Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) did what most had thought impossible at the start of the day as he took the leader’s jersey off Alberto Contador’s shoulders in the final stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné. Having been part of a very strong 23-rider group with several GC contenders, he managed to hold off a late surge by the Spaniard who tried to save his lead at the very last moment, to take the overall victory ahead of Contador and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol). Mikel Nieve saved the day for Sky by winning the stage on a day when Chris Froome blew up and fell out of the top 10.
Going into the final stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné, most were expecting a big showdown on the final climb to Couchevel between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome who were expected to battle it out for the overall win. However, Andrew Talansky had different plans and was not content with saving his third place in the overall standings.
In a very hectic and hilly first part of the race, the American went on the attack when he sensed that Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team was blowing apart. When the dust had settled, he found himself in an extremely strong 23-rider group that included fellow GC contenders Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) who were all sitting in the top 10 of the overall standings.
Sky had placed three riders in the group but as Froome was not there, Froome went on the attack with three other teammates. An isolated Contador was glued to a his wheel and a strong chase group was formed behind the leaders.
Froome asked teammates David Lopez and Richie Porte to drop back to assist him, leaving just Mikel Nieve in the front group. The team managed to bring the gap down from more than 3 minutes to just 1 minute and it seemed that the main contenders would get back on.
However, his team blew apart just before the penultimate climb, meaning that he had to put in an attack himself. As Contador was glued to his wheel, they started to look at each other, opening the door for Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang (both Astana) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) to set off in pursuit.
As soon as they hit the final climb, Contador attacked and it was now clear that Froome was not at 100%. The Brit suffered massively and had to stay with his teammates while Contador did his best to save his overall lead by time trialling his way back up towards the leaders.
The standstill had brought the gap back up to three minutes but at the top, Contador was just 1.15 behind and it seemed that he could still win the race overall. Being best-placed in the front group, however, Talansky saw his chance to take the biggest win of his career, and with the assistance of Van Den Broeck, he managed to hold off the multiple grand tour winner on the final climb to the finish.
The hard pace whittled it down to just a handful of riders but Nieve was always there. With 2km to go, the Basque made a bid to save the day for Sky and with Talansky and Van Den Broeck riding for GC, he got an immediate gap. Nieve held on to take a big solo victory while Bardet and Yates escaped in the finale to complete the podium.
9 seconds behind Nieve, Talansky fought his way across the line and now just had to wait for Contador to finish. The Spaniard had blown up on the final climb and instead of defending his lead, he almost dropped to third. In the end, he finished 2nd while Van Den Broeck moved into third.
5 minutes later, an injured and demoralized Froome fought his way across the line and dropped out of the overall top 10. Before his crash two days ago, the Brit had seemed to be unbeatable but the race ended as a huge disappointment for the Sky leader.
Froome still won the points competition while Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) ended as best climber. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) was the best young rider while Astana won the teams classification.
For many of the riders, this was their final race ahead of the Tour de France. Some will be back in action in the Route du Sud or the Tour de Slovenie next week and many will also do their national championships but for riders like Froome, Contador and Talansky their next outing are likely to be the world’s biggest race. Meanwhile, the WorldTour continues with the Tour de Suisse which ends in a week.
A short, difficult stage
After yesterday’s queen stage, there was no ceremonial end to the Criterium du Dauphiné. True to tradition, the race ended with a big mountain stage that brought the riders over just 131.5km from Megève to Courchevel Le-Praz. After a descending start, the riders went straight up the Cote de Domancy and continued onto the Col des Saisies in a very difficult first part before going down into the valley for a short flat stretch. The stage ended with the Cote de Montagny and the 5.9km climb to the finish in Courchevel whose 6.2% average gradient was set to produce the final selection in this year’s Criterium du Dauphiné.
After the very sunny start to the race, it was cloudier when 140 riders took the start of the final start. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) was the only rider not to head out onto the journey to Courchevel.
Chavanel attacks from the gun
As expected, the stage got off to a very fast start. Short, mountainous stages are usually very aggressive and Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) was keen to kick off the action, attacking on the opening descent. He was soon joined by Johannes Fröhlinger (Giant-Shimano), Julian Alaphilippe (OPQS) and Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) while one rider tried to bridge the gap. The chaser was brought back and the front quartet hit the first climb with a 20-second advantage.
That wasn’t enough though and at the top, they had been brought back as the attacks continued to fly. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was the first rider at the top, leading Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Tanel Kangert (Astana), Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC) over the top.
A dangerous group
In the gently rising section after the climb, the aggressive racing continued and suddenly a very dangerous 23-rider group had formed. David Lopez, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte (Sky), Tanel Kangert, Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Dani Navarro, Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Adam Yates (Orica), Igor Anton, John Gadret (Movistar), Romain Bardet, Alexis Gougeard, Jean-Christoph Péraud (AG2R), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Jurgen Van den Broeck, Tony Gallopin (Lotto), Kristjan Koren (Cannondale), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha), Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky (Garmin), Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp) made up the move that soon had a 55-second advantage.
With Kangert, Navarro, Yates, Bardet, Van Den Broeck and Talansky in the group, the escape presented an obvious threat for the GC but they continued to gain ground. At the 29km mark, they were 2.10 ahead, meaning that Talansky was the virtual leader of the race. At this point Frederik Willems (Lotto Belisol) became the first rider to abandon the race and a little later David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) also threw in the towel.
