Featured image courtesy of Sunada/Cycling Weekly
With the Tour de France not far away, the Critérium du Dauphiné always acts as the final pre-Tour test. Despite being reduced to five stages instead of eight, that doesn’t mean that this year’s 72nd edition won’t carry any less significance. Packed with climbs and contenders for the yellow jersey come Paris – this should be one hell of a race.
The clash between Jumbo-Visma and Team INEOS is one everybody’s minds, but what is this year’s route and who else should we be looking out for?
Every stage at this year’s race features at least three categorised climbs and all five stages are uphill finishes, making it perhaps the toughest edition in recent years. Stage 2 atop the Col de Porte and Stage 5 around Megève in the Alps are the key stages to tune in for plus organisers ASO will get a chance to test COVID protocals before the Tour sets off on the 29th August.
This is the final test before the Tour, so it’s no surprise that teams with the GC contenders have gone big with their line-ups. There are so many questions that have been answered at recent races such as the Route d’Occitanie and the Tour de l’Ain but now we have more questions as form continues to be analysed before the main event later in August through September.
Defending champion Jakub Fuglsang doesn’t start for Astana this year – the Dane looks set to be riding the Giro instead of the Tour.
The big head-to-head that everyone is looking at with much interest – two teams heading to the Dauphiné with three leaders who look set to also start the Tour de France.
Team Ineos are the defending the Tour champions, a team that has been the dominant force since 2012. Aiming for their fifth successive Tour triumph, the big question is who? Defending Tour champion Egan Bernal looks strong, 2018 champion Geraint Thomas is a contender and although Chris Froome is moving to Israel Start-Up Nation for 2021 could he secure his fifth title on his final Tour outing with the British team?
Bernal himself has said in the past that he won’t sacrifice himself for others, Thomas could have easily won the Tour again last year had it not been for unfortuate weather in the Alps and in Froome, there’s every chance he could make a remarkable comeback from his horrific injury last year.
Froome himself has still got to make it onto the Tour roster first. He looked far from his best at Occitanie and the Tour de l’Ain but did offer up some work on the earlier climbs. Froome is showing signs of improvement but perhaps not enough to challenge for another yellow jersey.
Geraint Thomas’s form seems to have gone unnoticed and in Bernal he’ll breath all kinds of confidence. The trouble Ineos face is highly competitive challenge from rivals Jumbo-Visma. The Dutch squad haven’t gone under the radar as we’ve seen how capable they’ve become in recent years – attacking and taking the race to Ineos.
At the Tour de l’Ain, overall winner Primož Roglič and the team overall outclassed Ineos – a sign that the British team may not get their way all the time. Their team rode as a strong unit and with Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss arriving for this week’s Dauphiné – that strength could get even better. Just like Team Ineos, they look set to ride with three leaders who can realistically win the Tour. Winner of the 2019 Vuelta Primož Roglič came fourth in 2018, former winner of the Giro Tom Dumoulin came second the same year and in fellow Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk he came third overall behind Bernal so he’ll want to go one better.
The road will decide, Jumbo-Visma will take huge confidence into this year’s pre-race warm-up race, Team Ineos will look to improve but let’s not forget that we haven’t reached the Grand Depart just yet. It’s too early to predict and for Ineos they’ve faced familiar questions over form before the Tour only to up their game over the three weeks.
One thing is for sure, the clash between Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos this week is going to be a fascinating watch, one final indicator before the biggest race of the year.
While Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos have their own mini battle, never discount others who start the Dauphiné with their own ambitions.
After tragically abanonding on Stage 19 last year, Thibaut Pinot will want to bounce back as the big French hope. In David Gaudu, Sebastien Reichenbach and Valentin Madous, Pinot has the support but can he deliver without any setbacks?
Moving to a new team hasn’t done Nairo Quintana a lot of damage, the Colombian looks like a free man. Although there didn’t seem to be a winning formula, never discount Quintana from trying something despite some of his doubters.
Julian Alaphilippe heads into the race as the great unknown. Will he go for stage wins or will he be in line to win the Dauphiné overall and challenge the Tour GC again? Fellow Frenchman Romain Bardet might go out for stage wins too and he’s also an unknown quantity.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect to look closer at is UAE-Team Emirates and their young star Tadej Pogačar, who could head to his first Tour de France aged 21. The Slovenian was incredible to watch at last year’s Vuelta – you just never know in cycling! Pogačar does have some useful domestiques too in David de la Cruz and Davide Formolo so UAE are a team to keep your eye on.
With no time trials and no sprints, this will be a very different Critérium du Dauphiné we’ll be used to. Will the GC contenders show their metal? Or will they conserve as much energy as possible before the Tour?
Hold onto your hats because this is going to be huge race to see who’s in form and who’s not before Nice on the 29th August.