Often talked about as a stepping stone to the Tour de France, the Criterium du Dauphine is a great race in it’s own right. The 70th edition of the race does not boast the strongest of start-lists but the experimental route design will ensure exciting racing that keeps the general classification open right up to the final day.
One prologue, six road stages and one team time trial make up the 958.6km route around South-Eastern France. It’s a cleverly designed course which will have a number of riders in the peloton excited to get going.
The race begins in the town of Valence with a 6.6km Prologue time trial. Wide roads and long straights will suit the powerful riders so don’t expect a GC winner here. Still 6.6km is enough to create a hierarchy between overall contenders and some time gaps could be significant.
Stage 1 is a bumpy 179km suited to the sprinters able to get over a climb well and Stage 2 is similar. None of the big name sprinters are here so expect these stages to be chaotic and tough to control.
Stage 3 is the first big GC day with a 35km Team Time Trial. The course is as flat as they come and bar a few sweeping bends is absent of any real technicality. GC teams will have brought a couple of guys purely for this stage to minimise any losses.
The final four stages of the race are all mountainous. Stage 4 is the longest of them at 181km and takes the the Hors Categorie Col du Mont Noir which is followed by a summit finish up the 2nd cat Lans-en-Vercors.
Stage 5 then starts a trend of shorter stages at only 130km starting in Grenoble and taking in a couple of climbs early on the riders will then race towards the second summit finish of the race up to Valmorel, 15km at 6.3%.
Stage 6 is again a short stage (110km) which should ensure hard racing from the drop of the flag. Arguably the hardest stage of the race there’s barely a kilometre of flat road as the race traverses the HC climbs of Montee de Bisanne and the Col du Pre before yet another summit finish, this time up to the famous ski village of La Rosiere.
The final stage, Stage 7, does not let off the gas and provides those riders chasing time the opportunity of an ambush. It includes four 1st category climbs and the fourth, yes fourth summit finish of the race up to Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains, 7km at 7.7%.
This years route is typically experimental and builds on the trend of having shorter but harder stages.
The prologue will only produce small time gaps and despite his horrendous record in TT’s even Romain Bardet should be able to keep within a manageable time of Geraint Thomas and Vincenzo Nibali. The winner of the prologue will likely be one of the specialists such as Jos van Emden or Michal Kwiatkowski.
The next couple of stages will be chaotic but shouldn’t have too much of a bearing on the GC despite there being a good chance of the leaders jersey changing hands among the top guys from the prologue. Stage 3 however will be one that lots of teams are looking forward to while also being one that many teams are dreading. Sky are historically strong in these events and will almost certainly win with a team that includes Castroviejo, Moscon, Thomas, Van Baarle, Rowe, Kwiatkowski and Geoghegan Hart. Honestly I can’t see any team beating these powerhouses and it will be where Geraint Thomas looks to take control of the leaders jersey and the race.
From here it will be a case of defending the jersey over what will be 4 incredibly tough stages. Each includes some tough ascents but being the Dauphine the race doesn’t go above 2000m and so should suit Thomas more than a Grand Tour. I expect a more traditional race on stage 4 as the favourites test each others climbing legs before it all begins to kick off on stage 5-7. If last years edition is anything to go by then the race will not be decided until the final stage and I’m sure the likes of Nibali, Bardet and Martin won’t lie down despite being behind going into the final couple stages. It is on the final stage that I think Geraint Thomas will crack and Nibali will take the overall honours.
Geraint Thomas has everything it takes to win this race. Despite his desire to become a GT rider he’s instead turned into somewhat of a specialist in 1-week stage races and if his climbing legs are good then he should run away with the win here. His team is by far the strongest for the TTT and so it will likely be a case of defending the jersey for the final 4 stages rather than having to attack for it. His form this year has been a mixed bag. He deliberately missed the spring classics so he could focus on the Tour and so we’ve seen a lot less of him than usual. Strong in Tirreno but slightly off colour in Romandie his form is a bit of a mystery but knowing Sky he’s probably come into this race all guns blazing. For a while there was talk of him leading Sky at the Tour if Froome were to be banned but with the emergence of Egan Bernal he’s probably slipped further down the Sky pecking order and I wonder how this will effect his racing. Will it motivate him or will it have dented his confidence?
Vincenzo Nibali is having another crack at the Tour this year and is using this as his final tune up race. He brings a team weighted (literally) in favour of the flat TTT so as to limit his losses on team Sky and hopefully pull out a gap on AG2R and everyone else. One worry is that he hasn’t raced since the Ardennes week in mid-April and will still be on the build ready for July. Having said this though he’s by far the most decorated rider in this race and the short stages on the final 3 days will suit his attacking style and are perfect for an ambush in case he’s a way off the lead.
It’s unconfirmed, but Dan Martin looks to be leading UAE at the Dauphine this year. Historically a great race for Dan the combination of shorter stages and a lack of high mountains should suit him. He’s rounded out the podium on his last two visits to the Dauphine and will be confident he can go one or two better this year in what is a slightly weaker field. He’ll be looking forward to the summit finishes, none of which are too long, so that he can jump away with his infamous kick.
Romain Bardet rounds out what I consider the main favourites for this race. He’s proven at GT level and has had a stellar season so far putting in a great showing at Strade Bianche and earning top-10s in both Fleche Wallone and Liege Bastogne Liege. He’s twice a podium finisher at the Tour de France and his team plan for this year to be the one where he makes the leap up to 1st. Out of the favourites he also has the best record at this race. Nibali last competed in 2015 and was outside the top 10 while Thomas last competed in 2014 and finished in a lowly 46th. Compare this to Bardet who has finished in the Top-10 on each of his 4 participations and maybe he should be at shorter odds with the bookies. It’ll be interesting to see how he first copes with the prologue and then with the TTT.
Next is a supporting cast of riders that you can’t rule out based on the way this race went last year and in 2014.
Movistar’s Marc Soler has proven this year that he really is one of the big boys and despite being resigned to a domestique role at the Tour has been given the leaders role here at the Dauphine. He’s raced exceptionally well this year, taking the overall classification at Paris Nice and top-5s in both the Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta a Andulucia. He’s pretty good against the clock too but might be let down by his team in the TTT. He’ll want to try and make a point before the Tour starts and isn’t averse to some really attacking riding.
Adam Yates brother just had the best (and worst) Grand Tour of his life at the Giro and Adam will be looking to follow this up with a good result in the Dauphine. He’s been consistent so far this year with plenty of high GC finished but hasn’t exactly set the world alight. I’m thinking this is because he’s building for the Tour and this could well be the race we see his real form.
Pello Bilbao just came off the best Grand Tour ride of his life and this will both help and hinder him. His confidence will be sky-high and he’ll back himself to go well but with only a weeks worth of rest surely his body isn’t up to it. It looks like he’ll be leading Astana for the first time but looking at there lineup they haven’t sent a particularly strong squad.
Could Ilnur Zakarin pull something out the bag? On form he’s world class but we haven’t seen a huge amount of him this year and when we have it’s been pretty underwhelming. He doesn’t bring the strongest team and I get the feeling this isn’t a big target for him rather it’s all in for July.
It should be an exciting week of racing and outside of Geraint Thomas there’s some pretty juicy prices being offered.
3pts on Vincenzo Nibali each way at 15 (bet365)
1pts on Ilnur Zakarin each way at 21 (bet365)
Only bet365 are currently offering matchups, none of which take my fancy. I’ll be sure to update tonight or tomorrow if any decent ones become available elsewhere.