The build-up to the Tour de France starts in earnest with the prologue of the Critérium du Dauphiné (June 6-13) in Evian-les-Bains on Sunday.
Based in the French Alps, the eight-day race – which has a small name change due to its new ASO ownership – is perennially an important testing ground for Tour de France contenders.
Defending Tour champion Alberto Contador heads the list of favourites, competing with an Astana line-up that contains many of his expected teammates for the Tour.
The main challenge is likely to come from the likes of Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), “fresh” from his Giro d’Italia third-place.
Lance Armstrong is eschewing his oft-favoured preparation race for the Tour de Suisse, along with the Schleck brothers and Roman Kreuziger.
Meanwhile, last year’s winner Alejandro Valverde is conspicuous in his absence, having been banned for two years on Monday.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2010: Stages
Despite the presence of a 49-kilometre time trial to accompany the prologue, this is a climber’s race through and through.
The tough stuff starts on stage four, with a category-one summit finish at the ski resort of Risoul. This is followed by a difficult stage to Grenoble, taking the riders up to Chamrousse before a twisting descent to the race’s spiritual home.
The jewel in the Dauphiné’s crown however is the penultimate stage, which goes over the Glandon before finishing at Alpe-d’Huez. If still in the balance beforehand, the race will surely be settled atop the renowned 21-hairpin climb.
Even the last day sees little respite, taking in the brutal 1980 World Championship road race circuit with a finish in Sallanches.
Sunday, June 6 – Prologue – Evian-les-Bain to Evian-les-Bains, 6km ITT
Monday, June 7 – Stage one – Evian-les-Bains to Saint-Laurent-du-Pont, 191km
Tuesday, June 8 – Stage two – Annonay to Bourg-Saint-Andéol, 177km
Wednesday, June 9 – Stage three – Monteux to Sorgues, 49km ITT
Thursday, June 10 – Stage four – Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Risoul, 210km
Friday, June 11 – Stage five – Serre-Chevalier to Grenoble, 143.5km
Saturday, June 12 – Stage six – Crolles to Alpe-d’Huez, 151.5km
Sunday, June 13 – Stage seven – Allevard-les-Bains to Sallanches, 148km
Critérium du Dauphiné 2010: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale (Fra)
Bbox Bouygues Telecom (Fra)
Caisse d’Epargne (Spa)
Cervélo Test Team (Swi)
Francaise des Jeux (Fra)
Lampre-Farnese Vini (Ita)
Omega Pharma-Lotto (Bel)
Quick Step (Bel)
Saxo Bank (Den)
Team Sky (GB)
Critérium du Dauphiné 2010: British riders
Daniel Lloyd (Cervelo)
David Millar (Garmin-Transitions)
Russell Downing (Team Sky)
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)
Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky)
Critérium du Dauphiné 2010: TV guide
Sunday, June 6, 5-6pm – LIVE prologue, British Eurosport 2
Monday, June 7, 2-3.30pm – LIVE stage one, British Eurosport 2
Tuesday, June 8, 2-3.30pm – LIVE stage two, British Eurosport 2
Wednesday, June 9, 2-3.30pm – LIVE stage three, British Eurosport 2
Thursday, June 10, 2-3.30pm – LIVE stage four, British Eurosport 2
Friday, June 11, 2-3.30pm – LIVE stage five, British Eurosport 2
Saturday, June 12, 5.15-6.15pm – Stage six highlights, British Eurosport
Sunday, June 13, 2.30-4pm – LIVE stage seven, British Eurosport
Critérium du Dauphiné: Recent winners
2009: Alejandro Valverde
2008: Alejandro Valverde
2007: Christophe Moreau
2006: Levi Leipheimer
2005: Inigo Landaluze
2004: Iban Mayo
2003: Lance Armstrong
2002: Lance Armstrong
2001: Christophe Moreau
2000: Tyler Hamilton
Critérium du Dauphiné: Last year’s top ten
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne in 27-34-39
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 39sec
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1-24
4. Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at 2-47
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-19
6. Cyril Dessel (Fra) Cofidis at 4-01
7. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4-25
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Lampre at 4-29
9. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis at 4-45
10. Matteo Carrara (ita) Quick Step at 5-13
52. Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas at 37-00