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Everything is still up for grabs in the brutal mountain stage on the final day of the Criterium du Dauphiné

Photo: Sirotti




11.06.2016 @ 20:33 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After Alberto Contador’s big attack, the queen stage ended as a bit of a status quo between the overall contenders as the time gaps were only minor but it was still a surprise to see Richie Porte show signs of weakness in the finale. A strong ride by Dan Martin must have inspired the Irishman to go for the podium and he has one final chance to move up in the standings in tomorrow’s brutally tough mountain stage.


The course

The Criterium du Dauphiné is never decided before the riders get to the very end of the race as the final stage is never a ceremonial affair. In fact, it is always short, intensive and includes some very hilly terrain. The final stage is rarely as tough as the queen stage but it is usually hard enough to guarantee that things can change right until the end and this is definitely also true in 2016. The climb to the finish in Superdevoluy may be more for classics riders but the brutal Col du Noyer in the finale will make sure that the climbers have a real chance to turn things around at the end of 8 days of tough racing.


For the third day in a row, the organizers have designed a short, intense stage in the Alps. The 151km will lead the riders from Le Pont-de-Claix on the outskirts of the Alps to Superdevoluy in the Alpine heartland. The start is simply brutal as it is uphill right from the fun. The hostilities briefly end at the top of the category 2 Cote de Monteynard (10.6km, 4.6%) at the 13.5km motg but there will be not descent. Instead, the riders will stay on a lumpy plateau with the category 3 Cote des Terrasses (2.7km, 6.9%) as they travel in a southeasterly direction towards the higher mountains.


The terrain is relatively flat but the gradually starts to climb towards the summit of the category 2 Cote de Saint-Laurent-du-Cros (2.8km, 4.9%). A short descent leads to the category 1 Col de Mossiere (8.3km, 8.2%) which is a hard, regular climb with a steep second half.


From here, the riders will turn around and head in a northwesterly direction towards the finish. A short descent and flat roads will lead to the bottom of the main challenge of the day, the category 1 Col du Noyer. It averages 8.4% over 7.5km but the numbers are deceptive. The first two kilometres are relatively easy but from there the gradient barely drops below the 10%, with the final kilometre even averaging 13.9%. The top comes with 11.5km to go and they consist of a long, gradual, non-technical descent and a category 3 climb. The final challenge averages 5.9% over 3.8km and is very regular. There are two hairpin bends on the lower slopes and then it’s a winding road. There’s a roundabout inside the final kilometre and then a sweeping bend leads on the 30m finishing straight on a 6m wide road.


The exact same finale was used for the penultimate stage in 2013. Back then Sky opted for a controlling approach and allowed Samuel Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang to escape, with the Basque beating the Dane in the two-rider sprint. Richie Porte made a late bid for freedom to take third 15 seconds later while Daniel Moreno won the sprint of a 6-rider group just one second later.






The weather

A few days ago, it looked like the weekend could be marred by bad weather but now the race is likely to end on a high. Sunday is forecasted to have bright sunshine and a maximum temperature at the finish of 20 degrees. There is only a small 10% chance of rain towards the end of the stage.


It will be windier than usual as there will be a moderate wind from a northwesterly direction. This means that the riders will have a tail- or a cross-tailwind for most of the stage. At the bottom of Col de Mossiere, they will turn into a headwind and it will be a cross-headwind from the bottom of the Col du Noyer. On the final climb, it will mainly be a tailwind until the riders turn into a headwind for the final kilometre.


The favourites

It was hard not to get a feeling of déjà vu in today’s stage. Just like at the 2015 Tour de France, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot bounced back from early time losses to battle it out for a stage win. Just like in La Grande Boucle, Pinot won the queen stage on the penultimate day and Bardet used aggressive riding in the mountains to move firmly back into GC contention. The fighting spirit of the two Frenchmen is enormous and it was a pleasure to see how they were again willing to take the risks by attacking from afar.


The same can be said about Alberto Contador. When the Spaniard is behind, there is a guarantee for exciting racing. Maybe it was a bit too bold though as the big attack on the Col de la Madeleine may have been what cost him some seconds in the end. As he knows that he will only get better throughout the race, it would probably have been wiser to save some energy for the final stage. The final climb in the queen stage was not very hard and with the long distance from the top of Madeleine to the finish was always going to be a big challenge as he is up against a formidable Sky team.


