If March and April are all about Belgium with the Spring Classics, and May about Italy with the Giro d’Italia, then June and July are the months in which France takes centre stage.
The Tour de France is of course the headline act in July, but before that cycling fans have the Criterium du Dauphine (June 8-15) to enjoy.
Although known for being used as a warm-up race for riders with the Tour in their sights, it is often underestimated as a race in its own right. In fact, of all the week-long races contested in a season, this is arguably the most prestigious.
That said, the last three editions have all been won by Sky riders finalising their preparations for the major Grand Tour showdown in July. Dave Brailsford and co have mastered the art of winning the Dauphine and the Tour, with Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins completing the double in 2013 and 2012 respectively, and Wiggins with winning the Dauphine in 2011 before crashing out of the Tour the following month.
Sky has also used this race to demonstrate the power of their team as a whole; Richie Porte and Michael Rogers finished second place in 2013 and 2012 respectively despite riding as domestiques.
But this year Sky ride without one of its strongest riders, as Wiggins lines up at the Tour de Suisse instead. His omission has inevitably sparked more speculation that he won’t ride the Tour, but Brailsford has assured that “both of these races will form part of our selection for the Tour.”
As always, the Dauphine resembles a condensed version of the Tour de France, with a balance between time trials, mountains stages and middle mountain stages.
The opening Sunday time trial has been reinstated having been excluded last year, and stage two will prompt another shake up in the GC with a finish atop the Col du Beal.
The route is more climb-heavy than usual and as such few of the big name sprinters will be present, but those that are here will sense an opportunity for stage wins in the relatively flat stages on Tuesday and Friday.
In between them, stage four sees the peloton take on the 9.6km Col de Manse before descending into Gap, in a finish that usually favours opportunists, while stage five features six short climbs all ranked either category two or three.
The race will be decided in the mountainous stages of the final weekend, with no long time trial for specialists against the clock to capitalise on. Saturday’s stage seven finishes with the 10.2km Finhaut-Emosson, which with an average gradient of 8 per cent is the steepest long climb of the race, aside from the 8.2 per cent slopes of the Col de la Forclaz crested just ten kilometres before.
The Dauphine finishes the day after with another mountainous stage in which the favourites are likely to wait for the final Courchevel le Praz (5.9km, 6.2 per cent), although more adventurous riders may chance their luck some 20 kilometres beforehand on the Cote de Montagny (8km, 6.5 per cent).
Criterium du Dauphine 2014: Stages
Sunday June 8, stage one, Lyon, 10.4km ITT
Monday June 9, stage two, Tarare to Pays d’Olliergues-Col du Beal, 156km
Tuesday June 10, stage three, Ambert to Le Teil, 194km
Wednesday June 11, stage four, Montelimart to Gap, 168km
Thursday June 12, stage five, Sisteronto La Mure, 190km
Friday June 13, stage six, Grenoble to Poisy, 179km
Saturday June 14, stage seven, Ville-la-Grand to Finhaut-Emosson, 160km
Sunday June 15, stage eight, Megeve to Courchevel, 131.5km
Criterium du Dauphine 2014: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale
Trek Factory Racing
Criterium du Dauphine 2014: TV Guide
British Eurosport and Eurosport 2 will be broadcasting live coverage of the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine, as well as highlights every evening.
Criterium du Dauphine: Recent Winners
2013 Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
2012 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky
2011 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky
2010 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) RadioShack
2009 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
2008 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
2007 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r Prevoyance
2006 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner*
2005 Inigo Landaluze (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
2004 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
* Leipheimer stripped of result after USADA investigation
Criterium du Dauphine: Last year’s top 10 (2013)
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky in 29-28-48
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 58 secs
3. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 2-12
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 2-18
5. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis at 2-20
6. Michael Rogers (Aus) Saxo-Tinkoff at 3-08
7. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 3-12
8. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Garmin-Sharp at 3-24
9. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 4-25
10. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff at 4-27
Provisional list of starters for the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine, running from June 8 to 15
We pick the main contenders for the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine (June 8-15)