With just over 1 month left until the 100th Tour de France kicks off on the French island of Corsica, the top riders, those looking to be in yellow 3 weeks after the Grand Depart, are starting their final preparation. The Dauphiné Libéré is one of the classic weeklong stage races where the world’s top stage racers test their form. First held in 1947 and taking place in the Dauphiné region of France, which has many mountains, it has been part of the classic countdown to the Tour.
The 2013 race is somewhat of a dry run for the Tour de France. Starting on the 2nd of June in Switzerland, there is no time trial or flat stage for the riders to find their legs. The first stage from Champery to Champery has numerous climbs in it, which will cause a selection for the overall lead from the start. With the second stage having as many climbs, the race, like the Tour, will see the general classification contenders battling it out from the start. Stage 3 looks like a calmer stage where the GC riders might call a truce, saving their energy for the next stage, an individual time-trial.
The stage four time-trial is a crucial stage. At 35 kilometres long and pan flat it is a perfect race of truth. Had Wiggins been in the race it would be something perfect for him. As it stands it is a time where the weaker climbers can get some time back on their rivals.
Stage five is another key stage in the race with the uphill Hors Category climb to Valmorel. This stage will see fireworks, where those who are less strong at time-trialing will strike back and try to get some time back.
Stage six is brief reprise. Not a flat stage by any means, but still one where the GC contenders may sit back to save their powder for the following two days. These are two key mountain stages where, depending on the time deficits from the previous days, the overall classification of the race could very well change.
The course is always one thing, the riders present another. Without a strong field the race will not be as entertaining as we all want it to be. As all years, the Dauphiné has attracted the world’s top riders. Froome, Rodriquez, Contador, Talansky, Voekler, Rolland, Valverde are just a few of the top named riders present.
As with last year’s Vuelta the race should be Team Sky versus the Spanish riders. Froome so far this season has shown great form, and with his strong support should be the rider the rest of the peloton look at. But Froome has not been unbeatable and an on-form Contador or even Rodriquez could put him in great difficulty. This year, Team Sky has not ridden with the same tactical panache that they have done, possibly due to the loss of their most experienced sport directors over the winter. More than once at the key moments, they have failed to be tactically perfect. Could this happen again, possibly. With the tough stages from the start, the other teams might well sit back and leave the work to Team Sky, leaving the punchy Spanish riders fresh to attack the boys in black and blue.
As with all the other races of the season, Mother Nature could well throw her hat into the ring. With Chamonix having 90cm of snow fall in the past 7 days, the high mountains could see the riders doing battle against the elements as well as each other. As with the Giro d’Italia this could see riders losing the race due to the inability to perform in those conditions.
Mountains, a stacked field and weather, will all combine to make the Dauphiné a true test for those looking at the Tour de France. These 8 days of racing will show who will be strong in July, but one statistic remains, only eight riders have ever done the Dauphiné/Tour double, Wiggins being the last. So, though the top tour riders will be there, the end result really is not a clear form-card for the Tour.
Author: Phil Gale