The Critérium du Dauphiné – the most recognised Tour de France warm-up race – returns later this week (August 12-16) with a hugely impressive start list that includes Egan Bernal, Chris Froome, Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, Julian Alaphilippe and Thibaut Pinot.
Race organisers, ASO, have reduced the race from eight to five days and shifted it from June to August but have ensured that the GC riders on show will have a thorough workout ahead of the Tour de France.
The route comprises five uphill or mountain-top finishes, with the race culminating in back-to-back mountain stages to Megève. There are no time trials or sprint stages, with the route instead of focusing on the Tour de France contenders.
The start-list is nothing short of breathtaking, with a star-studded list of entries comprising nearly every Tour de France contender. While the Tour de L’Ain was very much the Ineos versus Jumbo-Visma show, the Dauphiné has far greater depth, with the very rarely talked about Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren) all set to start.
After a dominant display in the Tour de L’Ain, the Jumbo-Visma team make small tweaks to their roster. Roglič, Dumoulin, and the ever-steady Kruijswijk return alongside Tony Martin and Robert Gesink, while Milan-San Remo winner Wout Van Aert and Sepp Kuss come in for George Bennett.
The Team Ineos trifecta of Froome, Bernal, and Thomas come back after a bruising three days in Tour de L’Ain, but the British team will be strengthened by the addition of Pavel Sivakov, Michał Kwiatkowski and Dylan Van Baarle. Jonathan Castroviejo retains his place from the Tour de L’Ain.
Roglič will start as the firm favourite and over five days it’s almost impossible to imagine his form unraveling, but Beral will be aiming to show more resilience on the summit finishes after such a long period at altitude.
The Dauphiné is more than just a two-horse race. Quintana has found a level of consistency in recent weeks, and Warren Barguil will help lead the line for an attacking-minded Arkéa-Samsic squad. UAE Team Emirates have depth in their eight-man roster but Tadej Pogačar is their undisputed leader. The Slovenian is an excellent contender for the first stage and the first yellow jersey of the race.
Enric Mas spearheads Movistar’s challenge and will need to post a promising result if he is to inspire confidence ahead of the Tour. Dan Martin (Israel-Start Up Nation) will always be a threat whenever the road points upwards, while Emanuel Buchmann leads Bora-Hansgroghe.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren), Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) all start and have the quality to challenge.
The main threat from France – aside from Barguil – comes in the form of Pinot, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), and the ever-improving Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). Bardet needs a result for morale purposes as he winds down his AG2R La Mondiale career, while Pinot has been inside the top 10 for every stage race he's started in 2020 without looking particularly strong. Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has found form in recent weeks and he will go on the attack at every opportunity. Such is the Frenchman's style.
The opening stage starts in Clermont-Ferrand – which will host a Tour de France stage this year – and sees the peloton rack up seven categorized climbs in the space of 218.5km. The route skirts through the Puy-de-Dôme but wisely avoids major cities, like Saint-Étienne, and the final four climbs are all condensed into the last 50-odd kilometers, meaning that GC contenders will be determined to retain control.
It's very unlikely that a break will be allowed too much room to manouvere, while the last five kilometres are all uphill, save for a short descent as the road kicks up once more in the final few hundred meters. The stage, therefore, suits a strong climber who can handle a quick change in pace and can be relied up when it comes to excellent positioning and timing their final acceleration on the Col de la Gachet, or even a very strong puncheur.
Riders to watch: Tadej Pogačar, Julian Alaphilippe, Alejandro Valverde, Adam Yates.
The first proper summit finish comes on stage 2, with the peloton taking in 135km from Vienne to the summit of the Col de Porte. The opening 50 kilometers might not contain any categorized climbs but they are deceptively hard, nevertheless. The Côte de Viriville and the Côte de Roybon come in quick succession but any splits should be eliminated before the last two climbs.
The first-category Côte Maillet comes too far before the finish to make a difference in terms of the GC battle but the 6.2km climb will act as the perfect terrain to soften up rivals before a short regrouping in the valley and then the final slog up the 17.5km-long final climb.
For the majority of the riders in the race, this will be the longest climb they've raced in months – if not all year – and the change in tempo and intensity could wreak havoc on a climb that was culled from Paris-Nice this year.
Riders to watch: Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, Thibaut Pinot.
After the previous day's exploits, the peloton will be greeted with a more favourable opening to stage 3, with the first 86km from Corenc to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville raced along virtually flat roads. It’s the ideal opportunity for riders to attack and form a break, with those who have lost time, and domestiques sent up the road for later, all likely to be in the mix.
The terrain drastically changes with the epic Col de la Madeleine peaking at 105km into the stage and its 17.3km ascent at 8.3 per cent likely to be ridden at a brisk but manageable tempo as the race tops out at 2000 vertical meters.
The final climb up towards Saint-Martin-de-Bellville will be taken at full race speed. At 14km in length, and with an average gradient of six per cent, the climb will do irrefutable damage to the GC landscape.
Riders to watch: Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal, Miguel Ángel López, Nairo Quintana.
There’s no let-up, with stage 4 crammed with six more categorised climbs and hardly a single metre of flat road. Controlling the race will be taxing so a break might succeed if the GC teams, and especially the yellow jersey, are determined to save their powder for another tough finale.
The final climb in itself isn’t that hard but the opening four climbs can shatter the peloton if a non-threatening break isn't allowed up the road. There are pitches of over nine per cent on the final ascent, and it’s the same finish location where Froome won an uphill time trial at the Tour back in 2016.
Riders to watch: Rigoberto Urán, Pierre Rolland, Warren Barguil, Enric Mas, Dan Martin.
The final stage starts and finishes in Megève, with riders rolling out from near the base of the climb and then taking in seven climbs before the final ascent to the line. The difficulty of the stage will depend on the tactics and the ferocity with which the major teams approach the route but just looking at the profile will be enough to make some riders tired.
A break will likely go clear on the first climb and they might survive until the finish, but there’s no let-up throughout the 153km of racing. Riders will have ridden the final climb of the Montée de L'Altiport during the previous day but that won't make the task of actually climbing the ascent any easier.
Riders to watch: Nairo Quintana, Emanuel Buchmann, Primož Roglič, Egan Bernal.
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