However, the British team was clearly under pressure and they really had to use all their energy to keep Bardet in check. In the end, the Frenchman reduced his deficit to 21 seconds so there wasn’t much margin for Froome in the end. A remarkable Wout Poels did well to ride on the front for most of the stage and then Mikel Landa and Sergio Henao reduced the gap on the final climb but in the end Froome had to ride on the front himself. That made him vulnerable for attacks and was probably what cost him a few seconds to Martin in the end.


The big surprise was to see Richie Porte suffer in the finale. The Australian has looked brutally strong until now and he usually doesn’t fade in a one-week race. He claims that it is due to his lack of racing and it is still way too early to write him off but he needs to be a lot better tomorrow if he wants to keep his spot on the podium.


To see Sky under pressure must have given some inspiration to their rivals as we go into the final stage. With two very steep climbs inside the final 60km, it is maybe even better suited to big attacks. The final climb may not be very hard but don’t be fooled by this stage. The two category 1 climbs are brutal and especially the Col du Noyer can really do a lot of damage. As it’s the final stage, fatigue has started to set in and many riders have nothing to lose. The scene is set for a great battle!


It’s another uphill start and this means that it will be very hard and aggressive right from the beginning. Contador never settles for fifth so he wants to have riders up the road. Expect to see Roman Kreuziger, Robert Kiserlovski and Jesper Hansen try to join the early move. Just like today, the best climbers that are no immediate GC threat will ride away on the first climb and we will probably get another very big breakaway.


Bigger time gaps have now opened up so Sky won’t be under the same kind of pressure. Still it is very likely that the break will include a few riders that are not too far back so Sky will have to ride tempo. However, they already have their stage win and after today’s big effort, they will probably opt for a cautious approach. This means that they will probably allow the break to stay away and it will be up to other to bring them back.


Tinkoff also have their stage win so they will probably not do anything either and after today’s bad performance, Richie Porte and BMC will probably opt for caution. That means that it will be up to Etixx-QuickStep to bring the break back. Martin rode very well in today’s stage and the finish suits him down to the ground. He wants both the stage win and a spot on the podium and for the latter goal, the bonus seconds could become important as the final climb is not very difficult.


We won’t be surprised if Etixx-QuickStep try to bring the break back but the question is whether they are strong enough. Tony Martin has lots of firepower and rode strongly on the climb today. Laurens De Plus is really confirming his potential as a great climber but he spent a lot of energy today. Most of the team is made up of classics riders so we don’t have too much belief that the Belgian team will be able to bring back what is likely to be a very strong group.


The mountains jersey could add some complexity. Pinot and Teklehaimanot are equal on points but Pinot will probably not be given any freedom. If he is in the break, it will have no chance but if Teklehaimanot or Grmay is there, FDJ may lend Etixx-QuickStep a hand. However, their best option will be to prevent the two Africans from escaping at all.


Overall we will put our money on a breakaway win as it seems less likely that Etixx-QuickStep will be able to control things. It can’t be ruled out though and a battle between the favourites is definitely also a realistic scenario.


Lots of good climbers lost time in today’s stage and they will now be in search of a stage win so there will be plenty of aggression on the first climb. For two days, Ryder Hesjedal has been taking it easy to be ready for a big attack. He saved energy on Friday and today he had a mechanical when the break went on the first climb. He now only has one shot so he will go all out in an attempt to win tomorrow’s stage.


Hesjedal was ill at the Giro but he seems to be in great form. He did an excellent mountain prologue as that kind of effort is usually too short and explosive for him. However, he knew that it would be difficult to go for GC so he has set his sights on a stage win. He has often been on the attack in the mountains and is a very aggressive rider. Furthermore, he is a real diesel engine who only gets better and better and as fatigue has now really set him, he should come to the fore. The stage may be a bit too short to his liking but we still put our money on the lanky Canadian.


