As the clock counts down on Sir Bradley Wiggins for his Hour Record bid on Sunday evening, the last phase of Chris Froome’s build-up towards the Tour de France will be well underway.
Early on Sunday afternoon, the 2013 Tour de France winner will have raced the first of the eight stages of the Critérium du Dauphiné, the French event traditionally regarded as the key warm-up race as preparation before cycling’s toughest challenge starts next month.
The opening stage, a rolling 132-kilometre ride from Ugine to Albertville, is not exceptionally difficult. However, the team time trial on Tuesday’s third stage followed by four back-to-back Alpine mountain stages will be far more relevant as reference points for Froome and Team Sky’s form, with each one featuring summit finishes, from Thursday through to the finale a week tomorrow at Modane Valfréjus.
Faithful to its role of dress rehearsal for the Tour, Tuesday’s 24.5 km team time trial, is a very similar distance to the Tour’s equivalent stage, a 28km team time trial at the end of the first week. Equally, Thursday’s ascent of Pra-Loup, preceded by the massive Col d’Allos, is a carbon copy of the Tour’s 17th stage.
For Froome, a standout performance in the Dauphiné is not crucial, but it would act as a much-needed reminder to his rivals that he is up for the Tour. Compared to the Dauphiné in 2013 – which he won – or last year – when he was in blisteringly good form until injuries after crashing heavily wrecked his chances of a repeat win – Froome has had a fairly unremarkable pre-Tour de France season so far. His one major win, beating Alberto Contador in the Tour of Andalusia, was back in mid-February, and since then Froome’s best result has been third in the Tour of Romandie.
Two of Froome’s biggest rivals in the Tour, Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana, are not taking part but the defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali and last year’s Dauphiné winner Andrew Talansky should provide daunting enough rivals.
Apart from Froome, another seven Britons will be taking part, but one of them, Alex Dowsett, could be forgiven for keeping an eye on another two-wheeled event back in London tomorrow. The Essex-born rider is the current title-holder of the Hour Record, having clocked a distance of 52.937km last month in Manchester, and has not ruled out another crack at it after Wiggins’ bid.
Dowsett will be acting as team powerhouse for his Movistar squad on Tuesday’s team time trial, while his team leader Alejandro Valverde – twice a winner of the Dauphiné in 2008 and 2009 – is an outside favourite for outright victory.
Meanwhile the Bury-born climbers, twins Adam and Simon Yates, will both be looking to make their mark on the stiffer mountain stages next weekend.Reuse content