Tour de France contenders test their form at the Critérium du Dauphiné

Half of the super quartet set to take on the role of favourites at the Tour de France will resume racing at the Critérium du Dauphiné set to start and finish in Savoy from June 7 to 14. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador is taking a well-deserved rest after his victory at the Giro d’Italia and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana continues his preparation in Colombia, however, Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome will cross paths in the French Alps.

This is a permanent feature in recent cycling: whoever claims the yellow jersey of the Tour de France in Paris – prior to eventual disqualifications – has taken part in the Dauphiné. It has happened every year since 2001, when Lance Armstrong exceptionally chose to take part in the Tour de Suisse instead because it was promoted by Tony Rominger and the pair had a common friend in Dr. Michele Ferrari.

However, since the dark years of the Texan running the show, only Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have doubled Dauphiné-Tour wins, in 2012 and 2013 respectively. More often, Tour de France favourites tend to hide their real state of shape or sometimes they just aren’t fit enough to compete for overall victory yet.

That was clearly Nibali’s case last year. The Sicilian was pretty far behind Froome and Contador in the initial fights of the Dauphiné. He went on the offensive on the last day – one of the most epic bike races of the 2014 season – but didn’t quite make the impact he was hoping to and ended up on seventh place overall.

“I remember it was a hard race,” Nibali said this week after returning from his second training camp on the Teide volcano. “The Dauphiné also marked my sporting resurrection. It helped me realise in which aspect of my riding I yet had to improve before tackling the Tour de France that I eventually won after that.”

This year, the Dauphiné is a race in between two training camps for the defending champion of the Tour de France. He’ll replicate the same plan by staying for another two weeks up the Passo San Pellegrino in the Dolomiti after completing the eight-day Alpine race that’ll finish near the Italian border at Modane-Valfréjus on June 14.

“My lead up to the Tour de France is going well and I’m satisfied with the shape I’ve got now,” he said. “However, I can’t promise that I’ll be at 100 per cent at the Dauphiné. But I’ll give my best.”

A good reason for Nibali, Froome and company to ride the Dauphiné is stage 5, from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup. The stage is the exact replica of the 161km-long stage 17 of the Tour de France, which was designed to celebrate the fall of Eddy Merckx when he lost the 1975 Tour to Bernard Thévenet.

In addition, the Tour features a team time trial this year (stage 9 from Vannes to Plumelec with an uphill finish), and so does the Dauphiné. Stage 3’s team time trial from Roanne to Montagny will be contested over approximately the same distance too, 24.5km. Therefore, several line ups will be similar at the Dauphiné and the Tour de France.

Astana, Team Sky, BMC, Ag2r-La Mondiale and Movistar are expected to impact the race, while the favourites are defending champion Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and the Yates brothers, Adam and Simon, who are set to be united under the Orica-GreenEdge banner at the Tour de France as well.

Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège runner-up Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) will have a chance to shine on home soil, and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) has opted for the Tour de Suisse for the fourth consecutive year to avoid the pressure of French media.

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