The 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné was very much one for the climbers, but did all the mountains make a great spectacle? You bet it did
The organisers are mimicking the Grand Tours
The Critérium du Dauphiné often acts as a test run for a stage or a particular climb that will feature at the Tour de France, but this year the race took on a number of Grand Tour characteristics over the whole week.
Modern Grand Tours don’t give the general classification riders a second to relax, with deceptive climbs, technical sprints and relentless mountain stages trying to catch riders unaware.
This Dauphiné was a bit like that. From day one the GC riders were in control thanks to the mountain prologue, which meant that Tinkoff and Alberto Contador had to defend the yellow jersey for much of the first week.
This meant that even in the sprint stages the GC riders were up at the front of the peloton at crunch time, resulting in Chris Froome almost hitting the deck in the final kilometres.
The final three stages were also pretty ruthless – following the examples set in the Tour de France last year and in the Giro this year, with short mountain stages to bring the best out of the climbers.
Long stages in the high mountains have their part to play in the overall war of attrition, but the short stages with multiple climbs bring great entertainment, with attacks from miles out and seeing the yellow jersey put to the sword for the whole 140km.
It all made for a great spectacle, with not one forgettable stage over the course of a week.
There are still some bad boys in the peloton
Modern cycling seems characterised by pretty likeable, quite dull cyclists with little edge. Even Mark Cavendish has mellowed somewhat in his relatively old age.
But Nacer Bouhanni proved there is still a place in the peloton for a prickly character, as shown by the antics of him and his Cofidis team in the run up to the sprint on stage one.
Cofidis and Katusha both wanted pole position on the road to the finish line in Saint-Vulbas and did everything short of throwing punches to ensure they got it.
Heads were butted, shoulders were barged and tempers flared ever so slightly in the final three kilometres, with Bouhanni coming out on top.
The Frenchman threw a few air punches as he crossed the finish line – not in response to the argy-bargy that had just gone on, but in honour of Muhammad Ali, who had died a few days before.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) didn’t make any complaints and the result stood, but Bouhanni wasn’t the most popular rider on social media in the following 24 hours.
Thibaut Pinot remains an enigma
Going in to the race, many pundits were touting Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) as a possible Tour de France challenger, but the French rider was back to his inconsistent ways at the Dauphiné.
None of the general classification riders had peaked in fitness and form for this race, but the key players were there or there abouts when push came to shove, except for Pinot.
He finished well back in the front group on the uphill finish on stage two and then shed over 2-30 on Froome in the summit finish to Vaujany.
Then, just like Fabio Aru had done three days previously when dogged by questions about his poor performances, Pinot went and smashed out a stage win on the climb to Meribel.
It was almost a carbon copy of the stage to Mende in the 2015 Tour de France – Pinot and Bardet battling up the final climb of the day – although this time there was no Steve Cummings to break the French hearts.
The win moved Pinot up to 10th overall, but he suffered on the final day as a consequence, dropping back to 16th, behind the likes of Stef Clement (IAM) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Be in no doubt, Pinot will be ready for the Tour de France on July 2, but which Thibaut will show up?
Richie Porte means business
Talking of riders who haven’t shown up at the big races, Richie Porte was dogged by that stigma while at Team Sky. His attempts to win the Giro d’Italia for the British team didn’t go exactly as planned and he gained a bit of a reputation of being a bottler.
But for the vast majority of the Dauphiné, Porte looked every bit the Tour de France contender that BMC signed him to be.
The Australian was often the only one who could match Froome’s attacks in the final mountain stages, which probably came down to having trained for countless hours in the mountains with the double Tour champion.
He even beat his former teammate in the mountain prologue, bettering a time that many thought was insurmountable. He lost crucial time on stage six, and was then caught in the wrong place when Dan Martin attacked on stage seven and ended up finishing fourth overall, despite having sat second almost all week.
With Tejay van Garderen next to him at the Tour de France, Porte and BMC could well recreated fellow Australian Cadel Evans’s Tour victory from 2011, but will team politics hinder his chances?
Some people aren’t too keen on mountain prologues
I, for one, love a good prologue. Seeing the best time trialists battle it out on a short course to have a day or two in the leader’s jersey is a great spectacle.
But mountain prologues aren’t something we see every day, especially ones as hard as the climb of Mont Chéry in Les Gets. Personally, I thought it was a great stage to start the race on, but understandably a number of riders weren’t happy about it.
Time trial expert Tony Martin, who would have been a favourite had the prologue been flat, described it as turning cycling into a ‘circus’ for the TV audience.
Organisers ditched the usual time limit – had they not, a good proportion of the field would have been sent home after the first stage. This allowed quite a few riders to simply spin up the mountain at their own pace, saving their energy for the rest of the week.
This meant that only 20 or so riders from the 176 starters actually attempted to put in a competitive time, some of who set off before the live TV coverage started, meaning we got to see the likes of Arthur Vichot heading off in the final 10.
It was a great spectacle, but perhaps the mountain was a little bit too brutal for the stage to have been a real success.