Today’s stage ended as a huge disappointment for Joaquim Rodriguez. The Spaniard went with Alberto Contador on the Col de la Madeleine and then paid for the effort on the final climb. He lost a lot of time in the finale so he clearly saved energy for a big attack in this stage. However, he has not been at his best level which is no big surprise as he is never good in the Dauphiné. On the other hand, the stage suits him pretty well as the climbs are steep and the final climb is one for puncheurs. Rodriguez will definitely go on the attack and he must be one of the favourites to win from a breakaway.


The other big loser was Bauke Mollema. The Dutchman had been strong in the first stages but today he lost more than 20 minutes. At the time of writing, Trek have given no explanation but if he is not suffering from any health issues, he will be very eager to bounce back. He has proved that the form is good and the stage is tailor-made for him. He is strong on very steep gradients and he is fast in this kind of uphill sprint. If he can join the right break on the first climb, he will be hard to beat.


Pierre Rolland has been too close on GC to try to attack but having seen what Bardet did today, he will definitely try tomorrow. The Frenchman seems to be in great form and he is never afraid of risking everything in a big attack. He is a master in going on long-distance attacks in the mountains and the stage suits him well. The problem is that he is not far behind in the GC so he may not get the freedom.


Daniel Navarro is in a similar position. He is just as aggressive as Rolland and has been riding really well in this race. We have little doubt that he will attack from affair as he is not afraid of risking what he has. His good prologue and bold attacks in stage 2 are a clear reflection of his good form and this kind of long-distance attacks have paid off for him in the past. Like Rolland, he has the big problem that he won’t get much freedom.


If it comes down to a battle between the favourites, we will put our money on Daniel Martin. On paper, he will find it difficult to follow Chris Froome on the Col du Noyer. However, the Brit will probably opt for caution as the final climb doesn’t really suit him so he may not launch an all-out attack. Martin has been at Contador’s level until now and unless Porte reovers, we doubt that the Irishman will be distanced, especially as there will be a strong headwind. The final climb is pretty easy and no one will be able to beat him in an uphill sprint.


We won’t rule Chris Froome out. The Brit is a very hungry rider and he would love to stamp his authority on the race by winning the final stage. It’s the final chance for him to test his form for the Tour de France so he may want to go all out in one final effort. If he does so on Col du Noyer, he won’t be easy to follow and he can time trial up the final climb like no other. Furthermore, he is pretty fast in an uphill sprint so unless the likes of Martin and Alaphilippe are still there, he won’t be easy to beat.


Richie Porte had a bad day in today’s stage but he could very well bounce back tomorrow. If he is back at 100%, he wants to prove himself on the Col du Noyer and then Froome is probably the only one who can follow. Froome is the fastest in a sprint but if the pair arrives together at the finish, we wouldn’t be surprised if Froome allows his friend to take the win.


Julian Alaphilippe has defied expectations as he has managed to stay with the best even on the big mountains. He still needs to prove that he can maintain that level for another day but if he is still strong, this is a stage that suits him very well. If it comes down to an uphill sprint, he is usually the fastest. The problem is that Dan Martin needs the bonus seconds so he may have to work for his teammate.


Another scenario that has to be taken into consideration is a late attack. If a small group is still together on the final climb and Froome is isolated, it won’t be easy to keep things together for a sprint. This could open the door for an attack from Louis Meintjes who is no threat to the biggest favourites. The Lampre-Merida rider has been very strong and he will be less marked than most of the other GC contenders.


Finally, we will point to another four breakaway jokers. George Bennett, Roman Kreuziger Bart De Clercq, Dario Cataldo have been riding really well in this race and are among the best climbers. Bennett, De Clercq and Cataldo will have the freedom to attack and have the climbing skills to finish it off. Kreuziger will probably try to go on the attack to be ready to support Contador in the finale but like today this could very well open the door for the Czech to go for a stage win.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Ryder Hesjedal (breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Joaquim Rodriguez (breakaway), Bauke Mollema (breakaway)

Outsiders: Pierre Rolland (breakaway), Daniel Navarro (breakaway), Daniel Martin, Chris Froome, Richie Porte

Jokers: Julian Alaphilippe, Louis Meintjes, George Bennett (breakaway), Roman Kreuziger (breakaway), Bart De Clercq (breakaway), Dario Cataldo (breakaway)



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