Stage five of the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné on Thursday was the first real opportunity to see what shape the leading contenders are in, featuring a mountain-top finish at Pra Loup.
Giving the day added resonance was the fact that the stage’s route is almost identical to a stage of this year’s Tour de France. Witnessing several of the Tour’s leading contenders fighting it out on a stage that will be used for the Tour is as close to a preview as you can possibly get.
There were winners and losers on the day: Romain Bardet (Ag2r) put in a truly impressive performance to attack on a testing downhill and open a gap of well over a minute on the likes of Chris Froome (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
Bardet maintained a good advantage up the final climb and over the line, taking a memorable victory. Froome and van Garderen impressed too, placing third and second respectively on the stage and dropping all rivals barring the rampaging Bardet. Nibali was the most notable of those dropped as Sky set the pace up the final climb, losing nearly two minutes to Bardet over just a few kilometres.
Sky’s performance in the mountains made up for a lacklustre team time trial stage, from which Froome is still attempting to recover time.
Van Garderen did enough to secure the overall race lead, taking the yellow jersey from BMC team-mate Rohan Dennis.
The 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné continues on Friday with another testing stage, which could once again see the overall contenders fighting for time.