Whenever a breakaway defies the odds to stay clear of the peloton on a day that's, on paper, destined for a sprint, questions are going to be asked and fingers are going to be raised. On stage 3 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the FDJ and Katusha-Alpecin teams were left questioning the commitment and tactics of the other.
A six-man breakaway formed in the opening couple of kilometres of the 184km stage but, with a maximum gap of six minutes 30 seconds, it looked like the sprinters' teams had things under control. Indeed, there was little panic as the break hit the duo of minor climbs at 50km to go with a lead of three minutes.
But by the time they were back on the flat, commitment behind waned, while the leading sextet were all-in, no one shirking a turn. They reached the flamme rouge with a lead of 35 seconds and it was game over.
"If all teams continued working like they did until the last 20km, we would have probably caught the break. But then something stopped," Jose Azevedo, Katusha-Alpecin's DS, told Cyclingnews and L'Equipe in Tullins.
Katusha felt they were the only team riding in the closing stages, while FDJ felt Katusha hadn't done enough earlier in the day.
"Katusha waited for a long time before coming to the front. Dimension Data as well," FDJ's Arnaud Démare, winner of Monday's stage 2, told L'Equipe. "Us, we put a man on the front very quickly. Cofidis did so too."
Démare did admit that, with a gap of over six minutes, "we should have ridden a bit harder", but he felt strongly that Katusha had avoided contributing in the first three quarters of the stage in order to save their matches to launch Kristoff in the sprint.
"Some teams have come here especially for sprints. I'm thinking of Katusha, where everything is for Kristoff. They have eight riders for the sprint," he said pointedly.
"Some want to work as little as possible in order to have more riders to lead out the sprint. On Sunday, you can understand the break making it, given the parcours. Today, it's not normal."
Katusha's Azevedo refuted Démare's grievances, arguing that his riders had started contributing after the pair of fourth-cat climbs in the first half of the stage, and that FDJ disappeared when it really mattered.
"We started riding with [Tiago] Machado when the others started riding – I think at kilometre 60. They started before us, then we had a downhill 10km and there I said, 'Now try to move up and ride with them'.
"But in the end we had four riders pulling in the last 15km. Everybody was riding with one rider, so we expected the other teams to ride a bit more. We put four riders on the front, but it's surprising that some teams stropped pulling.
"Each team does its own strategy, but we also need to consider that the six riders were riding faster than expected. I don't want to blame the others – each team has its strategy. I think we did our job, we showed we had our intentions and tried to win the stage with Alex and that's, in the end it was not possible."
While Bryan Coquard's Direct Energie had a sick note as they had a man in the break, the Cofidis team voiced the rather less reasonable excuse that they don't have any expectations here, with Nacer Bouhanni only recently back from injury.
"We could have put another rider on the front, but at the moment with Nacer we're not sure of being able to compete, for several reasons - he's coming back, he's missing the injured Christophe Laporte, and yesterday Démare won by a bike length," said DS Didier Rous.
"It's up to the other teams to take their responsibilities and assume their status. We today didn't have any status. We did the work we needed to do with the means we had."
In the end, FDJ led out a somewhat futile bunch sprint for seventh place.
"There's a bit of regret, because I won the sprint from the peloton," said Démare. "It wasn't for the win, but that's the game."
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