Chris Froome sealed his third win in the Critérium du Dauphiné today in a classy field of leading riders, sending a strong message to his Tour de France rivals. His previous 2 victories here presaged his brace of Tour victories and he looks very strong as the countdown to July 2nd begins in earnest.
Not only did Froome show strength and acceleration on some tough climbing over the last few days, his team looked incredibly strong too. Nieve, Henao, Poels and Landa do a fantastic job looking after their leader on the climbs and never get flustered by their opponents. It’s an intimidating set up and they have shown that they can mix up their tactics by pinging off individual attacks to mix things up when they’re not defending the yellow jersey. With Geraint Thomas, Froome’s right hand man, joining the team for the Tour, he not only gives Team Sky a Plan B if it goes awry for Froome, he has also shown the ability to protect their main GC man from some of the hurly burly at the front of the peloton on the flatter stages – the only time that Froome looked vulnerable at the Dauphiné.
Contador sported the yellow jersey for a while and looked impressive at the start with a storming mountain time trial in the prologue. But doubts arose as he seemed to weaken as the week progressed. Meanwhile French hopes were kept alive for a home win with excellent form shown by both Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot (2nd overall). Bardet’s stage win at Meribel showed true grit and determination. It’s incredible to think that it’s been 31 years since a French victory in the Tour. We have to go all the way back to Bernard Hinault in 1985 for that.
Dan Martin, third overall in the Daupine will definitely be one to look out for. His surges in the final stages of the climbs can be brutal and he could well be an outsider to win the GC if things go his way, and certainly a good bet for a podium finish.
Astana may have made a mistake by pinning their hopes on Fabio Aru. Despite stealing a stage finish from the sprinters on a lumpy, rolling stage, he was shown up on the true mountain stages and was well off the pace compared to the other big guns. Vincenzo Nibali says that he’ll be working as a domestique and preparing himself for the Olympics, but could the temptation to be a Tour/Giro double winner be too much for him? We look forward to an interesting tussle there.
Meanwhile we can also expect a bit of spice from within BMC as Richie Porte (one of the strongest climbers in the world) vies for top spot with teammate Teejay Van Garderen who will be trying to make a claim for himself in the Tour de Suisse this week.
It was fantastic to see our very own Steve Cummings win the final stage. While not a GC contender, the Wirral Wonder looks like he could wreak a bit of a havoc here and there and will be keen to pick up some more stage victories to add to his palmares. Young riders Adam Yates and Julian Alaphilippe look to be embarking on a rivalry that could last another decade – but for now they’re more likely to be fighting over the white, rather than yellow jersey.
As far as the sprinters are concerned John Degenkolb made a hugely popular return after his horrific training accident and we hope to see him reach his former heights. Otherwise, the combative Nasser Bouhanni looks like a man on a mission who won’t let anyone get in his way. He may need to tone down his aggression if he wants to avoid falling foul of the commissaires who were lenient towards him this week. And of course, with Peter Sagan winning a stage in the Tour de Suisse today, he’ll have his work cut out jostling for space with World Champion.
It’s all shaping up to be a classic tour but my money’s on Froome to seal a historic third victory.