Chris Froome yesterday claimed overall victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné for the second time in three years – and just as in 2013, when he went on to win the Tour de France, his triumph in the Alps represents the best of omens.
The Sky rider’s triumph came thanks to back-to-back mountain-top victories, with yesterday’s win at Modane virtually a mirror image of Saturday’s win, in both style and strategy. Rather than a longer-distance assault, Froome opted for a late, knockout blow, accelerating furiously away in a devastating attack just 3km from the line.
On Saturday the race leader Tejay van Garderen withstood Froome’s onslaught just long enough to cling on to top spot overall by 18 seconds, but yesterday was a different story. Try as Van Garderen might to maintain the margin on the relatively gentle ascent to Modane, Froome inched clear, taking a 10-second advantage with a kilometre to go. By the summit, his margin had almost doubled.
Second across the line was Britain’s Simon Yates, consolidating fifth place overall – a hugely promising result for the young Lancashire-born climber which, while his Orica-GreenEdge team’s final Tour selection is not yet official, bodes well for his chances next month too.
Froome’s climbing performance is even more encouraging, particularly in a year when the Tour is likely to be decided in the mountains. After crashing out of the race last year, and a roller-coaster first half of the 2015 season, the Kenyan-born Briton is clearly back on course.
“I couldn’t have expected it to go any better today,” Froome said. “Of course, the legs were really tired after [Saturday] and the whole team was suffering because of the work they did [but] they just lifted themselves today. We had the yellow jersey in sight so everyone was just riding and giving everything.”
Yesterday’s less harsh terrain overall meant Team Sky’s work preparing the ground for Froome’s final attack was slightly more straightforward, given several other squads were present in larger numbers and could combine to keep the pace high behind a long-distance nine-man breakaway. By the summit of the penultimate ascent of Saint-André, only the British veteran Steve Cummings could stay out of the peloton’s clutches, in a ride that may well increase his chances of a spot in MTN-Qhubeka’s Tour de France line-up.
Neither a last-ditch downhill ambush by Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, fourth in last year’s Tour, nor a prolonged and somewhat futile acceleration on the final climb by 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali could unsettle Froome. Instead, after Dutch team-mate Wout Poels had shredded the bunch surrounding his leader to eight riders, Froome blasted past the courageous Cummings for a second straight show of mountain strength.
How such classy climbing by Froome will measure against the Tour’s much stronger field is impossible to say. But two factors may help counter that greater challenge. Froome said he is yet to hit top form, and his team, too, is likely to have a stronger line-up than at the Dauphiné – in which they performed extremely well.
In yesterday’s stage of the Tour de Suisse, in which Sky’s Geraint Thomas is second overall, Mark Cavendish finished well down on a mountainous trek that did him few favours. With 13 wins already this season for Cavendish, the flatter stages of the Tour de France’s first week are likely to be a very different story for cycling’s top sprinter.Reuse content