Sam Bennett the season’s most consistent sprinter
While the broad feeling is that no top-tier sprinter has dominated the 2019 season, Sam Bennett has undeniably been the most consistent.
The Critérium du Dauphiné hasn’t attracted the most elite sprinting field this season, with the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) all resting for the Tour de France after also riding the Giro d’Italia, so Bennett is by far the most accomplished sprinter racing in France.
But that doesn’t diminish his achievement, as he has won at least one stage of every race he’s entered this year except the Tour de Romandie where his best result was second.
Thanks to an unbeatable lead-out from his Bora-Hansgrohe team on stage three, most notably from Shane Archbold, Bennett took his biggest victory of the season so far, sailing across the line well clear without even breaking a sweat.
This may turn out to be Bennett’s most prestigious result of the season, as Bora have made the questionable decision to leave the Irishman out of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France squad.
It’s a contract year for the 28-year-old so as he’s said himself earlier, this win “can’t hurt.”
Another eye-opening sprint by Wout van Aert
Wout van Aert’s (Jumbo-Visma) anticipated road career has been somewhat overshadowed by the achievements of his nemesis Mathieu van der Poel, who single-handedly wowed Classics fans with unparalleled performances.
Still waiting for his first win since joining the WorldTour, Belgian Van Aert rode to podiums in Strade Bianche and and the E3 BinckBank Classic.
But the 24-year-old appears to be having a breakthrough at the Dauphiné as a notable bunch sprinter, having taken third on the opening stage and second behind Bennett on stage three.
As a former three-time cyclocross world champion, Van Aert is no stranger to repeated sprint-like efforts during CX races, and he appears to be adapting that practice into a formidably fast finish.
Van Aert now leads both the points classification and the young rider standings.
Álvaro Hodeg still missing something at the highest level
The latest creation in the Deceuninck – Quick-Step assembly line of talent is Colombian sprinter Álvaro Hodeg who, along with Fabio Jakobsen, looks to be at the forefront of a new generation of fast finishers.
But the 22-year-old currently appears to be missing that something needed to take a win on the biggest stages.
Despite Quick-Step’s efforts to lead the charge into the final straight, Hodeg was unable to follow the huge injection of speed from Bora in the final 400m and found himself trapped behind the front row of would-be stage winners, eventually being boxed out of the fight by Ag2r La Mondiale’s Clément Venturini.
Hodeg finished seventh and gave his bars a frustrated slap at the line as he missed out on a shot at what would have been the biggest victory of his fledgling career.
At such a young age, it’s no surprise he may find himself in the wrong position more often than not, but with the Quick-Step machinery behind him there is plenty of development to come.
Attritional weather conditions prevail
Any riders hoping for welcoming weather in France’s south east will be bitterly disappointed in the Dauphiné.
The rain fell on the peloton for a second consecutive day as the mists made for some sketchy racing during the first pure sprint day of the race.
Harsh conditions on stage two saw nine riders drop out including Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, with two more waving goodbye to the race on stage three, making this an attritional race.
With a time trial to follow on stage four and the high mountains starting this weekend, the awful conditions may also start to take their toll on the GC contenders.
Now the GC battle begins
After the Dauphiné’s unpredictable opening stages and a pure sprint on day three, the general classification battle will officially get underway with the individual time trial on stage four.
The 26.1km TT around the town of Roanne is long enough that we will see gaps of minutes between some GC contenders, while the 2.3km climb averaging 7.6 per cent gradient half way through the course offering up some potential surprises.
With a similar distance TT (27km) in Pau on stage 13 of this year’s Tour de France, this test will be a revealing glimpse into the individual efforts of the favourites.
Keep an eye out for Chris Froome (Team Ineos), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and former world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), who are all likely to impress in the solo effort.
Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) are also riders to watch against the clock, as their poor time trialling could define the race.