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Starting at 13.15 CEST you can follow the first big mountain stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné on

Photo: ASO / B. Bade


08.06.2014 @ 19:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Chris Froome (Sky) stamped his authority right from the beginning of the Criterium du Dauphiné by taking a dominant win in the time trial. Now it’s time for the Brit to prove that he is also the strongest climber in the race as the second stage offers the first summit finish of the race and even though the Col du Beal is not the hardest climb in the race, it will give the first insight into the hierarchy of the climbers.


The course

The days when the Dauphiné peloton get a few days to get back into competition mode before the real climbing begins, are definitely over. This year the first major summit finish of the race comes already on the second day and Monday, June 9 will be an important date in the cycling calendar as it will offer us the first glimpse into the balance of power between Froome, Contador and Nibali. With no really big or very steep mountains, stage 2 certainly isn't the toughest but it's a short, sharp affair that is up and down all day, making it a hard day in the saddle.


The stage bringes the riders over 156km from Tarare to the top of the Col du Beal and takes place on the outskirts of the Alps, making the terrain very challenging. Right from the start, the riders get an idea of what's in store when they go up the category 2 Cote de Saint-Marcel-l'Eclaire (5km, 6.1%) and after a descent it's straight onto the category 4 Cote d'Albigny (2.3km, 5.5%).


After the top, the riders reach the easiest section of the course with several kilometres of rolling and even flat terrain offering some respite ahead of the exciting finale. It kicks off in the city of Montbrison when the riders take on the category 2 Cote de Bard (6.3km, 5.3%) which leads directly onto the lower slopes of the category 2 Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort (5.6km, 5.6%). With no descent in between those two climbs, it's almost 18km of climbing before a very short downhill section leads to the category 3 Col des Pradeaux (7.3km, 3.6%).


After the KOM sprint, it's a long descent back down to the valley where the only intermediate sprint is located. 15km of flat roads lead to the bottom of the final challenge, the HC category Col du Beal (13.6km, 6.6%) which leads to the finish. The climb is a long one but not very difficult though. After three easy kilometres, the gradient stays around 6-7% for most of the way until it gets slightly steeper in the finale. The 13th kilometre has an average gradient of 7% while the final 600m have an 8.4% gradient.




The weather

The Giro peloton had to battle through rain and relatively cold conditions for most of their race but things are completely different in France. Summer has really arrived in the Alps and after today’s very hot and windy opener, the heat could again become a factor in tomorrow’s stage.


At the start, it will be a clear sky and beautiful sunshine but as the day goes on, it should become a bit cloudier. The temperature at the bottom of the final climb will reach a maximum of 30 degrees to make it  a very hot day in the saddle.


It will be a bit less windy than today but there will still be a moderate wind from a southerly direction. This means that the riders will first have a headwind, then a tailwind and then a long section with a cross-headwind. In the finale, they will gradually turn into a tailwind that will make the descent from the penultimate climb and the run-in to the Col du Beal very fast. On the final climb, there will mainly be a crosswind, with both tail- and headwind sections as they make their way through the switchbacks.


The favourites

Today’s time trial gave a first glimpse of the condition of the main contenders for the Tour de France who all made a comeback after a long block of training. One can definitely draw some conclusions from today’s performances but on the other hand the importance of a 10.4km time trial should not be overestimated.


We will be a lot wiser at the end of tomorrow’s stage which will offer a much more true insight into the level of the main contenders. The stage offers no high-altitude climbing or any really difficult climbs but it is always up or down and a strong team can certainly make it a pretty hard affair. Furthermore, short stages are usually pretty fast and with the heat also being a factor, things should provide the scene of some exciting racing.


Due to the constantly undulating terrain, the stage is very hard to control and as the start is also very tough, there is a chance that a strong break could make it. On the other hand, time gaps are still pretty small and even though Sky are not too interested in wearing the jersey from start to finish, they won’t risk anything when it comes to the overall victory. At the same time, this is the big dress rehearsal for the Tour de France where the team is expected to lead the race for quite some time, and as the Dauphiné roster contains the core of the Tour team, they will probably use these next few days as important dress rehearsals for the way they are going to ride in July.


In today’s time trial, almost the entire team did excellently well and this proves that they are all ready to go. Despite the lumpy terrain, they should be strong enough to bring it back together for a battle between the main contenders on the final climb. Froome will also be eager to test his condition and stamp his authority on the race right from the beginning and to gain time on the final climb which is pretty easy, they need to ride pretty fast from a bit further out.


Alberto Contador will definitely have got a confidence boost from today’s great time trial and it is an important part of his mentality that he always tries to win. His and Tinkoff-Saxo’s strategy usually is to make the race hard and so Sky may even get some assistance when they hit the bottom of the final climb. This will make it even harder for the escapees to stay away and so we expect the GC riders to fight for the stage win on the final climb.


Today Froome proved that he is fully ready for his title defence when he won the opening time trial of the race. It was no surprise to see the Brit come into the race in outstanding condition but the way he crushed the opposition must have been a bit worrying for his rivals. At a first glance, an 8-second advantage may not be much but looking at the generally small gaps, the Brit proved to be in a class of his own. At the same time, one has to remember that the wind picked up pretty much during the day, meaning that Froome had a much harder headwind than the early starters that contained most of the specialists. As Froome has never been a specialist in time trials, this speaks volumes about his form.


