By David Hunter
Time to get ready for the Tour de France. As usual, the Dauphiné is seen as the ideal preparation race for the Tour.
The race begins with a 6.5km prologue. It’s long enough to scare off a few of the sprinters and the TT specialists will expect to challenge for the win.
The opening road stage looks a bit crazy, it certainly isn’t an easy day for the quick men. Saying that, the climbs aren’t that difficult and despite the amount of climbing, some of the sprinters will hope to challenge for the win.
Another day that will challenge the sprinters. We have five climbs packed into 64km of racing, making it sure we will see riders dropped. The last 30km is mainly downhill, allowing teams to control and set up a reduced bunch sprint.
Another race against the clock, but this time it’s a TTT. This discipline is back in the Tour de France and this race always tries to mirror it. 34.5km is a substantial difference and this stage will have a huge impact on the GC battle.
A fascinating stage in the high mountains with the climb of Col du Mont Noir. Once off the descent we climb again and the final 4.8km is at 7.3%, featuring a kilometre at over 10%.
A short stage, but nothing will happen until he climb to Valmorel. This is a proper mountaintop finish with 12.7km at 6.9%.
Another short stage, but this one is action packed. With zero kilometres of flat and some incredibly hard mountains, this is a stage that everyone will be excited to watch.
Another short stage with lots of climbing. The climbs in this stage are a little easier than the previous day and most of the action will be saved for the final mountain, which is 7.2km at 7.9%.
Team Sky – the British squad have two genuine contenders for the crown: Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski. This is a great position to be in, especially as the final stages will be hard to control. Both of these riders will post a good prologue time and Sky will be one of the best teams in the TTT. That should put them into a strong position before heading to the mountains. Kwiatkowski started the season well by winning Algarve and Tirreno, but he was poor in the Ardennes. Thomas was unlucky in Tirreno, but he was awful in Romandie, something that will concern him as we approach the Tour de France. This is a race that Sky love, they have won five of the last seven editions. After a recent spell at Teide, both will be nice and fresh, but performances can be hard to predict when returning from altitude.
QuickStep – not quite as strong as Sky, but they have Bob Jungels and Julian Alaphilippe. Both riders signed off their opening half of the season by winning in the Ardennes, now their thoughts turn to stage races. Both will challenge for the win in the prologue and QuickStep always perform well in TTTs. This will allow both riders to be high on GC as we head into the mountains. They will then have to see if they have the legs to follow the pure climbers.
Emanuel Buchmann – 2017 was a very good year for the German and I was excited to see his development in 2018 and he hasn’t disappointed. Finishing 4th in Itzulia was a huge result and he followed that up with 9th in Romandie. Now 25 years old, he will begin to win more races and start to deliver at the highest level. He is a good TT rider and Bora bring a squad who should be competitive in the TTT. I think we’ll see Buchmann challenge for the top 5 on GC.
Marc Soler – the former winner of the Tour de l’Avenir has enjoyed a brilliant 2018. He was 3rd in Andalucía, won Paris-Nice and was 5th in Catalunya. Not only that, but he enjoyed a day out in the breakaway in Paris-Roubaix, impressing despite being a DNF. The Movistar team look a little light in the TT department, meaning they could lose some crucial time for their leader. He’ll hope this doesn’t happen and he can challenge for the podium.
Adam Yates – his season was massively disrupted by fracturing his pelvis in Catalunya, but he seemed to have good form in California. He finishing 4th in the 2016 Tour, but 2017 was a little bit of a let down. After his brother dominated a large proportion of the Giro, he will hope to do something similar in his forthcoming races. Mitchelton-Scott usually perform well in TTTs, which will be a massive help to Yates. The short stages should be to his suiting.
Ilnur Zakarin – after a brilliant 2017, the Russian has favoured a slow build up in 2018, as he looks to target the Tour/Vuelta double. He will be one of many GC riders a little worried about the TTT. Katusha don’t seem to have a powerful squad with them and this could end Zakarin’s hopes of finishing on the podium. In the mountain stages he’ll be looking to challenge for the first time this season.
