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Will Chris Froome make it two in a row in the queen stage?

Photo: A.S.O.

CRITERIUM DU DAUPHINE

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10.06.2016 @ 19:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Chris Froome confirmed that he is fully ready to defend both his Criterium du Dauphiné and Tour de France titles by riding to another magnificent stage win in the Alpine race but while he managed to get rid of Alberto Contador, Richie Porte stayed glued to his wheel. The scene is now set for an excellent duel in the final two mountain stages, with tomorrow’s queen stage offering the sternest test of the entire race.

 

The course

Saturday has usually been the day of the queen stage and it will be no different in 2016. After several days in Massif Central or on the outskirts of the major mountains, the riders will finally head into some of the most classic cycling terrain on a day that includes famous climbs like Col du Grand Cucheron and Col de la Madeleine. In the end, a new summit finish in Meribel will welcome the riders and even though it is not the hardest climb in France, it is the biggest chance for the climbers to make a difference in the 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné.

 

Again ASO have followed the recent tradition of making the mountain stages short and intense. The riders will only have to cover 141km between La Rochette and Meribel and they consist of a mainly westerly run through some of the hardest terrain that France has to offer. A short flat section of 6km leads to the bottom of the category 1 Col de Champ-Laurent (9.3km, 8.1%) which is a very regular and hard climb. There’s just a short descent and then the riders will climb the final 3.4km to the top of the category 2 climb of Col du Grand Cucheron which averages 6.9%.

 

The descent leads back to the valley and a rare flat section before the riders will take on the biggest challenge of the entire race after 50km of racing. The mighty HC climb of Col de la Madeleine averages 7.95% over 19.2km and is one of the most famous climbs in France. The descent leads to the valley and a short flat section through the city of Moutiers. Then the category 1 Montee des Frasses (8km, 6.5%) serves as a bit of a warm-up for the final climb. The summit comes just 28km from the finish and then a slightly descending roads leads to the bottom of the final challenge. It averages 6.6% over 12.3km and is hardest in the first 8km where the gradient is mostly 7-8%. Then it gets easier but it ramps up for the final 1.3km. Kilometre 12 averages 7.2% and the final 300m are uphill at 11.2%. The final two hairpin bends come just before the flamme rouge and then the road is winding. The finishing straight is 200m on a 6m wide road.

 

Meribel has not hosted the finish of a major bike race for more than a decade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

Friday was a hot and sunny day but things could be different for Saturday’s queen stage. After a rainy evening and night, it will be a mixed day with sun, clouds and a 25-50% chance of a shower. The maximum temperature at the finish will be 17 degrees.

 

There will be a light wind from a westerly direction which means that the riders will have a tailwind and cross-tailwind for most of the day. After the descent from the penultimate climb, there will be a short headwind section and then the riders will turn into a crosswind for the final ascent.

 

The favourites

It was hard not to get a feeling of déjà vu in today’s stage. Chris Froome has a fantastic ability to time his condition well and every year he returns to the European mainland after his Tenerife training camp with excellent condition for the month of June. Apart from last year when he only found his best legs towards the end of the race, he has been the strongest rider in the first mountain stage every year since he first did the race as captain in 2013.

 

The performance is a huge confidence boost for Froome and makes him assured that he is fully ready for the Tour de France. Even though he claimed to be pleased with his feelings, he must have been slightly concerned to have been given a beating in the prologue. Those doubts were firmly laid to rest by his performance on the final climb of stage 5.

 

What’s really scary for his rivals is the fact that he is actually aiming to peak a little later than usual. In the last few years, he has faded in the final week of the Tour where Nairo Quintana has just become stronger and stronger. He wants to avoid a repeat scenario and with the Olympics also a big goal, he is deliberately aiming to postpone his best condition a bit. Hence, there must be reason to be worried in the Tinkoff camp.

 

The stage also proved what we have claimed in every preview for more than a year: Richie Porte belongs to the absolute climbing elite. The Australian has proved it on numerous occasions and he was always going to be flying in this race. Despite being marred by several health issues in the sprint, he had a very decent first part of the season. When he claimed to be feeling good for this race, there was a very good reason to keep an eye on the talented Australian.

 

It was a bit of a surprise to see Alberto Contador lose so much time today. As we already wrote yesterday, the Spaniard had shown clear signs of weakness in the uphill finales of stages 2 and 4 and so we were not surprised that he wasn’t able to follow Froome. However, his great ride in the prologue suggested that he should be able to do better than he did today. It’s almost impossible to imagine that he will be able to turn things around and win the race but we can still expect him to do better in the next two stages. The longer, less explosive climbs suit him better and he recovers better than everybody else which always makes him stronger towards the end of a stage race.

