Froome’s chance to prove Ineos leadership credentials
The race to become leader of the Tory party isn’t the only leadership contest taking place this summer.
Neither rider has yet produced a really eye-catching performance this season, but June provides a chance for both to seriously stake their claim.
It was at the Dauphiné last year that Thomas showed off his exceptional form by winning the overall, but this year he’s chosen to race the Tour de Suisse instead while Chris Froome leads the Dauphiné roster, which includes some of the team’s elite super-domestiques in the form of Michał Kwiatkowski, Wout Poels and Gianni Moscon.
Froome boasts an even better record at the Dauphiné, having claimed overall victory on three separate occasions. Having not won a race since the Giro d’Italia last season, he’ll be eager for a repeat performance to prove that he still has his legs of old.
All-star line-up of GC contenders
As always, the Dauphine will be packed full of GC riders fine-tuning their preparation for next month’s Tour de France.
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was runner-up behind Thomas last year, and has enjoyed an excellent season so far, suggesting he’ll be there-or-thereabouts once more this time. The rider behind him in third last year, Romain Bardet, has been quiet by comparison, but tends to come good at this race – he’s never finished outside the top six in any of his five career appearances here.
Making a rare appearance at the Dauphiné will be Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who is trying out a different run-in to the Tour following a couple of underwhelming performances in the last two years, while Thibaut Pinot’s (Groupama-FDJ) switch of focus from the Giro to the Tour means that he too rides.
Also worthing keeping an eye on are Dan Martin (EF Education First), who’s finished in the top four in each of the last three years, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) who has recently been on his best form since winning the 2017 Dauphiné, and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), hoping to at last ignite his slow start to the season.
Punchy opening stages
Before the GC race really gets going, the opening days of racing will provide a chance for punchy, hilly classic specialists to win some stages and fight for the leader’s jersey.
There are plenty of classy riders on the start list, most notably Julian Alaphilippe. The home favourite hasn’t raced since April, but was on sensational form before then, racking up a total of nine wins – including Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche – in the space of just three months. Without an obvious GC candidate on their roster and no elite sprinter, it’s likely that Deceuninck – Quick-Step will focus most of their resources on helping the Frenchman.
Michał Kwiatkowski is unlikely to enjoy such freedom at Ineos, where he’ll be tasked with helping Chris Froome, but if let off the leash could be a major threat in these two stages.
GC riders who can gain time with punchy accelerations in the hills – like Dan Martin – might also see these stages as a chance to earn themselves an advantage.
There isn’t much on a hilly Dauphine route for the sprinters to get excited about, but stages three and five are both flat enough to make a bunch finish likely on each occasion.
The lack of opportunities is reflected by a lack of elite sprinters who are preparing for the Tour de France, such as Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Emirates).
Instead, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) looks like the strongest, most on-form fastman on the start line, and will be seeking to maximise his time on the bike before he is again rested during the Tour.
He’ll be challenged by veteran André Greipel, who is carrying the hopes of wildcard French team Arkea-Samsic, Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), looking to add to his career total of three stage wins at the Dauphiné, and emerging young star Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck – Quick-Step).
The time trial
In an attempt to woo the biggest names, the organisers of the Dauphiné often design stages similar to those awaiting the riders at the Tour de France, in order to sell itself as the ideal preparation.
Although there are no exact replicas this year, the stage four individual time trial in Roanne is strikingly similar to its equivalent at the Tour, both in terms of its length (26km, in comparison to 27km), and terrain (not entirely flat, but a little hilly).
This will be the stage where the likes of Froome and Porte and will seek to gain time over pure climbers like Quintana, Yates and Bardet, and potentially move into the overall lead ahead of the final stages.
Climactic mountain stages
The battle for overall honours will come to a head between Friday and Sunday, with three consecutive stages of climbing.
Stage six is the longest but gentlest of the three – a total of eight categorised climbs are tackled, but none are ranked higher than two, while a downhill run-in to the finish may also negate the stage’s impact on the GC. It looks like it’ll be an exciting day of racing, but not one that is quite difficult enough to cause serious gaps.
By contrast, stage seven is bound to see significant moves by the favourites. After a trio of category one mountains to wear down the legs, the finishing climb of Montee de Pipay is probably the toughest of the whole race.
Last but not least, stage eight is a relentless affair with barely a kilometre of flat between its six climbs and five descents, and the finishing climbs of Cote de Rives and Montee de Champey should provide an exciting finale.
These final two stages also clock in at 133km and 113.5km respectively, which should ensure not only explosive racing, but also great preparation for the three sub-132km mountain-top finish stages awaiting the riders next month at the Tour de France.