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Critérium du Dauphiné 2014: Stage 2


Live coverage of stage 2 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, 156 kilometres from Tarare to the Col du Béal.

The Critérium du Dauphiné has long been the dress rehearsal of choice for the Tour de France – every year since 2002, the man who has worn the yellow jersey into Paris in July has opted for the Dauphiné over the Tour de Suisse – but this year’s race carries an ever greater resonance than normal. For the first time all season, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali line up together in the same race, a chance for some rare psychological point scoring before the main event next month.

All three riders could draw some positives from Sunday’s opening time trial – not a prologue (!) – even if Chris Froome (Sky) will naturally be the happiest, having won the stage and claimed the first yellow jersey of the race. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was best of the rest, 8 seconds off the pace, and while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) coughed up a further 5 seconds and finished 8th on the stage, he was the quickest man on the opening climb – an indication, perhaps, that the work he carried out on Mount Teide recently is yielding some benefits.

Monday’s stage provides a sterner examination of the their Tour credentials, with no fewer than six categorised climbs on the agenda, including an hors catégorie haul to the finish on the Col du Béal.

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The move went clear as soon as the race hit the first climb of the day, the Côte de Saint-Marcel-l'Eclairé, where Kevin Reza (Europcar) led over the summit.

At that point, the break's lead was already 1:30, and it extended to three minutes over the Côte d'Albigny, where Reza was again the first man to the summit. He is the provisional leader of the mountains classification - Vincenzo Nibali wears the white polka dots this morning - while Matthias Brändle (IAM Cycling) is the maillot jaune virtuel. The Austrian is the best-placed of the escapees in the overall standings, having placed 10th in the opening time trial, 13 seconds down on Froome.

The general classification picture before the start this morning was as follows:

The Dauphiné is, as we said, something of a rehearsal for the Tour, and Chris Froome got in some early practice at avoiding questions about Bradley Wiggins in his winner's press conference yesterday, as you can read here.

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Although he lost eight seconds to Froome in yesterday's time trial, Alberto Contador declared himself pleased with his outing, although the face-off on the Col du Beal will tell us more about his condition. After a tub-thumping start to the season that featured wins at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country, Contador took an extended break from racing. Almost two months, in fact, have passed since he last turned a pedal in anger in the Basque Country in early April.

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The Dauphiné is a special event on the calendar of Thomas Damuseau (Giant-Shimano), a native of Grenoble. The French climber won the king of the mountains classification at last year’s race but covets a stage win this time around. Speaking to L’Équipe before the start, he noted that the Col du Béal “could surprise some people,” explaining that there is a particularly steep section midway up the climb that might catch some contenders unawares. “The last part of the col is exposed. With the heat, there might be some surprises.”

Astana moved quickly on the eve of the Dauphiné to downplay rumours in the Italian media of a rift between Vincenzo Nibali and the upper management, with Alexandre Vinokourov pointing out that he didn’t send a letter of reprimand to the Sicilian after his spring campaign, but rather dashed off an e-mail of encouragement to everybody on the team. How thoughtul.

In any case, after a low-key spring, Nibali showed signs of form in yesterday’s opening time trial, setting the quickest time at the first time check before the crosswinds in the finale slowed his progress. He finished the day in 8th place, 13 seconds down on Froome but just 5 behind Contador.

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The weather at the Dauphiné today only adds to the Tour de France feel around the stage, with temperatures touching 30 degrees Celsius, while it's also quite blustery on the final climb to the line. Gauging one's effort won't be a straightforward matter on the Col du Beal this afternoon.

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Kevin Reza (Europcar), incidentally, maintained his 100 percent record on today's climbs by leading the escapees over the top of the Côte de Bard. Danny Pate (Sky) led the peloton past the same point some four minutes later.

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Meanwhile, Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) negotiates his way through the peloton with a clutch of bidons stuffed up his jersey. His leader Vincenzo Nibali is sitting near the front of the bunch in the red jersey of king of the mountains. Alberto Contador, incidentally, is wearing green today, having finished second in yesterday's opening time trial.

Large salt stains on Vasil Kiryienka's jersey provide a graphic illustration of just how warm it is out on the road this afternoon. Thus far the pace in the main peloton is steady rather than brisk, but Kiryienka et al will doubtless begin to wind up the speed on the approach to the base of the final climb.

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Both the break and the peloton are on the relatively benign slopes of the Col des Pradeaux. In the main bunch, delegations from Europcar and Movistar are making their way towards the front.

Kevin Reza (Europcar) climbs out of the saddle and sprints to pick up maximum points at the topo of the Col des Pradeaux. Regardless of whether the break stays out in front - and it seems unlikely - the Frenchman will don the king of the mountains jersey this afternoon.

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Matthias Brandle (IAM) clips off the front and takes the points at Ambert and then sits up again and waits for his companions. The escapees should continue to collaborate well until the base of the Col du Beal, but from there it will doubtless be every man for himself.

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As if on cue, there has been a crash in the main body of the peloton, with Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) among the riders to go down.

Taaramae is quickly back on his bike and chasing the peloton, which continues to be led by Sky.

18km remaining from 158km

Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is chasing his way back through the motorbikes and on to the back of the peloton. He doesn't seem to have been involved in the crash but it's possible he had some mechanical trouble. In any case, he is safely on board ahead of the climb.

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There is precious little organisation at the front end of the bunch on the final approach to the climb, although Sky are attempting to restore some order. For now, however, it's Arnaud Demare ( who is setting the pace.

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De Marchi opens what looks to be a decisive gap on the rest of the break, with Damuseau and Reza chasing some 150 metres back.

Geraint Thomas is laying down the tempo at the front of the bunch for Sky and his pace-setting is shedding the field of riders - Simon Gerrans and Damiano Cunego are among those who have sat up.

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Mikel Nieve shares the pace-making with Thomas at the head of the bunch. The main peloton has been reduced to around 40 riders, with Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) among the riders to be dropped.

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Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Andrew Talanksy are also still in this group, while Nibali has two teammates for company - Tanel Kangert and Jakob Fuglsang.

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Froome tries another long acceleration with 800 metres to go, but Contador is matching him pedal stroke for pedal stroke, as is Kelderman.

A second onslaught from Froome but he can't shed Contador.

With 300 metres to go, Froome kicks again, taking Contador clear with him. He is unable to drop the Spaniard, however, but Contador isn't able to come around him either...

Chris Froome wins the stage, just ahead of Contador, and points to his chest as he does so. He has won the day, but the gap to Contador seems has clearly shrunk since last year.

Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) takes a fine third place on the stage, 4 seconds down. Van Den Broeck takes 4th, 10 seconds down and just ahead of Talansky.

Nibali struggled in those final kilometres and cracked with sight of the line. He crossed the line in 6th place, 27 seconds down.

Neo-pro Adam Yates, meanwhile, took an impressive 8th on the stage, 42 seconds down on Froome.

In the overall standings, Froome will now lead Contador by 12 seconds, while Kelderman climbs to third overall, 21 seconds down.


General classification:

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