For Chris Froome (Team Sky) the 23.5-kilometre time trial between La Tour-du-Pin and Bourgoin-Jallieu on stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphine holds a number of objectives, with the Tour de France's defending champion looking to win a battle ahead of July's main event.
The rolling course not only offers Froome the chance to stamp a level of authority on his Dauphine rivals in what has been a subdued season by his standards, but also deliver a confidence-boosting performance before the Tour de France. A strong display would also keep alive his hopes of becoming the first ever rider to win the Dauphine four times and three times in succession.
Heading into stage 4, the Team Sky leader sits on the same time as the majority of his rivals, with a cluster of GC hopefuls 1:09 down on current race leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal). The Belgian has a chance of retaining his lead for at least a further day but by the end of Thursday's stage we will have seen just where Froome, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) are ahead of the Tour. After three days of shadow boxing in the peloton, the first blows will have been dealt. Time will tell if any of them land or not.
"I haven't seen it yet so I'll go out first thing tomorrow morning and check it out," Froome told Cyclingnews on Tuesday after a short warm-down on the rollers.
"It's a huge dynamic of the race here. Whoever gets time here tomorrow in terms of the GC battle won't have to go on the offensive in the following days and so it's an important milestone in this race. It's also an important test for what's to come in the Tour de France. We have a similar sort of prologue in Dusseldorf and a similar style time trial at the end of the Tour in Marseille. It's a good hit out and good practice."
Froome's last outing on his time trial bike – in a competitive sense at least – came at the Tour de Romandie. He was off the pace and nursing a back injury that week in April and was overshadowed by a rampant Porte. Froome will hope to reverse the situation in the Dauphine's race of truth, but even drawing himself closer to the Australian would offer proof that he is moving in the right direction. As he has indicated during this week, now is the time to step up.
"Hopefully it will be better than how it went at Romandie. I think that Tony Martin is the man to beat but I'll be looking more at the GC guys and measuring myself against them," Froome told Cyclingnews as the huddle of fans and media began to gather.
"I think that Richie [Porte] is in great form," he said when asked about his rivals both here and for the Tour.
"He looks really good. I haven't seen much of Romain Bardet but I think he's staying hidden and waiting for the Mont du Chat stage, maybe, with the home roads to Chambery. Valverde looks in good shape, Contador looks in good shape and Yates and Chaves. It's going to be a big battle."