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Tour favorites converge on Dauphiné

Nearly all the favorites for July’s Tour de France are converging next week in the French Alps for an important battle of form and intentions.

The 69th Critérium du Dauphiné boasts a stellar start list, with most of the Tour-bound favorites returning to competition following breaks after the spring racing campaign.

Three-time winner Chris Froome (Sky) leads the way, looking to win his fourth Dauphiné crown in five years. Team Sky has won five of the past six editions and brings a strong support squad behind Froome, who hasn’t raced since the Tour de Romandie. Froome is winless so far in 2017 and will be keen to show he’s ready to fight for a fourth yellow jersey with a strong showing next week.

Nipping on his heels will be riders he’ll be squaring off against in July, a group led by Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). Despite winning just about every other major stage race he’s started, Contador has never won the Dauphiné.

Bardet, who comes off a training camp at Sierra Nevada, is aiming higher after finishing second to Froome in 2016.

“The Dauphiné is the last big meeting before the Tour, and last year was a great experience after taking second place in a tense final,” Bardet said. “It was also tinged with regret on the penultimate stage, where just a few more seconds in that breakaway could have resulted in a more striking result.”

Others lining up include former winners Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac), as well as Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Fabio Aru (Astana), and Louis Meintjes (UAE-Emirates).

The only major name missing is Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who finished second in the Giro d’Italia on Sunday and is taking a rest before tackling the second leg of his Giro-Tour attempt.

The eight-stage route (June 4-11) includes a 23.5-kilometer time trial that will help Froome. A few new wrinkles include a first-ever ascent of Mont du Chat, which measures nearly 9km and carries a 10 percent gradient, and a new route up Alpe d’Huez via the Col de Sarenne before riding up the final 4km of the legendary climb.

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