Chris Froome heads in to the Critérium du Dauphiné as the standout favourite, and probably the best stage racer of the year so far.
Okay, Vincenzo Nibali might be more deserving of that title following his crushing Giro success, but he won’t be in France this weekend as he makes the most of his time in the limelight. His adoring Italian fans will linger on his recent win for months, but the cycling world moves on.
With the Tour de France looming large on the horizon all eyes turn to the Alps this weekend for the Critérium du Daphiné, the default Tour warm-up race. Who will win? We don’t know, but what we do know that whoever does win will Spend the following two weeks being called ‘Tour favourite’.
GBR | Team Sky | 28
Like Bradley Wiggins last year, Froome has swept all before him in stage races this season, winning the Tour of Oman, Criterium International and the Tour de Romandie. Such has been the Brit’s dominance this season that it is hard to not see him add the Dauphine to his collection, but he is beatable; in the penultimate, hilly stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this season he was ambushed and caught out in terrible weather by Vincenzo Nibali, and lost out on the General Classification as a result. With a number of undulating stages on the route, the favourites should take note.
SPA | Saxo Tinkoff | 30
The Spaniard may not have demonstrated the raw speed he had pre-doping ban, but he remains as canny as ever, as his victory at last year’s Vuelta showed. He usually holds back a bit at the Dauphiné, but may wish to land a psychological blow this year having been gotten the better of this year by Froome.
SPA | Movistar | 33
Valverde has won this race more than anyone else lining up this year, with consecutive successes in the 2008 and 2009 editions. Since his ban however he has developed a habit of just missing out on races, with podiums at this year’s Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and at last year’s Vuelta baring witness. He will likely podium again at the Dauphiné.
AUS | Team Sky | 28
Last year Sky dominated the Dauphiné, with an extraordinary three riders in the top four. Porte finished high too in ninth place, and has since been upgraded to super-domestique-in-chief following an exceptional run of stage race success including victory at Paris-Nice. If Sky successfully utilise the same tactics as last year he will probably finish on the podium, while if Froome falters he could win overall.
SPA | Katusha | 34
For all his prowess on steep climbs, Rodriguez has only ever won one world tour stage race, the 2010 Tour of Catalonia. In that race he was aided by the absence of a long time trial, a long-standing Achilles heel of his, and the 32.5 kilometre effort will probably be enough to see off his push for overall once more.
SPA | Euskaltel-Euskadi | 35
Sanchez is in a unique position among the favourites in that he is probably not going to ride the Tour in July. As such he will have no concerns about holding back, and could therefore outperform the others, especially if he carries strong form from the the Giro. However, like Rodriguez, he does have a habit of finishing second and third rather than first.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck
BEL | Lotto-Belisol | 30
Belgium’s current best grand tour rider demonstrates remarkable consistency around this time of year, never failing to finish lower than fifth in either the Dauphiné or the Tour since 2010, yet never managing to exceed fourth. We can expect much the same this year.
Others to Watch
FRA | Europcar | 33
Voeckler’s performance at the Dauphiné ought to give us an indication of how well he is recovering from the broken collarbone he suffered at the Amstel Gold in April. He looked a long way off from top form at the Tour of Belgium, but we will have a better idea after the Dauphiné regarding how well he can go at the Tour.
GER | Omega Pharma-QuickStep | 28
Martin will be eyeing up stage four’s time trial as both an opportunity for a stage win and to get himself into the yellow jersey. There are, however, probably too many mountains towards the end of the race for him to keep it until the end.
Thomas De Gendt
NED | Vacansoleil DCM | 26
De Gendt is targeting the Tour this year after achieving third at the 2012 Giro, and it will be fascinating to see how strong he is in the run-in to July. Expect him to make use of the many opportunities for breakaways, if indeed he isn’t challenging for the overall.
BEL | Omega Pharma-QuickStep | 27
There aren’t many opportunities for sprinters on this parcours, but expect Meersman to be on hand when a bunch sprint does transpire. He will look to add to the two stages he won at the Tour de Romandie and Volta a Catalunya, but will have Edvald Boasson Hagen and Nacer Bouhanni to compete with.