Dani Martínez delivers on his potential
A chaotic final stage at the Dauphiné with countless twists and turns eventually boiled down to a two-horse race for the overall victory.
Dani Martinez (EF Pro Cycling), who had escaped up the road in a small breakaway group, versus Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), the effective leader of the race following the abandonment of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) that morning.
Despite a few patriotic turns offered by some of his French compatriots present in the group, an isolated Pinot was mostly left to do all the pace-setting, the other riders aware that he had the most to lose by failing to catch the Martínez group.
Despite rediscovering reserves of strength that had abandoned him when Martínez first broke clear, unfortunately for Pinot he fell 29 seconds short of defending his lead, his valiant efforts again, as has so often been the case throughout his career, ending in heartbreak.
His loss was Martínez’ gain, who claims his best result to date, and the clearest confirmation yet of his huge talent.
Ahead of the Dauphiné, many predicted that the race would be won by a young Colombian — only it was Ineos’ Egan Bernal, rather than Martínez, who they had in mind.
With the emergence of Bernal and so many other young riders recently, the 24-year-old Martínez has flown under the radar a little, but won’t after this result.
Whereas up until now the Colombian has impressed in flashes (such as victory on the queen stage of last year’s Paris-Nice) this was the first time in his fledgling career that Martínez managed to put together a string of performances together consistent enough to win the overall of a stage race.
Given the strength of the field at this year’s Dauphine, that’s some achievement. Not too much should be expected of such a young rider at the upcoming Tour de France, but in the longer term, he looks set to be a star.
Jumbo-Visma still dominant but left with problems to overcome
It seems strange to say of a team that won three of the five stages on offer at the Dauphiné, but Jumbo-Visma might have ended the stage race in lower spirits than they began it in.
Their main fears are for the health of their star Primož Roglič and his condition ahead of the planned push for yellow at the Tour de France, beginning in a fortnight’s time. The Slovenian had looked on the verge of claiming overall victory at the Dauphiné after winning on stage two’s mountain top finish, comfortably defending his lead the following day, but then withdrawing from the race after crashing on a descent during stage four.
Worse still, if the unthinkable does happen and Roglič is unable to ride the Tour, even Jumbo-Visma’s seemingly strong plan-b options are shrouded in doubt. Like Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk also faces an anxious wait to see if he can recover in time after dislocating his shoulder during stage four; and Tom Dumoulin, though showing real signs of improvement and riding to seventh overall, is still some way off his pre-injury Grand Tour-winning form of old.
These concerns shouldn’t mean we lose sight of Jumbo-Visma’s many successes at the Dauphiné this week. Not only did Wout van Aert continue his stunning run of victories with a triumphant sprint victory on stage one, but he also did invaluable work at the front of the peloton helping to protect Roglič’s lead. And Sepp Kuss, too, balanced brilliant teamwork with personal ambition, winning the final stage after serving as the best super-domestique in the mountains of any team.
There’s no doubting Jumbo-Visma’s strength-in-depth ahead of the Tour de France — all they need is at least one of their GC leaders to be fit and ready for them to rally behind.
Team Ineos is on the verge of crisis
Team Ineos began the Dauphiné hoping for their star riders to work towards some much-needed form and to reassert their dominance after Jumbo-Visma had dominated them at the Tour de l’Ain.
However, they ended the race with even more problems to worry about.
Things started badly on stage two’s finishing climb, the Col de Porte. The team approached the climb in their familiar manner of forming a long train of riders to set a controlling tempo, but the plan rapidly fell apart towards the top of the climb as their riders suddenly began dropping like flies, leaving Bernal isolated having been surrounded by teammates just minutes before.
The consolation was that at least Bernal looked in good form, finishing within the group of favourites, but even that turned sour when the Colombian pulled out of the race after stage three, citing a back injury.
The team doesn't appear too worried about his chances of riding the Tour, insisting that his abandonment was only a precautionary measure, but — as with Jumbo-Visma — the lack of a convincing plan-b option in case of Bernal’s absence is worrying. Given just how far off the pace both Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were once again, on the basis of the Dauphiné alone, Pavel Sivakov looks the team’s best alternative leader.
He was Bernal’s best domestique in the mountains and starred in his absence to finish fourth on the final stage despite having crashed. But, aged just 23 and never having ridden the Tour before, he has nothing like the pedigree and expertise of a fully-fit Froome and Thomas.
This is an unfamiliar situation for a team that has won six of the last ten editions of the Dauphiné, and they don’t have much time left to get ready for the Tour de France.
The riders on form ahead of the Tour de France...
What had been billed as a Jumbo-Visma vs. Ineos showdown instead saw many other riders compete for overall victory, and show promising form heading into the race almost everyone’s building-up towards.
Behind Martinez and Pinot in third overall was the quietly consistent Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), suggesting the 27-year-old is ready to make the leap to become a genuine overall contender at the Tour having finished twelfth overall least year.
More explosive was Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), who put in some bold attacks on the final stage in an all-or-nothing attempt to win the overall. He was punished for his efforts and tired on the finishing climb, but fifth overall is a solid result ahead of his debut Tour de France.
Also riding towards a debut Tour was Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates). Despite a slow start, and being dropped on the first mountain top finish, the 21-year-old was reinvigorated in the final weekend of racing, moving up to fourth overall.
Pogačar’s team-mate Davide Formolo looks set to provide essential assistance if his bold ride to win stage three is anything to go by, while 23-year-old Lennard Kämna’s (Bora-Hansgrohe) victory on the queen stage marks him out as a potential surprise package.
...and the riders with a lot of work to do still
Ineos’ Froome and Thomas weren’t the only Tour de France hopefuls scrambling in vain for some form.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) improved as the race went on, but 17th overall is a long way behind where he usually finishes at the Dauphiné, while Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) abandoned altogether after a crash, ending a run of five consecutive Dauphine top ten finishes.
While neither of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, Enric Mas or Marc Soler were at their best, the team’s high-profile former employees Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) also fell short of convincing overall finishes. Both riders had successfully kept up with the pace over the first four days of racing, but were distanced early on during today’s decisive finale — Quintana citing a knee injury, and the cause of Landa’s put down to cramps.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step). It was great to see the French star ride with his trademark aggression during the final two stages, and third place on Saturday suggests he’s shaping up reasonably for the Tour. However, notwithstanding the possibility of an elaborate bluff to lull the other Tour favourites into a false sense of security, his failure to stick with the leaders over the first two mountain top finishes suggests that another bid for the yellow jersey is unlikely.
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