By Nigel Wynn
Bradley Wiggins is primed and ready to defend his Criterium du Dauphine title. The British Tour de France hope won the prestigious French stage race last year and will start this year's edition on Sunday, June 3, in the hope of once again finishing in the yellow jersey.
The British Sky rider's win in the race last year was - at that point - the biggest victory of his road racing career. Since then, much has changed. Although Wiggins subsequently crashed out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone the following month, he was soon back in training and finished third in the Vuelta a Espana in September. A silver medal in the 2011 World Championships time trial followed.
This season, things have gone better still. Wiggins won Paris-Nice in March and then the Tour de Romandie in April. He currently sits in sixth place in the Union Cycliste Internationale's WorldTour ranking.
Wiggins has been hard at work since Romandie, altitude training on the Spanish island of Tenerife where he has climbed on the roads around the 3,718 metre Mount Teide - Spain's highest mountain - countless times to hone his form ahead of his assault on the Tour de France in July.
Just as last year, Wiggins will use the Dauphine to further improve his racing condition and no doubt eye the form of his rivals as it's his last race before the Tour. Naturally, a win in the Dauphine is a significant scalp in its own right.
Although Sky has yet to confirm its roster for the Dauphine, it looks like Wiggins will be backed up by 2011 Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Christian Knees, Danny Pate, Richie Porte, Michael Rogers and Kanstantin Sivtsov.
That's a line-up that is on fine form. Rogers won Bayern Rundfahrt at the weekend, Boasson Hagen won the Tour of Norway last week and Richie Porte won the Volta ao Algarve in February. Coupled to Wiggins' Paris-Nice and Romandie wins, and it's a squad that can boast five major 2012 stage race wins between them.
Wiggins' biggest rivals at the race will be 2011 Dauphine runner-up and 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquiga-Cannondale), Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) and 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar).
The 2012 Dauphine route is typically mountainous. The opening prologue in Grenoble is flat, but then there are numerous categorised climbs on each stage split by Thursday's long individual time trial. At 53.5 kilometres, it's over 10km longer than last year's TT that saw Wiggins finish second behind Tony Martin, take the yellow jersey and hang onto it until the end of the race.
Crierium du Daupine 2012: Stages
Prologue, Sunday June 3, Grenoble to Grenoble, 5.7km ITT
Stage one, Monday June 4, Seyssins to Saint-Vallier, 187km
Stage two, Tuesday June 5, Lamastre to Saint-Félicien, 160km
Stage three, Wednesday June 6, Givors to La Clayette, 167km
Stage four, Thursday June 7, Villié-Morgon to Bourg-en-Bresse, 53.5km ITT
Stage five, Friday June 8, Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans to Rumilly, 186.5km
Stage six, Saturday June 9, Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine, 167.5km
Stage seven, Sunday June 10, Morzine to Châtel, 124.5km
Cycle Sport feature: All aboard the magic bus. A week with Sky at the 2011 Dauphine
Criterium du Dauphine 2011: Coverage index
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