Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) will return to the Critérium du Dauphiné this week with one eye on the podium after last year’s fifth place overall. The 24 year-old Frenchman is hailed by many within France as the real deal, and like others before him (Philippe Gilbert and Rémy Di Grégorio) seems to have really come out of his shell after leaving Marc Madiot’s Francaise des Jeux at the end of 2009.
"The Critérium du Dauphiné [last year] was the confirmation that I could keep up with the big guns. After the mountain stage [on l’Alpe d’Huez], I knew where I stood, and that helped me to draw a real career plan. I am ambitious, but I know what I’m capable of," said Coppel.
So far in 2011 the Frenchman has had a fairly measured season. Some consistent results in March and April in smaller stage races (2nd in Tour of Murcia, 4th in Ruta del Sol, 5th in Castilla y Leon) gave the Saur-Sojasun rider confidence, but despite not winning yet this year the Frenchman is on track to be in top condition for the Tour de France.
"My whole team want to shine in the big races we’re invited on but I won’t start the Critérium du Dauphiné in a shape as good as last year’s. In 2010, I was at my best. Since I’m young, I know I can’t be at my best for two months and I have to be on top in July," Coppel said.
The route for the 2011 Dauphiné looks, at least on paper, significantly harder than last year’s edition. Coppel rode some of the course last month as part of his reconnaissance for the Tour de France and agreed with this assessment, adding that he won’t be going too deep in June if he can avoid it.
"The Grenoble time trial will show how I am. If I’m in overall contention after that time trial, I will try for a decent overall finish. Otherwise, I’ll set my sights on a stage win. I don’t think I can do both because I won’t be allowed to break away if I’m close to the best riders in the GC."
The Frenchman will be happy as long as he feels he’s on track for July but concluded,
"A decent result next week would be good for me and for the team."
The Critérium du Dauphiné begins on the 5th June with a prologue time trial through the alpine town of St Jean de Maurienne.