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Photo: Sirotti




13.06.2015 @ 15:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Today’s stage turned the Criterium du Dauphiné on its head after a day that was reminiscent of the final leg of last year’s hugely exciting race. Tomorrow another shake-up is very likely as the short queen stage offers no less than five category 1 climbs and if the riders have the same attacking spirit as they had to day, it will be very hard for the favourites to control what could be another huge drama.


The course

Traditionally the penultimate stage has been the queen stage in the Criterium du Dauphine and it won’t be any different in 2015. The final four stages all include uphill finishes but their difficulty is very varying. The finish on the category 1 Saint-Gervains Mont Blanc is clearly the toughest and as it comes at the end of a stage that includes another four category 1 mountains and a single category 3 climb, the scene is set for a huge battle between the GC contenders and climbers on what will be a brutal day in the Alps.


At 155km, stage 7 is a short affair but that doesn’t mean that it will be an easy challenge. The course is always up or down and includes a huge amount of climbing over the relatively short distance. The first 27.5km are almost completely flat and only includes a very small climb in the early part. Those are almost the only flat kilometres of the stage. When the riders hit the lower slopes of then category 1 Col de Tamié (8.5km, 6.4%), the hostilities start and from there, the riders will have no room to recover.


After the opening challenge, the riders will tackle a short descent before they get to the category 1 Col de la Forclaz (8.1km, 7.8%) which is known as a very hard climb. The average gradient is slightly deceptive as the seventh kilometre is all downhill. In fact, the gradient rarely drops below 8% and the second, fifth and eighth kilometre all have double-digit gradients.


After the descent and a short flat section, the riders hit the category 1 Col de la Croix Fry (11.2km, 7%) which is a very regular climb with just a short easier section at the midpoint. After the summit, the short category 3 Cold des Aravis (4.3km, 5%) will be the final challenge before the riders get to an easier part of the course. The descent is followed by a gradual uphill section and another descent before they get to the bottom of the final double climb Cote des Amerands and Saint-Gervains Mont Blanc that are both of the first category.


The first climb is simply brutal as it averages 11.2% over 2.7km but then there will be a chance to recover during the next 3km that are either flat or downhill. Then the final 7km climb starts and it has an average gradient of 7.7%. The first 5km are pretty regular at 7-9% before the riders get to the harder final 1.5km where the gradient is 9-10.1%.


The final climb has not been used in a major bike race in recent years.







The weather

Today the rain made the race much harder than the profile suggested and so many riders will be sad to know that another wet day is in store tomorrow. After a sunny start to the day, rain will start to fall by the time the riders start the stage and from there it will only get worse throughout the stage. However, it won’t be a cold day as the maximum temperature at the bottom of the final climb will be a pleasant 23 degrees.


There will barely be any win, with a light breeze blowing from a northerly direction in the first part of the stage before it changes direction to come from the south. This means that there will mainly be a headwin din the first part of the stage and then a crosswind just before the riders get to the feed zone. As they approach the final two climbs, they will gradually turn into a tailwind before they face a cross-headwind on the penultimate climb. Importantly, there will be a headwind on the final climb.


The favourites

Last year Andrew Talansky, Romain Bardet and Jurgen Van den Broeck turned the Criterium du Dauphiné completely on its head on the final day and created one of the most memorable races in recent years. Today’s stage again proved that modern-day cycling is very hard to control, even for the strongest teams, and it again elevates the French race to one of the best of the season.


After the team time trial, BMC had looked very strong and even though it was always obvious that three of their riders are non-climbers, they were expected to be good enough to control a stage that didn’t include any major difficulties. However, the constant ups and downs made the team blow to pieces and left van Garderen isolated in the finale. While Rohan Dennis and young Dylan Teuns did their best to protect their captain, it must have been a big disappointment for them to see Samuel Sanchez completely miss out on a very important day.


However, BMC was not the only team that showed signs of weakness. In stage 5, Sky had looked very strong and unlike BMC most of their roster is made up of climbers. However, Chris Froome found himself with just Philip Deignan at his side while the rest of the team finished in the gruppetto.


