What did we gather from the Tour de France warm-up?
Richie Porte needs a better team
The Australian cast a lonesome figure as he fought to save his title chances on the last day of the Critérium du Dauphiné as Jakob Fuglsang ate into Porte’s lead to take the win.
With a one minute lead on a short 115km final stage, it was imperative for BMC Racing to have all hands to deck to protect their team captain and race leader. However, unlike Chris Froome’s Team Sky or Fabio Aru and Jakub Fuglsang’s Astana, it became clear that Porte’s BMC couldn’t provide the same protection.
The former Team Sky rider found himself having to rely on the good faith of ex-colleague, Froome, to help. However, with his own faltering Tour de France prep there was no room for the pair to work together and Froome soon dropped Porte on the ascent of the Col de la Colombiere.
In a post-race interview Porte expressed his pain at losing by only 10 seconds. “It was bitterly disappointed to lose by such a small margin,” he said. “I could’ve done with a couple of team-mates up there today, it would’ve really helped.”
With no team-mates to protect him, he found himself effectively leading Froome out before he attacked over the top of the Colombiere. “I guess that’s racing but you don’t forget that for July.”
Froome can descend with the best of them
Despite not winning the week long race, Froome really sparkled when he was chasing the race down the slopes of the French Alps.
After being distanced by Valverde, Aru and Fuglsang on the final stage, Froome had to make up time on the Col de la Colombiere and did so utilising his descending.
His skills were shown on stage six too as he took fast and dangerous lines down the Mont du Chat, at one point undertaking Porte with only millimetres of tarmac under his wheels.
While the Team Sky rider might not be in as good a form as he’d like at this point in time, he’s shown his willingness to take risks and attack on descents just as he did at last year’s Tour de France.
Fabio Aru has an impressive return
While the Italian rider finished fifth and at 1-37 out from team-mate and overall winner, Fuglsang, Aru had an impressive return to racing after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
After crashing on a training ride in April, the Astana rider was forced to shelve his plans to take on the Giro d’Italia, meaning the Dauphiné was the first time he had raced since Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
At the beginning of the race, Aru was Astana’s team leader but showed his versatility with a mid-race change of plans that saw him work for eventual leader Fuglsang. This was particularly evident on stage six with the pair working well together to allow the Danish rider the launchpad to out-sprint Froome and Porte across the line, gaining valuable bonus seconds.
For much of the race, Aru found himself asking questions of other riders and his own fitness. The answers he got will definitely leave him feeling confident he can improve come mid-July when he will try to achieve his maiden Tour de France victory.
We’re still no clearer as to who will be the Tour de France favourite
At the start of the week a dominant victory for either Porte or Froome would have seen the winner tipped for Tour de France triumph, but as it is we go into the biggest race of the year without a clear favourite.
Away from Froome and Porte, other riders like Romain Bardet may also be disappointed. Labelled a future Grand Tour winner in the past with a second place finish in last year’s Tour, Bardet has looked like the rider most likely to deliver a first French victory in the race since 1986.
While finishing sixth is commendable, the young Frenchman finished over two minutes down and nearly half a minute down on Aru who had only just returned from injury.
Stage four was also a blow as he finished 46th on the individual time trial. With fewer time trial kilometres in this year’s Tour, this might not seem like a major problem, but Bardet was far from dominant in the mountains where he will need to gain time come July.
Shorter stages provide a lot of exciting racing
With less than two minutes separating the top five going into the final stage the yellow jersey was all to play for going into a short 115km final stage that encouraged a series of ambitious attacks and a thrilling day of racing.
This was endemic of the race as a whole with no stages breaching the 200km mark, the Dauphiné was a short and fast battle, with breakaway groups succeeding and long range attacks coming left, right and centre.
That combined with a short and lumpy individual time trial on stage four, it made the race the a close cut affair.
While the riders may not have enjoyed covering constant attacks or losing out to breakaways, it culminated in a real spectacle for fans.