As the 2014 Tour de France draws near, many of the race’s main contenders choose the Criterium du Dauphine (June 8-15) as a warm-up.
It’s more than merely a leg-tester for July’s Grand Tour, of course, it’s a tough and prestigious race in its own right and with a start list to match.
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Here we pick out who we think will animate this year’s Criterium du Dauphine.
For more information on the race, see our Criterium du Dauphine 2014 preview >>
Chris Froome (Sky) Any doubts that Froome was short of his 2014 form were quickly forgotten following a resounding victory in the Tour de Romandie last month. The defending champion will rue the absence of a long time trial, but will still be the man to beat. Team mate Richie Porte could even finish on the podium again.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo)In the past, Contador would hold back in the Dauphine before unleashing his best legs in July. But this season, perhaps wishing to send a message to the authoritative Team Sky, the Spaniard has already won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country in what for him has been an unprecedented run of early season success. He’ll want to get the better of Froome in the pair’s first meeting since the Volta a Catalunya.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)Lo Squalo has had an uncharacteristically quiet season thus far, but his team are confident that he remains on track for his main target this season, the Tour. How he performs in the Dauphine will be a revealing insight as to how his preparations are going – anything less than a top five will be worrying.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC)No GC contender will miss a long time trial stage as much as van Garderen, but his stage in the Volta a Catalunya earlier in the season proved he can win in mountain stages too. Finished third here in 2010 and has the potential to better that this time round, though he’ll find it difficult to stay with Contador and Froome in the final two mountain-top finishes.
Simon Spilak (Katusha)The Slovenian may have a negligible record in grand tours, but has proven himself a specialist in week-long stage races. Having already finished second in the Tour de Romandie, fourth in the Tour of the Basque Country and ninth at Paris-Nice he’ll be confident of being up there again, although teammate Daniel Moreno (who was third last year) tends to perform better in the Dauphine.
Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r)The 37-year old Peraud continues to improve with his age, and is enjoying his best season to date with victory in the Criterium International and a podium in the Basque Country. His Ag2r team currently look stronger than ever and talented youngster Romain Bardet will also ride for them at the Dauphine, but the best either can hope for is probably a top five.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)Despite two fourth place finishes at the Tour in 2010 and 2012, Van Den Broeck has become something of a forgotten man since crashing out in 2013. He has a similarly good record at the Dauphine – however, he may be riding more to assess his fitness than with the general classification in mind.
Ones to Watch
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
France’s favourite cyclist has not won all year and will be getting impatient by now. He’ll be looking to attack and contest for stage wins rather than the overall, and will have his eye on stage four’s finish in Gap and the hilly stage five.
Arnaud Demare (FDJ)
Nacer Bouhanni’s success at the Giro, where he won three sprint stages, will have put pressure on teammate Demare to state his claim as FDJ’s best hope for stage wins at the Tour. The lack of quality sprinters lining up at the Dauphine, as well as the kind of bumpy terrain that suits him, could help Demare win a stage or two.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
As one of the revelations of the season, it’s difficult to know what Kwiatkowski will aim for at this Dauphine. Second in the Tour of the Basque Country proves he can compete for the yellow jersey, but, should he lose time early on, he could also spring successful attacks in the middle-mountain stages. Watch out for him in the opening time trial, too.
Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge)
One half of the next big thing in British cycling (twin brother Simon being the other) is already enjoying rapid progress aged just 21. Having signed for Orica-GreenEdge, he has achieved rare success for a first year pro, including fifth in the Tour of California and first at the Tour of Turkey. There’s no pressure for him to repeat such performances in Romandie, but it’s worth keeping an eye on him nonetheless.