As the big teams all show signs of weakness, there is a big chance that we will see another turnaround of affairs tomorrow. There is no reason for anyone to wait for the final battle against Froome and van Garderen and so most of the teams will be keen to attack. Tomorrow’s stage is a lot harder and we would be very surprised if the race doesn’t explode to pieces already on the first two climbs of the day.


However, one thing has changed compared to today’s stage. Vincenzo Nibali is now in the lead and this means that Astana will now have to control affairs. Their team is probably one of the strongest of the entire race and they should be able to do a better job than BMC. Furthermore, Sky only have one card to play and so they won’t try to ride aggressively. Their best chance is to set Froome up for a battle on the final climbs and so we should see an Astana and Sky alliance in this race.


Whether that will be enough to bring it back together at the bottom of the final climb, remains to be seen. Stage hunters and GC riders will all be keen to attack and it is very hard to predict who will be in the overall lead at the end of the day. Nibali, Costa and Valverde bounced back with a great ride today but are clearly not in their best condition yet. Froome, van Garderen and Bardet are the strongest riders but a long of great climbers are not too far back and could make another coup like Talansky did last year and Nibali did today.


Much will depend on whether the break contains any GC riders and whether they have any domestiques to help them keep the peloton at bay. However, Astana, Sky and BMC are very strong teams and if those three combine forces, we will expect it to come back together for the final climb. However, it won’t be an easy task and there is an equally big chance that the break will make it.


If it comes down to a battle between the favourites, it will be a very open affair. Usually, Chris Froome has been in a class of his own but it is evident that the Brit is still not back at his former level. In the past, no one would ever have seen him again when he had made an attack like the one he did in stage 5 but this time he was unable to maintain his fast pace. In fact, he even cracked near the top.


Today he gauged his effort much better in the finale where he let Intxausti and van Garderen ride away. He stayed within his limits before making it back to the duo and then even dropped the race leader close to the line. He seems to have realized that his condition is not good enough to do those violent attacks at the moment and a more defensive strategy should pay off.


Furthermore, the final climb is steeper than the one they faced two days ago and Froome is usually stronger than van Garderen on very steep climbs. Furthermore, the stage includes a lot more climbing and Froome is usually very good at the end of a tough day in the saddle. It won’t be easy for Froome to win this stage but if it comes down to a battle between the favourites, he will be the man to beat.


His biggest rival is obviously Tejay van Garderen. Yesterday the American gauged his effort perfectly to make it back to Froome and even drop the best climber in the world. That was a strange turnaround for the American. In the past, his big weakness was the fact that he often went too much into the red zone before cracking spectacularly. However, he has clearly matured and now knows how to ride within himself.


Today he was probably the strongest rider in the race as he did a lot of work in the finale and still had enough left in the tank to respond to Intxausti’s late attack. He may have cracked in the end but as he had done much more work than Froome and Intxausti, that was no big surprise. Tomorrow he won’t have to carry the main responsibility and he should be a lot fresher in the finale.


However, the steep final climb should suit him a bit less than the mellow gradients of the Pra Loup climb and it may be hard for him to keep up with Froome in this kind of test. On the other hand, he is clearly climbing better than ever before and if he can again ride smartly, he could take what will probably be the biggest win of his career.


Romain Bardet was really impressive in stage 5 where he confirmed that he is both in very good condition and has stepped up his level another notch. Today he was again looking strong until he went down in a crash that cost him valuable time. It remains to be seen how he is feeling tomorrow but luckily he suffered no major injuries.


Yesterday we didn’t get the chance to see how he measures up against the best climbers but there is no reason to suggest that he won’t be close to Froome’s and van Garderen’s level. In fact, his time loss may now be a blessing in disguise as he won’t be too heavily marked by the American who has a solid advantage over him. If he has the legs from yesterday, Bardet could take a second win in this race.


Cannondale-Garmin have two cards to play and there is no reason for them not to try to blow the race to pieces. Daniel Martin and Andrew Talansky won’t win the race in a direct battle with the favourites and so they will be keen to repeat last year’s performance that saw Talansky turn everything around on the final day. With two riders in GC contention, there is a big chance that one of them will make it into a break and they will be hard to catch.


