Where would Dimension Data be without Edvald Boasson Hagen? With just one win all season, that's where, and on stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné the Norwegian provided a timely reminder of his importance within a team that has struggled for consistency and wins for over 18 months.
In the French town of Jussac, Boasson Hagen was at his best, first surviving the undulating terrain and then the accelerations from Julian Alaphilippe and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team when the road hit the final climb before the finish. That Boasson Hagen had to navigate at least the final 600m on his own, and fight from the back just to make it into contention said it all.
When he came around Philippe Gilbert to take the stage and the opening yellow jersey of the race, one could feel the relief emanating from those inside the Dimension Data bus. After all, the team currently have four wins this campaign and three of those have come from their Norwegian. The fact that the 32-year-old lost the majority of his spring to illness and still tops the internal victory charts should have the management scratching their heads, especially given the heavy investment the team made in several new signings over the winter.
"I just tried to get in a good wheel and I was lucky to have a good run through the corner and could carry on the speed. I think it was [Nils] Politt from Katusha-Alpecin, I was sitting on his wheel through the corner and managed to keep the speed so I'm happy that I managed to get through the corner in such a good position and finally I could get a lead-out from someone else and not me making a lead-out for someone else and opening it up too early," Boasson Hagen said during his winner's press conference.
The Dauphiné has been a happy hunting ground for Boasson Hagen over the years with five wins spanning almost a decade. Although he has often faced questions over his lack of success in Monuments his class on the bike and popularity within the peloton have never been in doubt. A career with 78 wins to date and three Grand Tour stages don't just happen by luck and he can count himself unfortunate if Dimension Data fail to build at least half of their Tour de France line up around him.
"It's my fifth victory here but I also think it's around the time of the year I'm in good form and it's a race I like," he said modestly.
"I've won a few stages and that's really great but if you don't try to race in the other races then the victories have to come from somewhere but it's not a given to get victories at the Dauphiné. I really enjoy racing here and I'm often in good shape after good training periods so it seems to be on track. I hope it's a good start for me and a good start for the team and we're on track for what's coming later on in July and later on this week, hopefully."
Boasson Hagen, like almost all of Dimension Data's classics contingent, saw their spring evaporate after a virus struck their ranks at the Volta ao Algarve earlier in the year. They limped through the rest of the Classics but a win in the Tour of Norway last week suggested that Boasson Hagen was coming back.
The profile of stage 1 at the Dauphiné was perfect for him but he still needed to remain in contention before the sprint opened up. He was on the outside with around 600m to go but then sued Politt's late turn of speed to bring himself back into the fold. Then when he was well placed he kicked again and was a clear winner by the time he began to celebrate. The former Team Sky and High Road rider hoped that his triumph would boost morale within the Dimension Data squad as they look to improve their poor WorldTour ranking.
"I had a really great start [to the year] in [Volta a Comunitat] Valenciana but after that it's been pretty tough with not many victories but it's nice now to finally try to turn it around and we will work together to hopefully try and get some good results over the next weeks," he said. "I'm really happy for myself but also for the team to finally get some success and hopefully, we can bring this further on and manage to get more success in the next half of the season.
"I can't answer for the whole team but I can answer for myself. I was sick in Algarve and I had a virus there, I was feeling OK afterwards but I think it took more out of me and I never really recovered from it before the Classics. I also lost some training before and keeping up to date so I struggled with training and racing and never got going again. Now I've made a good period with good training and I'm finally starting to feel that I'm back on a good level. It's nice to feel that and hopefully, we can use this good morale for the whole team and carry on racing together to try and win some more."