 

The race has now been boiled down to a duel between Froome and Porte and they will battle it out for the victory in the final two stages. Tomorrow’s queen stage is the hardest of the pair but the final climb isn’t overly hard. The finale of Sunday’s stage is more difficult as there is a tough climb near the end but with a descent and an easier uphill drag to the line, it’s not a tough summit finish.

 

Until now, Sky have followed an unusual strategy by riding aggressively instead of setting their usual steady pace on the climbs. With Froome now in the lead, they will probably have to change the approach. Now it’s their job to control the race and Tinkoff can take a back seat. Hence, they will probably have a more familiar tactic in the queen stage.

 

The start to stage 5 was simply brutal and it was a very aggressive and entertaining first half. Sky were some of the aggressors but even though they will now have a different tactic, it will be more of the same tomorrow. The first climb comes almost immediately and it a brutal affair. In such a tough opening phase, we will definitely get a very strong breakaway of some of the best climbers and like today, it is very likely to be a rather big group.

 

If the race becomes really aggressive, we won’t be surprised if Sky send Mikel Landa or Sergio Henao on the attack. Both are still close on GC and if they make it into the break, they will put Tinkoff and BMC under pressure. Otherwise, they will have to ride tempo on the front to keep the break under control.

 

We are curious to see whether Froome also wants to win the queen stage. He already has one stage win in the books so if there’s no immediate threat in the breakaway, Sky can allow the break to ride away and pick up the bonus seconds. On the other hand, Froome is always hungry for success and this is a stage that he would love to win. At the same time, there’s always a big chance that the break will have some riders who are close on GC in a stage like this and this will force Sky to ride hard all day.

 

At the same time, Richie Porte must have gained confidence from today’s stage. His big goal is of course to win the race overall but he knows that Froome will be hard to beat. A stage win will be a big objective too and this is probably the stage that suits him the best. BMC have a great team here so unless they have Damiano Caruso in the break, they will probably give chase. That makes it likely that we will get another battle between the favourites for the stage win but unlike today, there is a pretty big chance that the breakaway will make it.

 

The battle between the favourites will come down to the final climb. The penultimate climb is not very hard and can only be used to ride tempo. Col de la Madeleine is brutal but it comes way too early to be the scene of any big attacks. With Sky having such a strong team, it would be suicidal for a GC rider to try to attack from afar.

 

If it comes down to a battle between the GC riders, Chris Froome must be the favourite. He and Porte were pretty equally matched in today’s stage but it is hard to imagine that Porte will be able to drop Froome. The Brit never seemed to be under pressure in today’s stage and while he has had recovery difficulties in grand tours, there have never been such issues in the one-week races. Froome is hungry for success so he will even try to distance Porte if he eyes a chance. The Brit may be able to take another solo win but the most likely scenario is that it will be another sprint duel between the pair. Froome has always been fast in an uphill sprint and as he proved today he is definitely faster than Porte. Hence, it could very well be two in a row for Froome.

 

Richie Porte is his big rival. The Australian only lost one second in the sprint where he was never going to be as explosive as Froome and he proved his class when he dragged himself back to his former captain after Contador had caused him to lose contact. It won’t be easy for Froome to get rid of Porte but the big problem for the Australian is that he is not fast enough to win a sprint. However, he should have a bigger chance to get rid of the Sky rider here. In the past, Froome has often been at his best on relatively steep, irregular climbs. He has suffered a bit more on long, regular ascents which is what Porte seems to prefer. Tomorrow’s climb suits Porte better than today’s ascent in Vaujany and this means that Porte has a bigger chance to win.

 

It is hard to imagine that a GC battle won’t be won by either Froome or Porte so the rest of our cadidates will be potential winners from breakaways. Our biggest favourite for such a win is Ryder Hesjedal. The Canadian was hugely disappointed to be forced out of the Giro by illness but he seems to have maintained his form excellently. Hesjedal is known as a diesel engine so a mountain prologue is an anti-Hesjedal stage. Nonetheless, he rode to 16th and this proves that his form is outstanding.

 

Today he was part of the early break and then got dropped at the bottom of the final climb. He lost a massive nine minutes which indicates that he deliberately dropped out of GC contention to be given the chance to go for a stage win. He is a very aggressive rider and never afraid of attacking from afar. The tough start means that his good climbing legs will make the difference and we will be surprised if he doesn’t make it into the break. He seems to have the form to finish it off.

