By David Hunter
The Giro is a distant memory, it’s time to start building for the Tour. We are back in France, for a mini-Tour, the classic warm up for the main event in July. Recent history shows, if you win the Dauphiné, you usually win the Tour.
The opening stage falls into the “interesting” category. The day begins with a cat 1 climb, but it also has a cat 2 climb cresting with just 18km to go. Which teams will back their sprinters to stay in the peloton for the finish? The breakaway riders will sniff an opportunity.
A tough opening stage is followed by an even harder second day. We have lots of climbing in the opening 70km, and a climb of 3.1km at 9.4% with just 18km to go. This won’t be a sprint, it looks more like a surprise GC day to me.
At last, something for the sprinters to get interested in.
A big day in the GC battle, with a 26km race against the clock, which contains a climb of 2.2km at 7.8%.
The second and final sprint stage of the week.
A nice medium mountain stage. We have lots of climbing in the central part of the stage, then a climb of 8.1km at 5.6% cresting with just 7.5km to go. The descent is technical and great for a good bike handler to gap everyone and solo to victory.
The weekend is full of climbing, starting with this short and punchy stage. We have 3 cat 1 climbs and finish with a proper mountaintop finish. This is a great day and we’ll see big gaps.
A monster day of climbing awaits the peloton. The stage is only 113.5km, but features more than 4000m of altitude gain.
Romain Bardet – did someone say a 26km ITT? Oh dear! We shall see if the Frenchman has managed to post any improvements in the chrono, he needs to if he wants to challenge in July. A brilliant climber, he’ll love the look of the final stages, but he cannot afford to start those stages already two minutes down on GC.
Jakob Fuglsang – one of the riders of 2019. The Dane dominated the early part of the season, winning the GC in Andalucía, a stage in Tirreno and a monument in Liège. After a small rest, he’s hit the reset button and will be raring to go. Just like in all races this year, Astana arrive with a very strong unit to support their team leader. Performances on his TT bike have certainly improved in the past year and he’ll be confident of challenging for the yellow jersey. His strong team will be a big help in the demanding mountain stages.
Emanuel Buchmann – Bora have enjoyed a brilliant 2019 and they arrive with the new Mr Consistent. The German has raced the UAE Tour, Itzulia and Romandie, never finishing out of the top 7 on GC. His TT is good, but not great, meaning winning the race will be hard. Judging by his performances this season, he’s a great bet for the top 5.
Julian Alaphilippe – we are back in the same position, wondering if the brilliant Frenchman can survive tough mountain stages. I think the answer is still no, especially as we have brutal back to back days to deal with.
Thibaut Pinot – has the best chance of all the French riders at this race, but he hasn’t performed well on his TT bike for a while now. After deciding to have another crack at the Tour, Pinot has favoured a relatively slow build-up to the season. He’s performed well in French races, against weaker opposition, but hasn’t actually set the world tour on fire. His recent performance in the Tour de l’Ain was encourging, but we’ll have to see how he responds to the challenge of riding against the best climbers in the world.
Adam Yates – for me, this year has been his best on a bike. Yates finished 8th in Valenciana, 5th in Andalucía, 2nd in Tirreno, 2nd in Catalunya, 5th in Itzulia and 4th in Liège, but he’s also taken three stages wins along the way. He has reached a level of consistency that most can only dream about and has to start this race as one of the favourites. The TT won’t be to his liking, but the final two stages are brilliant for him. If he can stay within a minute of his main rivals, he’ll have a big chance of winning the race and heading to the Tour as one of the men to beat.
Steven Kruijswijk – square shoulder Stevie has enjoyed a fine season, finishing in the top 6 in Andalucía, Catalunya and Romandie. Kruijswijk started the season looking to hit some consistency in one week races, not just peak for grand tours, it looks like he’s found the magic formula. Much of his fate will depend on his TT, much like most of the climbers, but he should be able to produce a competitive time and challenge for the overall podium.
Chris Froome – the Ineos man hasn’t actually won a one-week stage race since the 2016 Dauphiné, he only seems to turn it on for grand tours these days. He’ll arrive at this year’s Tour as co-leader with Geraint Thomas, but you would think he’d like a big performance before then. For the first time in a long time Froome actually has some pressure on his shoulders. He wants to be team leader in the Tour, he wants to win his 5th yellow jersey, I think he wants to perform well in the Dauphiné to remind everyone just what he brings to the table. The route is good for him and Ineos arrive with a very strong squad, he certainly starts as the favourite.
Richie Porte – had to cut short a recent altitude camp, due to bad weather. 2019 has been a bit of a disaster for the Aussie, he just can’t seem to buy a break. There were positive signs in the Tour of California, which will give him some hope as we head into this race. Having much of his spring disrupted by injury and illness, he’ll actually arrive here feeling fresh and raring to go. In terms of his confidence, he could do with a good week.
Nairo Quintana – 8th in San Juan, 5th in Colombia, 2nd in Paris-Nice and 4th in Catalunya, the Colombian has been good this year, but never looked like taking the win. The TT will obviously be a huge worry for him, he simply cannot afford to lose big time. I’m still not convinced he’s back to his very best, but I hope to be proven wrong.
It all depends on Froome and just where his form is. It’s been so long since we’ve seen him dominate a race like this, I’ve almost forgotten if he can. Time for him to roll back the clock and remind everyone who Team Ineos will be riding for at the Tour.
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