The 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné has a nasty surprise awaiting riders, an opening 4km prologue hill climb that averages 9.7 per cent

WorldTour races often start with an opening prologue or time trial: a test against the clock to sort out a preliminary order in the general classification before the opening road stage gets underway.

Usually they’re flat and less than 15km long, suiting powerful time trial specialists and rouleurs. However this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné has opted for something a little different: a 4km uphill mountain time trial, averaging 9.7 per cent.

This could be the hardest, most influential opening day of a stage race in living memory.

More similar to a British RTTC hill-climb than an alpine ascent, the Mont Chéry climbs 375 vertical metres out of Les Gets, a ski resort an hour’s drive southeast of Geneva in the northern French Alps.

>>> Critérium du Dauphiné live TV guide

Rising almost straight up the valley side with a backdrop of the Mont Blanc massif, its average belies the fact that the middle two kilometres are closer to 15 per cent, with the hairpin bends (there are nine in total) pushing 25 per cent.

Criterium du dauphine prologue climb

It’s a mad way to start a race. Course director Thierry Gouvenou admitted to Cycling Weekly with a smile on his face that “it could be a little bit intense.”

The Tinkoff team’s DS at the race, Steven De Jongh, had two words for the opening test: “bloody hard!”

“The first part is OK but then you come to that final 1200m or 1500m and it’s super, super steep,” he added. “Even the top ten riders on the stage are going to have big gaps between them.”

>>> 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné: stage by stage

Mont Chéry is actually a French synonym for ‘mon chéri,’ which translates into English as ‘my darling.’ But in this case it’s not a term to be used affectionately. It’s more like Ray Winstone barking “alright darling” to another cockney gangster before punching him in the face.

It’s the sort of climb that has amateurs leg pressing their way to the top at a 30 rpm cadence, or even getting off and walking altogether. Fortunately for the peloton’s sprinters there is no time cut for the stage, meaning no riders will be eliminated.

mont chery map

Gouvenou added that the inspiration came from previous stages of the Dauphiné that have climbed the similarly short and steep climb up to the Bastille in Grenoble, the city that was home to the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper that formerly sponsored the race and gave it its name.

millar bastille prologue

David Millar races up the 1.8km Grenoble Bastille on the opening stage of the 2000 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré

However with a challenge that is more than twice as long and arguably a lot harder, Gouvenou aims to “take the blinkers off the teams and the riders” with unusual stages such as these, “otherwise you just end up with the same scenarios and the same outcomes and it starts to get boring.”

>>> Eight riders to watch at the Critérium du Dauphiné

Despite a generally positive response from the participants, time gaps between the top GC riders – including Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Thibaut Pinot and Fabio Aru – on Sunday night could stretch to over 60 seconds.

Any contender lacking those racing legs or that all important top-level punch will soon haemhorrage time on the steep ramps that characterise this narrow trickle of tarmac halfway up a ski slope.

Riders will no doubt be calling it all sorts of names on Sunday afternoon as they struggle up its slopes. But there is one thing that this opening stage is certainly not: boring.

  • Timpacker

    Chris.. The only thing this doper has given to the sport is how to make more money and sponsorship deals after you are caught doping.. He kids it’s ok to cheat because your make more money afterwards anyway!!!

  • Timpacker

    David Millar !!! Why are we looking at a picture of a doped up cyclist riding up this climb.. Oh I forgot he’s a “reformed” doper !!

  • Dave2020

    It was the 2012 TdF, before experimenting with squats. The 2013 Giro, afterwards, wasn’t quite so memorable.

    “Froome said he did squats.” Does he recommend it? Froome uses Osymetric rings. Wiggins tried them, but reverted to convention. Chris has gone up from 172.5 to 175mm cranks. Which of those three changes is beneficial and which is irrelevant, or even detrimental? It depends which ‘expert’ you ask. Whichever one you choose to believe may be nothing more than your own existing prejudice.

    You have to correctly attribute the results to the actions, otherwise it’s nothing more than an exercise in GIGO.

    They’re not gradients that force anyone to stand up at a cadence below 60rpm. “Spin” is hardly a term to use for 70-80rpm in the saddle. Any intelligent amateurs will have ratios on their bikes that are appropriate for their power/fitness.

  • lee

    No it’s not. Clear comparison needs to be addressed imo, even DM will admit this fact!

  • lee

    No it’s not. Clear comparison needs to be addressed imo, even DM will admit this fact.

  • Michael

    That’s Sir Bradley Wiggins winner of the TdF and holder of the hour record.

    Froome said on twitter he did squats. He’s won plenty of mountain finishes, and 2 TdF too.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Besides, the article is referring to the steep gradients making it impossible for amateurs to spin, not to the idea they are choosing a low cadence.

  • Dave2020

    Most ‘amateurs’ have more intelligence than you give them credit for.

    If I remember rightly, Tim Kerrison had Sir Bradley doing squats in ‘preparation’ for the 2013 Giro. As a strength exercise for cycling, squats are even less appropriate than leg presses. (and slower than 30rpm.)

    There you go, that’s two ‘professionals’ whose understanding of the biomechanics of pedalling (up a climb) leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Chris

    Your comment is unnecessary and boring. When you have contributed as much to cycling, you can climb back into your pulpit.

  • David Simons

    In the tag line for the Millar picture, you somehow omitted the words “fully juiced up”