Chris Froome will be looking to win his third Critérium du Dauphine in four years, but will any of these other contenders beat him to the title?
The route very much suits Froome’s strong points, namely his ability to climb mountains, and it will provide a stern test of his fitness ahead of his Tour defence.
The mountain time trial to start in Les Gets will be a tough start, and while Froome is probably the best time triallist among the general classification favourites the ones that go uphill are always more of a lottery.
Stages five and six will be the crucial ones for Froome to find his form – two 140km sprints through the mountains, comprising 12 categorised climbs between them.
Froome’s stage race form hasn’t been as dominant as usual this season, finishing a disappointing 38th in Romandie and eighth at the Volta a Catalunya, but winning the Tour de France is is main aim, so the Dauphiné is just the next step on this progression.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) counts three Dauphiné podium finishes to his name but has yet to stand on the top of the podium in his storied career.
He’s by far the most ‘on form’ of the GC hopefuls, having either won or finished second in his four stage races this season, taking victory in his last outing at the Tour of the Basque Country.
The 33-year-old is coming off a lengthy break since his last race, so should be fresh but could need to find his race legs again in the opening stages. But with a mountain prologue there’s not really anywhere to hide without finding yourself immediately off the pace.
A lot of people are looking forward to seeing what Fabio Aru (Astana) can produce on French soil, having raced so infrequently there in his fledgling career.
Of course, he’s got the pedigree to win a race like the Dauphiné, having won the Vuelta a España last season, but racing on French roads is a little different to racing on Spanish or Italian roads.
The Italian will head up Astana at the Tour de France this summer but has raced in France just twice since turning pro with the Kazakh team in 2012.
Last year’s Paris-Nice saw him lose 23 mintes on the final stage and drop from 12th to 38th overall, while he finished 82nd at the GP de Fourmies back in 2013.
We know he’s strong in the mountains, so it will be great to see him go head to head with the Tour de France favourites, but illness has hampered his start to the season, so he may not be in the perfect shape for the race.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) seems to have been a busy boy over the first five months of the season, having finished five stage races and four one-dayers, but he’ll be raring to go after a month away from competing.
A French rider has not won the Dauphiné since Christophe Moreau in 2007, but will it be Bardet to break that streak?
He tasted victory in the race last year on the stage to Pra-Loup, which propelled him into the top 10, and in all likelihood that’s the best he can hope for again this year with a packed field.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) to be the best placed French rider, given his great form this year.
The FDJ rider has vastly improved his time trialling this season, taking a great win against the clock in Romandie, although it’ll be a different kind of test on the prologue.
But the Frenchman has been climbing well all year too, finishing second overall at Romandie, fourth in the Basque Country and winning the Critérium International.
Pinot is a genuine contender for the Tour de France this year, as long as his time trialling keeps going to plan, so expect to see him challenging for the podium at the Dauphiné as well.
Business-wise it makes sense, giving the team an opportunity to win two races rather than piling all the talent into one race, but tactically it doesn’t give the pair much time to ride together ahead of the Tour.
Porte has hit the ground running with BMC since joining in January, finishing second Down Under, third at Paris-Nice and fourth in Catalunya, but he’s not raced since abandoning in Romandie at the end of April.
But he has good memories of the Dauphiné, having finished second to then teammate Froome back in 2013 and the Australian will be looking to get one over on his former colleague this time round.
Alexander Kristoff & Nacer Bouhanni
This edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné isn’t really one for the sprinters and as such there aren’t many big names turning up. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) are the only ones confirmed thus far and they’ll be looking at stage on for their chance of glory.
It’s not as if they can take the mountain prologue easy, as there’s the time limit to take into consideration, but they’ll be looking to save their legs for the day two sprint to Saint-Vulbas.
Stage three has a category two climb right at the end, which will probably rule out the fast men from the flat finish on the other side, but stage four could suit Kristoff, with an uphill finish to Belley after a rolling stage.