Tinkoff-Saxo and IAM took control of the peloton but they couldn’t prevent the gap from reaching a maximum of 3.20. This prompted Team Sky to react and the British team started to contribute to the pace-setting.
As the riders hit the Col des Saisies, Chris Froome (Sky) attacked with his three teammates Vasil Kiryienka, Danny Pate and Geraint Thomas and initially only Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM) could follow the Sky quartet. Later more riders joined them and in the end a chase group with Chris Froome, Vasil Kiryienka, Danny Pate, Geraint Thomas (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Luis Maté (Cofidis), Mikaël Chérel, Ben Gastauer (AG2R), Sébastien Reichenbach (IAM), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Dani Moreno (Katusha), Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Wilco Kelderman, Martijn Keizer (Belkin), Leo König (NetApp) had formed.
Koren first at the top
At the top of the climb, they were 2.35 behind the leaders and it was Sky doing all the work in a quest to get back in contention while an isolated Contador could only follow wheels. Koren took maximum points ahead of Gougeard, Hesjedal, Voeckler, Peraud, Van Den Broeck, Yates and Gallopin to protect the KOM lead of his teammate Alessandro De Marchi while the peloton was now 3.35 behind.
On the descent, Gallopin and Voeckler attacked and built up a 28-second lead but in the valley, they decided to wait for the group. Meanwhile, Westra and Porte decided to drop back to the chase group, leaving just 21 riders in front.
At this point, the peloton was 2.10 behind the Froome-Contador group, with the Tinkoff-Saxo team leading the chase. The chasers had brought their deficit down to 1.55 but in the front group, Ag2r were doing a lot of work to set up Bardet for the win.
Peraud and Gougeard got a lot of assistance from Gallopin and Hesjedal who were also working for their captains. Gallopin led Voeckler and Bagot across the line at the intermediate spriny while the peloton had now given up.
Porte works hard
When the chasers hit a small climb, they started to show signs of weakness. Pate and Kiryienka blew up and got dropped but Kiryienka managed to return to share the work with Keizer.
Porte also did a lot of work and with 32km to go, they had the gap down to a minute. At this point they asked Lopez to drop down but as there was no cohesion in the group, Porte, Lopez and Bakelants got an unintended gap.
Froome attacks again
They dropped back to the chasers but they were now losing ground. Froome sensed that his team had run out of steam and put in an attack but as he failed to shake off Contador, the two main contenders started to look at each other. Nibali exploited the situation to attack and he was joined by Fuglsang and Kelderman.
Behind, the chase group split in two as Contador and Froome came to a virtual standstill and they were now with Thomas, Cherel, Keizer and Kiryienka 2 minutes behind the front group that had started to explode. Porte and Lopez soon dropped back to them but they continued to lose ground and as they hit the penultimate climb, they were 2.40 behind.
Contador makes his move
Contador attacked right from the bottom and quickly got a gap over Froome who didn’t react and just stayed on the wheel of his teammates. Contador was quickly 25 seconds ahead and started to pass riders from the original break and chase group which had both splintered to pieces.
18km from the finish, the Nibali group was 45 seconds behind while Contador was at 1.30. At this point, Froome was already 2.25 behind and it was clear that it was all over for him.
Bardet takes off
When Peraud finished his work for his captain, Bardet attacked. Only Van Den Broeck, Talansky, Navarro, Gadret, Nieve, van Garderen, Yates and Trofimov could keep up with him and the latter soon fell off the pace.
It was now a fierce pursuit between the different groups, with Talansky and Van Den Broeck doing all the work in the front group. AS Talansky led them over the top, he was 45 seconds ahead of Nibali and 1.15 ahead of Contador. Froome was now with Lopez, Reichenbach and Anton but they were 2.55 behind.
Contador picks up König
Contador had picked up König and got a bit of assistance from the Czech in the valley. Meanwhile, Bardet and Talansky rode so fast on the descent that they briefly opened a gap but the front group was back together by the time they started the final climb.
The Nibali group had been really fast on the descent and was now just 20 seconds behind while Contador was still at 1.10. As soon as they started to climb, Contador again gained ground and with 2km to go, he had the gap down to 50 seconds.
Kelderman and Nibali had dropped Fuglsang and were getting closer to the front group. However, their momentum was stopped when Nieve launched an attack 3km from the finish.
Talansky and Van Den Broeck just continued their steady pace-setting and so the Basque quickly got a gap. Meanwhile, Contador had dropped König and after getting some assistance from Koren, he was again on his own until he picked up Trofimov.
Kelderman dropped Nibali and was again getting closer to the Talansky group. Meanwhile, Nibali had completely blown up and was even passed by his teammate Fuglsang.
Just before the flamme rouge, Van Garderen set off in pursuit while Navarro and Gadret dropped off. The American got a small gap but was soon passed by Yates and Bardet when the latter had launched an attack.
Nieve saves the day for Sky
There was no way that they were going to catch Nieve though and the Basque held on to take another win in a big mountain stage. Bardet beat Yates in the sprint for second while Talansky led Van Den Broeck across the line in fourth.
He now just had to wait for Contador to finish but the Spaniard had exploded in the final section. Despite passing both Nibali and Fuglsang, he finished the stage in 10th and dropped to 2nd in the overall standings. Five minutes later, an embattled Froome crossed the line, having lost his title as Dauphiné champion.
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