Featured image courtesy of ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
One stage down four to go. The 72nd edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné is underway as Wout Van Aert takes the opening stage.
Labelled as the ‘easiest’ stage of the week, 218.5 km from Clermont-Ferrand to Saint-Christo-en-Jarez with seven categorised climbs was always going to be a long day in the saddle topped by an uphill finish with 7% ramps.
A five-man breakaway started the day, CCC’s Michael Schär then found himself going solo before being caught by the peloton. Van Aert (who else!) took the final day after impressive work by Jumbo-Visma who continue to breathe confidence.
The way the Dutch squad rode for the finale was impressive as Tony Martin, Robert Gesink and Sepp Kuss made efforts before Tom Dumoulin shut down some accelerations off the front. Wout Van Aert taking the first stage is just another huge achievement for the team this year and in Primož Roglič he looks the real deal – their roster for the Tour looks set in stone.
The rivalry between themselves and Team Ineos is on everyone’s lips – the Dutch squad out muscling Bernal et al with ease at the Tour de l’Ain last week. It might only be Stage 1 but apart from Michał Kwiatkowski and Bernal, Ineos didn’t look their organised self, their train fractured in the final kilometres. Chris Froome knocked off his efforts before the finish – conserving energy or just not keeping with the pace? We perhaps shouldn’t read too much into his performance today until the high mountains start to emerge.
We look at Geraint Thomas as a Grand Tour winner, his form going under the radar and today he’ll be pleased that he kept up at the front alongside Bernal, who snuck in to take third place behind Daryl Impey in second. Jumbo-Visma look strong, Ineos are still there competing – both teams still have questions to answer over who’s the strongest rider in the team but let’s wait and see how the next stages unfold. Form counts for nothing until we really start climbing and the Tour actually begins.
Without the South African flag across his chest it was hard to pick out Daryl Impey before he crossed the line to try and win the stage – the Mitchelton-Scott rider coming in second. Recent stage winner at the Route d’Occitanie Benoît Cosnefroy should be pleased with his top ten and UAE’s Tadej Pogačar did well to finish fifth.
One team that has flown under the radar is EF Pro Cycling. Rigoberto Urán, who has kept up the virtual training while cycling was put to a stop, looked impressive with an attack with under 5 km remaining. EF have brought a decent squad to this Dauphiné, Tejay Van Garderen, Sergio Higuita (finished the stage in seventh), Daniel Martínez, Tanel Kangert and in Urán let’s not forget ge finished second at the Tour in 2017. A team and a leader to keep an eye on.
The stage was unfortunately crash-laden. Last year’s fourth-placed rider at the Tour Emanuel Buchmann suffered a tumble, breakaway rider Niccolò Bonifazio did not finish and a brave attack by Vital-Concept’s Quentin Pacher fell on a corner.
Ride of the day belongs to CCC’s Michael Schär who did have company in former Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter before the Dutchman called it a day from the break.
The Dauphiné is underway, mountains looming large and another step forward towards Nice on August 29th…