 

It was another disappointment for Thibaut Pinot who rolled to the finish with a big time loss. After the prologue, he made it clear that he would risk everything to win a stage in the Alps if he felt that he was not able to follow the best. That means that he is almost destined to attack from afar and even though he is not at his best, he is still riding at a solid level. He has proved that he can finish off a great ride in the mountains and he will try to do so tomorrow.

 

Fabio Aru will have similar plans. The Astana captain dropped out of GC contention in today’s stage and will now chase a stage win. His prologue was bad and he is clearly not at 100% but his great ride in stage 3 confirms that the form is not too far away. In such a hard stage, the good climbers will ride away from the start and Aru is definitely one of them.

 

With Contador having lost a bit of time, we expect Roman Kreuziger to go on the attack tomorrow. The Czech can both act as a tactical play and potentially go for the stage win if the break stays away. He did a poor prologue but seems to be getting better and better and today he did a massive job on the final climb. If he joins the break, he will be one of the strongest.

 

Like Hesjedal, Tony Gallopin was dropped early in today’s stage. The Frenchman has always made it clear that he is here to win a stage and now he will have the freedom to attack. He is not a pure climber but when he is at a high level, he defends himself very well in the mountains. Just remember that he was sitting in the top 10 at the Tour for a long time last year. His great performance in stage 2 proves that his form is not too bad and the final climb which is not too steep should suit him well.

 

Lotto Soudal have another card to play. Bart De Clercq lost a bit of time in today’s stage but he has looked very strong until now. He doesn’t have the explosiveness for a climb like the one had faced today but he is excellent on long, gradual ascents. Tomorrow’s climbs are tailor-made for him so he should be one of the in-form riders to attack from the start.

 

Pinot’s lieutenants Sebastien Reichenbach and Steve Morabito will also be given the freedom to attack. They were here to support the captain but now the goal is to win a stage. They are both great climbers and even though none of them are at their best, they are still some of the strongest in this race. Especially Reichenbach stands out as a solid candidate as he has been riding extremely strongly all year.

 

Astana still have Diego Rosa for the GC but they will have more freedom to attack. This could open the door for Dario Cataldo who is a master in long-distance breakaways. He suffered in the heat in the first stages but now he has found some form. Today he looked stronger than Aru when he stayed with his captain so we won’t be surprised if he joins the moves.

 

As said, Sky are likely to send one of their good climbers into the breakaway. Landa and Henao are too close to be given the chance to go for a stage win but Wout Poels will have a chance. He did a great prologue and after a bad day in the heat on stage 2, he was back on track in today’s stage. He is definitely one of the best climbers here so he will be hard to beat if the break stays away and he doesn’t have to drop back for tactical reasons.

 

George Bennett lost a bit of time due to the crash in stage 2 and so has lost enough to be given some freedom. The Kiwi rode really well in California and he is eager to grab a chance in this race where he is the LottoNL-Jumbo leader. He is no longer a top 10 candidate so he has nothing to lose by attacking from afar. If he still has the California legs, he can win the stage.

 

Jurgen Van den Broeck is far from being the rider he once was but he is showing signs of improvement. He rode pretty well towards the end of the Tour of California and in this race he has been doing a huge amount of work for Alexander Kristoff. Today’s huge time loss could be an indication that he deliberately tries to get some freedom for a big attack in the mountains.

 

We will point to Alexis Vuillermoz. The Frenchman seemed to be in good condition for this race until he crashed in stage 2. He described stage 3 as a nightmare as he has suffered several minor injuries but today he was very aggressive in the early part of the stage. This indicates that he is getting better and he may now be ready to go for a stage win.

 

Finally, Laurens De Plus and Jack Haig deserve a mention. The neo-pros are huge climbing talents and have proved their potential on several occasions. Today they both finished close to the best but as they have lost time after working for their captains, they may be given the freedom to attack. It’s very tough for neo-professionals to win stages at the Dauphiné but they definitely have the potential to do very well.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Chris Froome

Other winner candidates: Richie Porte, Ryder Hesjedal (breakaway)

Outsiders: Thibaut Pinot, Fabio Aru, Roman Kreuziger, Tony Gallopin, Bart De Clercq (all from a breakaway)

Jokers: Sebastien Reichenbach, Dario Cataldo, Steve Morabito, Wout Poels, George Bennett, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Alexis Vuillermoz (all from a breakaway)

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