Is there any beating Pogačar? What the Critérium du Dauphiné tells us about the state of Tour de France contenders

Evenepoel and Roglič still have work to do if they want a chance of yellow in July

Last week, the Critérium du Dauphiné gave us a window into what stage racing would look like without the looming, dominant figure of Tadej Pogačar. The result was close-fought battles, surprise riders coming to the fore, spectacular blow ups and the top-four in the general classification eventually separated by under one minute at the end of the week. Exciting, nail-biting, engaging bike racing. There was no one rider up ahead putting huge gaps between him and his rivals with swashbuckling attacks, but instead GC contenders fighting it out, mano a mano.

These battles at the Dauphiné allowed an important look at which riders are heading in the right direction with their form ahead of the Tour de France in a few weeks time. Primož Roglič lived up to his status as the pre-race favourite, taking the leader’s jersey after an impressive performance in the time trial and holding on to it until the bitter end to a mountain top finish on Plateau des Glières. It wasn’t the picture-perfect race that Bora-Hansgrohe would have hoped for at the Dauphiné, however, with Roglič losing almost one minute on the final stage and only just holding on to win by the skin of his teeth. 

The Slovenian rider’s performance tells us that there is still work to be done if Roglič wants to challenge Giro d’Italia winner Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France in a few weeks’ time. Bora-Hansgrohe might be bringing on a new sponsor with Red Bull ahead of la grande boucle, and they have a breathtakingly strong team on paper, but Roglič’s blow up at the Dauphiné after just eight days raises questions about how he will perform in a race of three-weeks. Pogačar, on the other hand, proved utterly unflappable at the Giro, showing no signs of fatigue all the way from Venaria Reale to the finish in Rome.

While Roglič might be leaving the Dauphiné with a nervous feeling in his stomach as the Tour approaches, other riders will take some serious confidence from the week-long French stage race. While the Dauphiné saw yet more bad luck for Visma-Lease a Bike when Dylan van Baarle and Steven Kruijswijk were both forced to abandon after stage five’s monster crash, it also provided a beacon of hope for the Dutch team. Paris-Nice winner Matteo Jorgenson proved himself to be close to the level of Roglič, almost to snatching the yellow of the Slovenian rider on the final stage. With Jonas Vingegaard still returning from injury after his crash at Itzulia, Jorgenson is an extremely promising plan B for Visma at the Tour de France.

Another rider who was a revelation of the Dauphiné was Derek Gee of Israel-Premier Tech. While the Canadian rider has shown promise with stage wins in Grand Tours in the past, the Dauphiné saw him come into his own as a general classification contender. The 26-year-old finished in third place overall after a stage win on an uphill finish to Les Estables, a solid performance in the individual time trial and two top-five finishes on the final three stages. The Tour de France this year might be too soon to expect a challenge for yellow from Gee, but Israel-Premier Tech certainly have a star in their ranks when it comes to future Grand Tours.

Opposite to Gee, who entered the Dauphiné without any expectations on his shoulders, Remco Evenepoel was watched by the masses to see how the Belgian had recovered after the broken bones he sustained at Itzulia. Evenepoel insisted ahead of the race that he would not be challenging for the yellow jersey at the Dauphiné this year, but his victory on stage four’s time trial catapulted him into the race lead. Things started to go wrong for Evenepoel when the roads kicked up and the peloton headed into the mountains, however, and he ended up seventh on the general classification – a somewhat worrying sign ahead of the Tour.

Carlos Rodríguez, on the other hand, was a strong performer at the Dauphiné, finishing in fourth place on the general classification, but just like Roglič, Jorgenson Gee and Evenepoel, the Ineos Grenadiers rider didn’t look to be in the form to be challenging Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France this July. If fans were hoping that the Dauphiné would provide a slither of hope that we wouldn’t be treated to the same dominance from Pogačar in France as we were in Italy, they would have been disappointed this week.

While riders such as Evenepoel and Roglič proved that they have come back to solid form after their respective crashes, they still looked a long way off the pace of a flying Pogačar. It’s good to see Gee, Jorgenson and Rodríguez at the front of a stage race, but these seem like riders who are still a few seasons away from challenging for Grand Tour wins. The chance of another Pogačar clean sweep at the Tour are as high as ever after seeing what happened at the Dauphiné; while it was a week of engaging racing from riders who looked to be performing at a similar level, there was an overwhelming feeling that if Pogačar had been there, he would have ridden away with yellow. 

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