The build-up to the Tour de France will gather pace at the 73rd edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné, running from Sunday May 30 to Sunday June 6 and featuring a typically strong field.
Past winners Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) will be lining up among several notable GC big hitters who will be aiming to impress before the Tour de France, including David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), and Movistar’s Miguel Angel López and Enric Mas.
After last August’s trimmed down edition – featuring five stages focused on the mountains and won by Dani Martínez (then with EF Education First), the eight-day tour returns to a more traditional format. There is at least one stage that should suit the sprinters, a rolling 16.4 kilometre time trial on day four and a high-altitude summit finish at La Plagne, before the mountain stage to Les Gets on the second Sunday decides the honours.
The race should produce a fascinating battle between Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates, the three teams that will start as favourites for the Tour’s yellow jersey three weeks after the Dauphiné.
As well as Thomas and Richie Porte, Ineos’s line-up also includes the last two Giro d’Italia winners in Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart. Jumbo’s starting seven is their likely Tour line-up minus Primož Roglič. In addition to Kruijswijk, who crashed out of the Dauphiné last year, the Dutch team features Itzulia Basque Country runner-up Jonas Vingegaard.
While defending Tour champion Tadej Pogačar has opted to ride his home race, the Tour of Slovenia, in preparation for the Tour de France, the UAE Team Emirates line-up still looks impressive. Rafał Majka, David De La Cruz and Alexander Kristoff are all set to start alongside fast-rising American Brandon McNulty.
The race route
Sticking to the recent pattern of starts outside its home Dauphiné region in the Alps, the race gets under way in the Auvergne with an undulating stage based on Issoire. After a loop to the south and east of the town, the riders will tackle two laps of a circuit with two categorised climbs, the third-category Côte de Château de Buron and the fourth-cat Col de la Croix des Gardes. The latter tops out a dozen kilometres from the finish.
Stage 2 begins in Romain Bardet’s home town of Brioude and has a slightly tougher profile than day one. The French rider is in action at the Giro d'Italia but have no doubt liked the stage.
The hardest climb, the first-cat Col de Peyra Taillade, comes early on. After passing through the finish at Saugues for the first time, the route continues to roll significantly. In the final 10 kilometres there are two hills, the second-cat Côte de la Fôret de Pourcheresse and, just 4 kilometres from the line, the fourth-cat Côte de Masset.
There is a long list of punchy riders who are likely to be in the battle for the stage win here, among them Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën) and Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation).
The third stage is lumpy again, but less so than the opening two days. The finale in Saint-Haon-Le-Vieux, which rises quite significantly in the last 500 metres, should produce an interesting duel between the sprinters and the puncheurs.
After being omitted from last year’s shortened route, the mid-race time trial returns on stage 4.
The 16.4 kilometre test between Firminy and Roche la Moliere continues the undulating trend. It should bring the favourites to the fore, but without creating hugely significant gaps between them. With Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte as well as Thomas in their ranks, Ineos should be particularly prominent, with Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) among their main threats for the stage win.
The race continues to edge eastwards on day five with a stage into the Rhône valley that once again features some notable hills, the last of them the second-category Côte de Montrebut, which averages 12 per cent for 1.3 kilometres and tops out a dozen kilometres from the line, which is located in Saint-Vallier.
The first of three mountain stages in the Dauphiné region will take the riders from Loriol-sur-Drôme to Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse. There are four categorised climbs in the final 50 kilometres, starting with the second-cat Col de la Placette and Col de Porte, the latter tackled in the opposite direction to last year’s summit finish where Primož Roglič was the winner. Two third-cat ascents follow, the Côte de la Frette and the climb up to the finish, where two other 2020 Dauphiné stage winners, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) should be among the contenders.
The penultimate stage to La Plagne features the linking of the HC-category Col du Pré and the second-cat Cormet de Roselend that will be part of the Tour de France’s opening mountain stage to Le Grand-Bornand in early July. After dropping to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the riders will then tackle the 17.1 kilometre ascent to La Plagne, the second HC test of the day.
The final stage to Les Gets offers no let-up in the climbing. There are half a dozen categorised ascents prior to the rise up to the finish, including the second-cat Col des Aravis and the first-cat Col de la Colombière. The last big test is the HC-rated Col de Joux Plane, 11.6 kilometres at 8.5 percent. From its summit, the riders will drop into Morzine and climb more steadily into the resort of Les Gets.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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