Martin has had a disastrous season. Even though he has been able to train optimally for this race, he has been riding strongly here and he looks ready to bounce back. Today he took back a bit of time and tomorrow he will try again. He is not good enough to beat the favourites but he is very strong in finishing off long-distance attacks in the mountains and at gauging his efforts well. That’s how he won the 2013 Volta a Catalunya and tomorrow he will try a similar move.


Last year Talansky made the coup and he would love to repeat that performance. He is clearly stronger than Martin but may be heavier marked than his Irish teammate. Until now, he has been slightly off the pace of the best climbers but tomorrow’s longer and harder climbs should suit him better. He seems to have the same legs he had one year ago and so it won’t be beyond his capabilities to again turn everything around.


Pierre Rolland is usually a very slow starter and has rarely been in his best condition in this race. However, things seem to be different in 2015 as he was very strong in the first mountain stage. Today he had a bad day and completely dropped out of GC contention but he will be keen to bounce back tomorrow. He is a master in long-distance attacks in the mountains and he is clearly strong enough to finish it off.


The same goes for Louis Meintjes. The South African has been knocking on the door for a big breakthrough and yesterday he did the ride of his life to finish 6th in the first mountain stage. Like Rolland, he suffered in today’s stage but he should be able to bounce back tomorrow. He has often been riding very inconsistently and tomorrow he may be back at his best. As he is no longer a GC contender he will have lots of freedom.


Today Robert Kiserlovski was clearly one of the strongest riders in the race and as he is not one of the pre-race favourites and has lost a bit of time, he won’t be too heavily marked. At his best, the Croatian is able to match some of the best climbers in the world as he proved in the first part of last year’s Giro and after a slow start, he is back in good condition. Today he missed the move but Tinkoff-Saxo have done nothing to hide that they want to take an aggressive approach.


Yesterday Mathias Frank looked very strong but today he lost a bit of ground. This means that he is no longer a GC threat and this will give him plenty of room to attack. At his best, he is an excellent climber and he should find the longer, steeper climbs in this stage to his liking. If he makes it into the right group, he will be hard to beat.


Benat Intxausti is still riding very well after his great Giro. It remains to be seen whether fatigue will start to set in and tomorrow’s stage will be a big test. Until now he has seemed to be close to the level of Froome and van Garderen and if a tactical battle between those two riders unfold, the Basque may be the one to benefit.


Today Rui Costa moved himself back into GC contention but tomorrow it may be another Lampre-Merida rider to shine. Rafael Valls has had a breakthrough season and he has confirmed his potential in this race. He has not been far behind the best riders and he is still a bit of an outsider. While Costa won’t be given any freedom, Valls may be allowed to attack.


Bart De Clercq’s climbing skills are often underestimated. When he reaches his best form, he is not that far behind the best. He rode very strongly in the first mountain stage but today he dropped out of GC contention. This will give him room to attack and the non-explosive climber should find tomorrow’s hard stage to his liking.


Simon Yates is constantly improving and in this race he has again been riding at an impressive level. He is close on GC but still a bit of an outsider. Today the main contenders didn’t respond to his attacks and tomorrow they may again allow him to gain some ground. If he is part of a strong breakaway, he is obviously strong enough to finish it off.


Wilco Kelderman was much better today than he was yesterday and he is usually a very aggressive rider. He has lost a bit of time on GC and won’t be too heavily marked. He still regrets that he missed the decisive breakaway in the final stage last year and tomorrow he will try not to make a similar mistake.


Finally, Alexis Vuillermoz, John Gadret and David de la Cruz deserve a mention. They are climbing really well and are no big threats in the overall standings. They won’t be too heavily marked and should be strong enough to make it into the break. If they are up against the GC riders, they will need some luck to win but if the break has no dangerous overall contenders, they should be among the strongest.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Chris Froome

Other winner candidates: Tejay van Garderen, Romain Bardet

Outsiders: Daniel Martin (breakaway), Andrew Talansky (breakaway or final battle), Pierre Rolland (breakaway), Louis Meintjes (breakaway), Robert Kiserlovski (breakaway), Mathias Frank (breakaway)

Jokers: Benat Intxausti, Rafael Valls (breakaway), Bart De Clercq (breakaway), Simon Yates (breakaway or final battle), Wilco Kelderman (breakaway), Alexis Vuillermoz (breakaway), John Gadret (breakaway), David de la Cruz (breakaway)



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