Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans may have been the marquee attractions at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) is another man who comes away from the Alps quietly confident that he is on course to play a leading role at the Tour de France in July.
The Belgian was an ever-present in the leading group on the climbs, and appeared comfortable in spite of the ferocious pace-setting of Team Sky. He finished the Dauphiné in 5th place overall, an encouraging echo of his break-out Tour display of 2010.
Sitting on the steps of his team bus just past the finish line in Châlet, Van Den Broeck cut a relaxed figure as he reflected on his week. "The condition is on the point where I wanted to have it so I’m happy after the Dauphiné," he told Cyclingnews. "The test for me was the time trial, and it was a good one. When we went uphill, I was good but not super, but we expected that, so I’m happy with how things went."
The domination of Wiggins’ Sky team on the climbs – the British squad placed a startling four riders in top ten overall – allied to the lack of a real summit finish meant that it proved difficult for the likes of Van Den Broeck to break the deadlock.
"It’s a shame that there wasn’t an proper uphill finish, because it’s hard to keep your advantage when you attack on a climb that’s a long way from the finish," he said. "That’s maybe why the race stayed quite close, but even so, the Sky team had a really high pace on the climbs so it was just hard to attack anyway."
Ironically, while Van Den Broeck’s final deficit to Wiggins was clocked up entirely in the race’s two time trials, his performances against the watch remain the great positive that he draws from this Dauphiné. Given his travails in time trials in recent years, Van Den Broeck’s showing at Bourg-en-Bresse, where he conceded just 2:13 to Wiggins over 53 kilometres, was a particular boost to his morale.
A world champion in the time trial as a junior in Lisbon in 2001, Van Den Broeck has never scaled such heights in the discipline as a professional, although he stressed that there is an ocean of difference between racing as an 18-year-old and competing at the highest level.
"You can’t compare juniors with professionals," he said. "I’ve often said that once you turn professional, you have to forget everything you’ve done before. You cannot compare it."
At 6’1" in height, Van Den Broeck’s is a lanky build for a climber, and he conceded that the work he put in to improve in the mountains may have impacted on his ability against the watch. With over 100 kilometres of time trialling in this year’s Tour, however, it was clearly time to renew his focus on the discipline.
"I worked a lot on climbing when I turned professional, and maybe my time trialling went a little bit down because of it," he said. "I’ve started working again on it now because we know it’s going to be so important for the Tour.
"I’ve done a lot of work with my position and I’m happy to be on the bike I wanted to be on again. When you feel good on the time trial bike, you’re more likely to do some more training on it, and that’s very important."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.