the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné. Chris Froome (Team Ineos), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) are among the starters, but there are a raft of other riders to watch out for. Cyclingnews takes a look at five of the most interesting candidates to keep an eye on.
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Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Until this point, Wout Van Aert’s 2019 focus has been limited to the one-day arena, but the Critérium du Dauphiné provides a departure from this year’s script and the 24-year-old’s first ticket to a WorldTour stage race since joining Jumbo-Visma.
His only other venture at this level of stage racing came at the 2017 BinckBank Tour, although his stage racing palmares includes the overall win in last year’s Tour of Denmark. The Dauphiné offers a different test, with the young Belgian talent given the chance to test himself against a magnum of stage racing specialists. With Steven Kruijswijk in the team, the onus will be on supporting a strong GC challenge but there are several stages that could tempt cameo performances out of Van Aert. He’s certainly been living the part, training with the stage racing core at altitude in recent times.
Dauphiné experience: None, and this is his first WorldTour stage race since 2017. Gulp!
Team role: Gain experience, fight for a stage win, and support the GC ambitions.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar)
Your young Ecuadorian teammate has just won the Giro d’Italia, your Spanish teammate/internal rival finished fourth and has teased the media with plans of riding the Tour de France, and your most promising contract offer for 2020 currently comes from a second division French team desperate for a leader. It’s not a great time if you’re name is Nairo Quintana.
At least the two-time Grand Tour winner has impressed so far this season, with consistent performances in both Paris-Nice and Catalunya before a long stint of altitude training. June, however, marks his first outing at the Dauphiné since his WorldTour debut year in 2012. That shouldn’t be too much of a concern – Quintana has regularly altered his pre-Tour schedule in a bid to find that magical formula – but this year’s Dauphiné represents an important moment for the fading Tour contender. Impress over the eight days of racing through the Massif Central and into the Alps and he will quell any doubt over leadership for the Tour. Or else allow speculation to creep into the minds at Movistar HQ, and thus open the door for Landa or any other plan B.
Dauphiné experience: Just the one outing, back in 2012 as a 22-year-old, when he nabbed a stage win ahead of Cadel Evans and Daniel Moreno.
Team role: Mikel who? Nairo is the team leader.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)
After being on the Giro d’Italia beat for the last two years, the enigmatic Frenchman heads back to the Tour de France as a genuine contender, and arguably the home nation’s best chance of ending Team Sky/Ineos’ stranglehold. However, it’s been four years since Pinot finished his home Grand Tour, and the pressure will only intensify in the coming weeks as the Grand Départ approaches.
Pinot’s Dauphiné results are far from inspiring, with one stage win and his best GC results all coming outside of the top fifteen. The Dauphiné provides Pinot with terrain that certainly suits his skillset, so at the very least we should expect fireworks from him and Romain Bardet as they try to test Chris Froome and rest of the plastic-promoting posse. Pinot’s form is certainly on the up, too, having recently dominated the Tour de l’Ain with a stage win as well the yellow, points, and mountains jerseys. Vadim Pronskiy won the white jersey, if you’re interested.
Dauphiné experience: Pinot has raced the Dauphiné on three occasions, with his best performance coming in 2016 when he won a stage to Meribel and finished 16th overall.
Team role: Undisputed team leader.
Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
Here is a rider who has simply become a burden on the Cofidis wage bill and is surplus to requirements for a team with ambitions of moving into the WorldTour in 2020. In fact, Bouhanni’s star has fallen so far that the team have had to publicly state his involvement in their Tour de France long list.
One saving grace for the Frenchman lies in the fact that the Dauphiné has provided a happy hunting ground over the years, with three stage wins and a points jersey already in the locker. His time at Cofidis is surely spent but the Dauphinéis a chance to showcase what’s left of his talents to any teams willing to take a risk in 2020.
Dauphiné experience: Three stage wins, the last of which came in 2016.
Team role: Sprinter.
Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic)
It’s been almost two years since Barguil set the Tour de France alight with two dramatic stage wins and the king of the mountains classification, but the years since his move to the French Pro Continental ranks have been plagued by injury and poor form. A broken pelvis sustained in a high-speed crash this spring means he arrives at the Dauphiné with two days of racing since March but the terrain at the eight-stage contains terrain that a fit and ready Barguil would thrive on.
A Tour de France spot is not in doubt, and the realistic aim would be for the 27-year-old to pick up a morale-boosting week of racing without any scares. A break, an attack on the hardest of stages, would certainly go a long way to convincing Barguil and those around him that he is at least on the right track.
Dauphiné experience: Barguil has never shone at the race, with his best GC result a lowly 18th overall in 2013.
Team role: André Greipel will target the sprints, while Barguil will be given a protected role. Arkéa would probably wrap him in cotton wool between now and the Tour if they could.