It is part of Froome’s nature that he wants to attack in all summit finishes and there is no doubt that he will do his utmost to take a solo win tomorrow. With Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Vasil Kiryienka, David Lopez and Mikel Nieve of which most showed great condition in the time trial, he has the perfect team to set the hard tempo that he needs. Even though Porte was a little disappointing in today’s stage, he should be one of the best climbers in the race and he has the speed to put the rivals on the limit before Froome takes off.


The final climb is not very hard but luckily the hardest sections come at the end. The time differences are unlikely to be very big as pretty big groups can stay together on that kind of climb but as Froome, Contador and Nibali all showed outstanding condition in today’s stage, they should be strong enough to drop their rivals. The main question is how they compare to each other and whether Froome will be able to ride away from everyone else as he has done so often in the past.


Despite Contador’s great start to the season, nothing suggests that Froome is not still the strongest climber in the world and it is hard to imagine that Contador will be able to drop the Brit. If anything, it will probably be the other way around. At the same time, Froome has a pretty decent kick in an uphill sprint and this makes him the favourite if he arrives at the finish with either Nibali or Contador. With bonus seconds and important confidence on the line, Froome will go all out for the win and is our favourite to win.


However, Contador definitely has a chance to beat the Brit. Since his return from suspension, Contador has struggled massively in flat time trials and so today’s performance must have been a massive confidence boost. He beat several specialists who had had much better weather conditions than Contador and this proves that his early-season results were no fluke. Contador is getting closer to his highest level.


Given their recent track records in flat time trials, Contador was maybe even more impressive than Froome and this really indicates that he is ready to go. Whether that will be enough to drop Froome remains to be seen but tomorrow’s climb is not really suitable for that as it is not very steep. We don’t think that Contador will be able to get rid of the Brit and with Froome being the faster sprinter, Contador may have a hard time taking the win.


Vincenzo Nibali made the best possible response to the public turmoil when he did an excellent time trial and the Italian was in fact even faster than both Froome and Contador on the climb. Even though he has improved a lot in time trials, he is no specialist in the discipline and so today’s performance under unfavourable weather conditions indicates that he is getting close to his best level.


We expect Froome, Contador and Nibali to be in a class of their own but it will be hard for Nibali to win the stage. The final climb doesn’t really suit him and he is no fast sprinter. To win the stage, he will have to drop his rivals and that will be difficult on such an easy climb. On the other hand he may benefit from  a tactical battle between Froome and Contador if they are unable to drop each other and this could open the door for Nibali to ride away in the finale while his main rivals look at each other.


Andrew Talansky has made the Tour de France his big target of the year and he is gradually ramping up his condition. Today he proved that he is ready for his big objective when he took fourth in the time trial despite being a late starter. The American has always been a great time triallist but while he has improved his climbing, he seems to have lost a bit in the TTs. Hence, today’s performance indicates that he is in very good condition.


When he had recovered from illness in last year’s race, he was the second-best behind Froome in the final mountain stage and this shows how strong he is when he is at his best. He may not be good enough to follow the top 3 riders but he won’t be far off the mark. If they are unable to drop each other, he could benefit from the tactical battle, either by riding away or by using his fast sprint to win the stage.


For Jurgen Van Den Broeck, this race is an important test as he needs to prove to his team management that he deserves his leadership role in the Tour de France. Today he got the best possible start as he was fifth fastest at the top of the climb and ended the stage in 17th. It seems that his team management doesn’t have to worry about his condition after his many health issues as he has never been a prologue specialist.


Due to health issues, Van Den Broeck hasn’t been in the mix at the pointy end of the races for more than a year and this could still hamper him in the first mountaintop finish. At his best, however, he is up there with the strongest and he is usually very good in the Dauphiné. Today’s performance indicates that he is goingw well and he could be the rider to benefit from a tactical battle between the main favourites.


Wilco Kelderman is coming out of the Giro and this always makes things pretty uncertain. Today’s time trial, however, indicates that he still has something left in reserve. He seems to be pretty tired at the end of the Giro and we expect him to fade towards the end of the race. At this early point, however, his racing legs may give him an advantage. If things are together for an uphill sprint, he is pretty fast and should be in with a solid chance.


The same can be said for Daniel Moreno. The Katusha rider certainly didn’t have a great Giro but he didn’t have so in 2012 either. That year he came of the Italian grand tour with great condition and won two stages of the Dauphiné. This year he hopes to do something similar and he got his race off to a reasonable start. He won’t be strong enough to follow the best but if they slow down and things come back together for an uphill sprint, Moreno will be virtually impossible to beat.


Finally, we will select our jokers. We don’t expect Astana to ride tempo on the front but they could try to put Sky under pressure by sending riders up the road. Jakob Fuglsang has raised his climbing level a lot and today’s prologue indicates that he is very good condition. It may not be a bad idea to launch the Dane off in an attack while the favourites will battle behind. At the moment, Fuglsang could be strong enough to finish it off.


Benat Intxausti has had a bad season so far but today he did a really great time trial. Usually, the course should have been too short and flat for him so to finish 13th indicates that he is in great condition. He won’t be able to follow the likes of Froome and Contador but by anticipating the favourites, he could make a surprise.


Stefan Denifl has been riding really well all year and has benefited from a weight loss over the winter. Today he did an excellent time trial and this indicates that he is ready to strike in the mountains. He is hoping to get selected for the Tour de France and in this race he is one of the leaders. He is never afraid of riding aggressively and he may be the rider to benefit from any kind of rivalry between the major favourites.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Chris Froome

Other winner candidates: Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali

Outsiders: Andrew Talansky, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Wilco Kelderman, Daniel Moreno

Jokers: Benat Intxausti, Jakob Fuglsang, Stefan Denifl



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