The Critérium du Dauphiné marks the build up to the biggest stage race of the year: The Tour de France. It’s the first time in the season we see ASO’s elusive yellow jersey — it’s awarded to the winner of the Dauphiné, as it will be to the leader of the Tour at the end of this month.
For many, the Dauphiné serves as a crucial phase of preparation for the Tour, giving riders a chance to test themselves in the mountains against the major GC players. This year, Ineos Grenadiers dominated the race, with new signing Richie Porte taking an emphatic victory.
Other big contenders for the Tour, like Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar opted to skip the Critérium, with Roglič focusing on training at altitude and Pogačar heading to his home race in Slovenia, hoping to win it for the first time.
The absence of these two big names actually led to some riveting racing, with the GC battles proving to be tight and often unpredictable. It will be the last time we’ll see many of these riders before the Grand Départ in Brest later this month, so it’s the final indication of their form ahead of the season’s biggest showdown.
With that being said, here’s what the events at the Dauphiné tell us about what to expect at the Tour de France.
Breakaways should not be underestimated
Brent van Moer’s victory in the opening stage started a repeating pattern in the Dauphiné, one where a lone breakaway chancer kept snatching victory from the chasing bunch. In only his second year as a professional, the Lotto Soudal rider took the biggest win of his career so far, surviving from the break of the day to cross the line 25 seconds ahead of the fast men. Only weeks before at the Ronde van Limburg, van Moer was sent the wrong way by a marshal a few kilometres from the finish line, losing a potential win, so his victory at the Dauphiné was well-deserved and likely even sweeter.
Perhaps inspired by van Moer’s impressive feat, Bora-Hansgrohe's Lukas Pöstlberger pulled off a similar win in stage 2, benefiting from the descent down to the finish line to hold off the peloton. It looked like Pöstlberger was sure to be caught, with Bahrain Victorious sprinter Sonny Cobrelli readying himself for the bunch kick. Cobrelli had to settle for second place for the second day in a row, though, and there were undoubtedly harsh words in the Bahrain Victorious team bus after the stage as the peloton gravely misjudged the strength of the Austrian rider.
Geraint Thomas’s win on stage 5 snatched another potential victory out of the grasp of Cobrelli as the Welshman took a flyer in the run into the line, further adding to the list of breakaway successes in this race.
Photo credit: CorVos/SWPix
Stakes at the Tour de France are going to be even higher for the sprinters, a stage win in a Grand Tour is the goal for many of the fast men, so their teams are going to have to be a little more careful about those sneaky attacks, perhaps giving a bit more credit to the breakaway of the day.
Richie Porte’s move to Ineos is not quite as we expected
When Porte rode the Tour de France in Trek-Segafredo colours last year, it looked to be his final opportunity to contest a Grand Tour podium. His 3rd place overall was his best ever result in the Tour de France, and it seemed like a fitting goodbye to his chances at winning the Tour as he was expected to step into a super-domestique role with his move to the British team.
However, Porte has proved that he still has the potential to contest for the yellow jersey in France at the end of this month. His attack in stage 7 demonstrated fantastic form, he danced away from his rivals, taking enough time to catapult himself into the race lead ahead of the final stage.
Porte faced challenges on the final day of the race, with Geraint Thomas, a rider who would be key to him on the final climb, crashing in the last 10k. Still, the Australian rider defended his race lead with the poise and calm that comes with his years of experience.
Afterwards, Porte said he was “under no illusions what [his] role will be at the Tour,” implying that he would be in a support role for his Ineos Grenadiers teammates. However, we can’t help but think Porte is underplaying his chances, especially with the strength he has shown in the Dauphiné. It looks like Ineos will have plenty of options and cards to play as they fight to take the yellow jersey to Paris.
Bahrain Victorious and Astana looked impressive
With the wealth of time trials coming up at the Tour de France, Astana will take confidence in Alexey Lutsenko and Ion Izagirre finishing first and second respectively in the ITT at the Dauphiné. The team in blue looked strong throughout the race, riding cohesively to give Lutsenko a 2nd place finish overall, he was the filling of an Ineos Grenadier’s sandwich as Geraint Thomas took third spot on the GC podium.
Similarly, Bahrain Victorious had a strong collective performance, with Sonny Cobrelli proving himself as by far the best sprinter in the race with his stage win and three second places, and Mark Padun doubling up with two stage wins when the race hit mountainous terrain. Cobrelli’s results announce him as a real contender for the green jersey competition at the Tour, he’s not just a fast man but can also get over some tough climbs and still pack a punch at the finish. His leadout squad is pretty dialled too, and with some more sprint trains helping them chase down the break at the Tour, Cobrelli could well be looking at a stage win in the flatter days.
Mark Padun can be described as the breakthrough rider of the race. In the Queen stage, he followed Richie Porte’s attack before riding away from the Australian rider to take his first solo victory in the WorldTour. Not satisfied with just one win, Padun then got himself into the breakaway the following day, collecting enough points to take the mountains jersey and still having enough left in the tank to win another stage.
The Ukranian rider had a margin of 90 seconds ahead of his contenders when they hit the line. “I had felt so bad the last few days. And today I had fantastic legs. When I crossed the finish line, I thought I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a dream,” Padun said after the stage.
The dream looks like it could continue if he makes his debut in the Tour de France this year, he’s certainly a favourite for some stage wins.
Valverde is ageing like a fine wine
We couldn’t neglect to mention Alejandro Valverde’s impressive win in stage 6. The Movistar rider consistently proves that he’s not going anywhere, and retirement certainly isn’t on the cards. He followed the attack of Tao Geoghegan Hart on the day’s final climb, but managed to come round the young Brit with only 300m to go.
Valverde timed his effort to perfection, showing his wealth of experience and silencing anyone who might dare to question if the Spanish rider is past his best. It looks like he’ll head to the Tour at the end of this month, and he could potentially challenge the general classification and contest individual wins.
UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo Visma might have work to do
Jumbo Visma’s best rider was Steven Kruijswijk in 15th position and the team were relatively invisible throughout the race. They didn’t look to be able to put up a fight against the dominant Ineos train, with Sepp Kuss, who was hugely impressive in the Tour de France last year, losing time on the final day of the race.
Kuss looked to be in good form the stage before, he was in the breakaway with eventual winner Mark Padun, and was the favourite to take victory when he appeared to be riding strongly on the earlier parts of the climb. He slipped to 6th place on the stage in the end, though, unable to hang on to contest the victory. Kruijswijk then lost over 3 minutes on the final stage. So it looks like Jumbo Visma will need to reassess their tactics ahead of their assault on the Tour this year as they’ll look to help Primož Roglič to victory.
UAE Team Emirates are another team who will have high hopes for the Tour, but they were unable to make their mark in the Dauphiné this year. Their young American climber Brandon McNulty would have wanted to take this race as an opportunity to show himself but looked to struggle in the mountains. Their leader, Tadej Pogačar, will need support in the Tour this year if he’s to compete with the likes of Team Ineos and defend his title, so will UAE Team Emirates be feeling nervous ahead of the Grand Départ?