Romain Bardet – in a strange turn of events, Bardet has performed better in one day races, rather than stage races in 2018. The brilliant Frenchman will be hoping that changes, as we approach the Dauphiné and Tour de France. AG2R don’t usually do well in TTTs, but they have a number of powerhouses to help try and limit their losses. Bardet will be looking forward to the short mountain stages, I sense he’s due a big win.
Dylan Teuns – it will be interesting to see how far he can go in this race. After an amazing 2017, he started 2018 in fine form, claiming 6th place in Paris-Nice. That was the first time I believed that Teuns could turn himself into a rider capable of challenging in the mountains. This result was followed up by Itzulia, where he finished 11th place, but he did disappoint in the Ardennes. BMC will be gunning for the TTT, which would put Teuns into a good position on GC. It will then be up to him, to see if he can hold on when the mountain goats start to fire.
Dan Martin – it’s not been his year. He’s had to endure a string of poor performances and some bad luck too. I get the feeling he isn’t enjoying life at UAE. He’s had some time off after Romandie, so he should be about to hit a good run of form. Martin was 3rd here in 2017, but the TTT is a massive concern for me. I expect him to lose far too much time to compete for the win, but that could allow him to hunt stages in the mountains. He could really do with a confidence boost ahead of the Tour de France.
Tiesj Benoot – the sky’s the limit! It was at this time last year, he stepped forward as a rider who could compete in demanding stage races. As we all know, he is a rider who many believe will become a dominant force in the classics, but he also harbours hopes of succeeding in grand tours. He was 12th here in 2017, before going on to finish 20th in the Tour, not bad for his debut. 2018 has already been a great year for Tiesj, he took his first pro win in Strade Bianche and finished 4th in Tirreno. Not only that, he was a consistently strong force in the classics, netting top 10s in E3, DDV and Flanders. After completing his classics block, Tiesj has again returned to altitude. The boy from Flanders is a big fan of spending time in Sierra Nevada and recently completed a 20 day block there. We shall see how he responds to the intense racing in the last couple of stages.
Pello Bilbao – after finishing 6th in the Giro, it’s all about how his body copes with the fatigue. It is possible for him to challenge for the yellow jersey, but the final stages will see him near to breaking point.
Vincenzo Nibali – so close to the Tour de France, there isn’t a hope on hell that Nibali will be at 100%.
Clearly the TTT will have a massive impact on the outcome of the race. Riders like Bardet and Dan Martin will find it hard to challenge for the overall win, if they lose around 2 minutes to the big guns. It will certainly make it hard for them, but four days in the mountains does mean they can claw back some time.
In the short stages, particularly 6 and 7, I expect to see all hell break lose. These are the stages where the mountain goats can start to make a big impact. The final weekend of racing promises to be very exciting.
Things To Consider
Julian Alaphilippe – after coming up short in Paris-Nice and Itzulia, can the Frenchman eventually hang tough in the mountains?
Geraint Thomas – where is his form at? Romandie was a huge disappoint, he must do better in this race.
Romain Bardet – AG2R will be hoping to impress on home roads. There will be a lot of pressure on Bardet’s shoulders, can he live up to expectations?
Adam Yates – his performance in California was hugely impressive considering it was his first race since breaking his pelvis. Will a fresh Yates blow everyone away?
Antwan Tolhoek – after a hugely impressive ride in the Tour of California, it looks like the youngster is ready to come of age. 13th on GC might not raise too many eyebrows, but his performance on Gilbratar Road was the one that caught my eye. I hope he tests himself against the other GC riders and doesn’t target breakaway success.
1 Extra Week Until Le Tour – this could be significant. Until Team Sky decided to dominate, it was usually unheard of for a rider to win the Dauphiné and retain that form until the end of the Tour. Sky changed that and we are now used to seeing riders maintain form until Paris. This year the Tour starts one week later than usual, that will make it even harder for those that are serious Tour contenders. However, nearly all the team leaders will be going to the Tour, meaning that everyone is in the same boat.
Despite the TTT, I think four stages in the mountains is enough to swing it in the favour of the climbers. Looking at the contenders, I think it’s time for Romain Bardet to win on home soil. He will lose time in both stages against the clock, but four mountain stages present him with a big opportunity to take the win.
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