The final analysis from a great week of racing in the French Alps
Geraint Thomas is a bona fide Tour contender
It’s fair to say that there were a few doubts over Geraint Thomas‘s shape coming into the Critérium du Dauphiné – after all since a strong third place in Tirreno-Adriatico in March he’s only race Paris-Roubaix (DNF), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (56th), and a disappointing Tour de Romandie were he suffered a disastrous mountain time trial to put him out of contention.
However having spent much of May up a volcano in Tenerife, Thomas was back with a bang at the Dauphiné winning by a handsome margin even after a crash in the prologue that was probably they only thing that stopped him leading this race from start to finish.
The Welshman looked unflustered when put under pressure in the mountains, with Romain Bardet and Ag2r La Mondiale employing the sort of interesting tactics that they’ll surely use in July, and his attack in the final 500m of the penultimate stage to La Rosière was simply astonishing.
With Chris Froome‘s salbutamol case looking unlikely to be resolved before the Tour, it seems that Geraint Thomas will still play the part of the back-up option, but surely Sky would love to be in the position to put Thomas on the second step of the podium in Paris, you know, just in case…
Dan Martin’s Tour hopes rest on the team time trial
The top four men on GC – Thomas, Adam Yates, Bardet, and Dan Martin – all looked pretty evenly matched through the final four days in the mountains, meaning that we really have to look elsewhere to find the time gaps between them.
For Martin, the answer is simple: the team time trial. Admittedly losing 29 seconds in the prologue wasn’t ideal for the Irishman (although in the end he was only eight seconds behind Thomas), so it was his team’s performance on stage three that really cost him this race.
UAE Team Emirates lost a whopping 2-28 to Team Sky on that day which effectively ended Martin’s challenge for victory (in the end he finished 2-35 behind Thomas), which will surely be a worry with stage three of the Tour de France being a team time trial of an identical length on a very similar course.
The good news for Martin is that UAE Team Emirates performed better in the opening team time trial of the Tour de Suisse, but the team management now have a tricky decision balancing fitting mountain domestiques such as Valerio Conti into the Tour team, while also including half-decent time triallists and also putting a couple of men aside to look after Alexander Kristoff in the sprints.
Adam Yates primed for Tour podium challenge
After he came fourth in the 2016 Tour de France and his brother came fourth in the 2017 Tour de France, Adam Yates looks like a good shout to really challenge for a podium spot in Paris.
The Mitchelton-Scott rider did show signs of weakness at the Dauphiné, such as when he was briefly dropped on the stage to La Rosière, but demonstrated maturity to manage his efforts and secure second overall and a final day stage win.
Unlike Martin, Yates should also be able to rely on a strong team to help him through the team time trial, but will also have the problem of having a sprinter in his team, with Caleb Ewan expected to make his Tour debut.
However even without the sort of team support that the likes of Froome and Bardet will enjoy, Yates is still capable of looking after himself and getting onto the podium in Paris.
Vincenzo Nibali’s Tour form still uncertain
Having skipped the Giro d’Italia to concentrate on the Tour, Vincenzo Nibali comes out of his main preparation race with more questions than answers and less than a month to go to the Grand Depart in the Vendée.
On paper Nibali should have been one of the favourites for the Dauphiné, but in the end faded to a distant 24th place overall claiming that allergies had affected his performance.
That means that his pre-Tour form remains uncertain, although he will actually line up for one more race before July, taking part in the new five-stage Adriatica Ionica Race in the north-east of Italy, which he will be hoping to win at a canter.
It’s also worth remembering that Nibali is a four-time Grand Tour winner for a reason, and has plenty of experience in managing his condition and arriving on the start line in good shape.
Warren Barguil unlikely to repeat heroics of 2017
Away from the big GC names, Warren Barguil was undoubtedly the great hero of the 2017 Tour de France, winning two stages on the was to the mountains classification and positioning himself as the next Great French Hope for the yellow jersey.
Over the winter Barguil took the bold move to jump ship from Team Sunweb and head to Fortuneo-Samsic in search for more leadership opportunities, a move that on his Dauphiné showing really hasn’t paid off.
Barguil looked ropey from start to finish as he was dropped like a stone on each of the mountain stages, and has a lot of work to put in over the next four weeks if he’s not to massively disappoint on the huge expectation that will still be on him from the French public.