For many of the main contenders for the Tour de France, the Dauphiné Libéré was their last testing ground.
Many will race in their national championship events next weekend but as far as stage racing goes, that’s it. The next time they will race will be when they set out from Brest on July 5.
Keen observers will have watched the Dauphiné for hints of who’s going well and who’s not. Are there any new names to consider, and have the stars of last July come out of hibernation in time?
So, looking ahead to the Tour de France what did the Dauphiné Libéré tell us…
That Alejandro Valverde is in the form of his life
He clearly has has nothing to fear in the high mountains. He may even fancy his chances on day one, repeating his Dauphiné Libéré stage win at Privas on the uphill finish in Brest. And on his Dauphiné form, he should be in the top five at the Cholet time trial. He?s the new joint favourite.
That a Cadel Evans Tour win will not be pretty
Evans won?t care about aesthetics. He knows he can?t win the Tour in the manner of an Hinault, that instead he will have to watch and follow and calculate every day in the mountains and hope the final time trial is enough. But as the Dauphiné and the Tour of Switzerland are showing, the list of contenders is growing longer. He will have a lot of rivals to watch and some of them will be too jumpy for him. On the plus side, his team-mate Yaroslav Popovych looks willing to surrender himself for the Aussie cause.
That Rabobank should reconsider their decision to leave 22-year-old Robert Gesink at home
Fourth at Paris-Nice, fourth at Flèche Wallonne, fourth at the Dauphiné and that doesn?t get him a Tour place? Okay, so the strategy was to save him for later year and his race programme has not been tailored to prepare him for the Tour but he?s clearly way better than Thomas Dekker.
That Haimar Zubeldia will coast his way into the top 10
The Euskaltel man could even be an outsider for the podium when you consider the Cholet time trial will do him no harm and there?s only one other time trial in the race, on the penultimate day. His team-mate Mikel Astarloza seems to have woken up too, with seventh place in the Dauphiné.
That High Road have a ?Michael Rogers? dilemma
Forget High Road?s humming and hawing about whether to take Mark Cavendish (come on guys, we all know you?re gonna) ? the other big question is what to do about Michael Rogers. The last we saw of him he was the maillot jaune virtuel on the road to Tignes in the Alps in last year?s Tour. He crashed out later that day, then succumbed to the Epstein-Barr virus. Now he?s back and he finished 11th in the Dauphiné. But has he got the endurance for the Tour?
That Thor Hushovd is hot favourite for the green jersey
No Boonen, so Hushovd, who won the green jersey in 2005, will start the race as the hot favourite. He didn?t win a stage at the Dauphiné ? finding himself on the receiving end of Valverde?s sprint ? but he is bubbling nicely.
That Bouygues Telecom are no longer whipping boys
Iouri Trofimov, the Russian mountain biker, was the revelation of the race with his brilliant stage win at Morzine. Next day Pierrick Fedrigo was a classy second at La Tousssuire. They will have a decent Tour.
That Carlos Sastre has a lot of work to do
While the Schlecks look good in Switzerland, the designated numero uno struggled all week and finished only 20th overall. Not a disaster, admittedly, but he didn?t look good on Saturday?s big stage.
That Maxime Monfort will ?do okay?
Top 20 would be a decent result on his Tour debut but of the new young things at the Dauphiné, we were more impressed with Crédit Agricole?s Pierre Rolland and the Française des Jeux rider Remy Di Gregorio.
That Ag2r?s Cyril Dessel is back in form
The ?one-day-only? yellow jersey holder from the 2006 Tour was impressive at Annemasse. Contract up for renewal at the end of the year, Cyril?
That no one will miss Levi
He?d only finish ninth anyway.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne in 27-34-39
2. Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto at 39sec
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1-24
4. Robert Gesink (Netherlands) Rabobank at 2-47
5. Haimar Zubeldia (Spain) Euskaltel at 3-19
6. Cyril Dessel (France) Ag2r at 4-01
7. Mikel Astarloza (Spain) Euskaltel at 4-25
8. Sylvester Szmyd (Poland) Lampre at 4-29
9. Maxime Monfort (Belgium) Cofidis at 4-45
10. Matteo Carrara (Italy) Quick Step at 5-13
Visit www.cyclingweekly.com next week when we assess the Tour of Switzerland and see what impact the men who matter will have on the Tour de France.
DAUPHINE LIBERE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
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