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Dauphiné roundtable: Is Thomas a bona fide Tour contender?

The Critérium du Dauphiné is traditionally the marquee tune-up event for the Tour de France. Sky’s Geraint Thomas rode to victory in the one-week stage race this year. What did we learn from the 2018 edition of the Dauphiné? Let’s roundtable!

The winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné has gone on to win the Tour de France four times in the last six years. Will Sky’s Geraint Thomas be a bona fide Tour contender if Chris Froome drops out of contention for any reason?

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Yes. The fact that he has cycling’s strongest (and richest) group of domestiques behind him will make him a contender, even if he lacks the grand tour chops of Romain Bardet or Vincenzo Nibali.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Definitely not. He belongs to the unfortunate 33.3% of Dauphiné winners who never end up being true Tour contenders. Andrew Talansky, Jakob Fuglsang, and Janez Brajkovic, please extend a warm welcome to your new compatriot, Mr. Geraint Thomas!

Andrew Hood @eurohoody: Not likely. Thomas has never been within sight of the Tour podium, so even if Froome flames out or doesn’t race, it will be a stretch for Thomas to ride into yellow deep into the Tour. That being said, Sky should take important gains on its rivals in the TTT. And the team’s overall strength and experience will help anyone on Sky, be it Thomas, Poels, or even Bernal.

Dane Cash @danecash: Yeah-ish. He’s extremely talented and has a well-balanced skill set, but we haven’t seen him put it to use over three weeks. I’d put five or six guys ahead of him on the Tour contender list — but if a bunch of things go his way and several other riders crash out, I don’t think it’s completely outside the realm of possibility that he finds himself in the mix for yellow.

Other than the race winner, who upped his Tour stock the most over the course of the week?

Fred: Adam Yates’s stock took a plunge when he broke his pelvis at the Volta a Catalunya — that’s a tricky injury that can be extremely serious. So to see him rebound with a stage win and second overall at the Dauphine should send his stock rising in the leadup to the Tour. It’s not a fair comparison, but his brother’s success at the Giro has probably also sent Adam’s stock up a few notches as we head into the Tour. Those Yates boys are all grown up now, and ready to drop everyone on the climbs.

Spencer: Romain Bardet — but not because he finished third overall. His Tour prospects are looking good because he had super-domestique Pierre Latour close at hand in the mountains. (He was seventh overall.) And because the Ag2r La Mondiale team was a respectable seventh in the team time trial, a discipline that will prove important in this Tour.

Andy: Tao Geoghegan Hart — don’t ask me how to pronounce his name, but wow, what a week for many who are saying could be Sky’s next big thing. He’s proving he can ride with the best, with a Vuelta a España start likely in the cards later this season.

Dane: Adam Yates seems to have recovered from his Catalunya crash. He looked very strong on the climbs this week, and the Tour is less likely to hinge on chrono miles than this Dauphiné. I expect Yates to be in the thick of the yellow jersey battle come July.

Who should be hitting the panic button after a lackluster Dauphiné?

Fred: Nobody. With the Tour falling a week later than normal this year, the Dauphiné has lost a bit of its buzz because it’s an entire month before the big show. That leaves PLENTY of time for college exam-style cramming before the big test. Vincenzo Nibali finished 21 minutes down, and I’m not worried. Ilnur Zakarin was a non-factor, and I couldn’t care less. If anything, I’m a bit more worried about those guys who are absolutely flying at the Dauphine — have they peaked too soon? Other than Geraint Thomas, nobody seemed to be on tip-top form.

Spencer: Last week I was giving Vincenzo Nibali credit for playing it cool in the peloton, on a slow, steady build to the Tour. But Vincenzo, 20 minutes behind overall!? He should be at least near the top 10 to feel confident ahead of July. Plus, his Bahrain team was terrible in that TTT.

Andy: Vincenzo Nibali was the week’s nowhere man. What happens in June rarely counts in July and the veteran Italian knows all about peaking. Yet his relative absence across the week could be setting off some warning signs. Nibali could be in full-on bluff mode without any intention of using the Dauphiné for little more than a race-speed training camp, or he could be well off where he should be. Take away his thrilling Milano-Sanremo win this spring, and Nibali has not posted any significant results. It’s all in the for the Tour for the Shark and he’s saving his bite for July.

Dane: I’ll go with Warren Barguil and the Fortuneo-Samsic brass that decided to make a splash signing him over the offseason. Barguil lit up the mountains in the Tour last year but has been awfully quiet so far this season. The Dauphiné was yet another dud of a race for the French climbing talent.

On the heels of some very compelling editions, this year’s Dauphiné GC battle was a little light on the tension. Is that on the riders or the race?

Fred: Every year we have the argument of Dauphiné vs. Tour de Suisse for the better pre-Tour race, and every year the Dauphiné wins convincingly. So it’s fitting that the date change of the Tour would upend the pecking order here. The lackluster Dauphiné stems entirely from the date change. The overall lineup of Tour contenders was comparatively weak (Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa — all at Suisse) and the contenders who were there probably aren’t willing to push it to the limit. So blame those annoying World Cup fans, not the contenders!

Spencer: That is on the race. There are plenty of riders in the mix that have the chops to attack and mix things up. Dan Martin and Adam Yates both proved up to the task with their stage wins late in the week. The organizers made a mistake in starting the race with a prologue and then hitting the riders with a TTT four days later. The race was over before it even hit the mountains. How about a lumpy Ardennes-style early stage a la the Mur de Bretagne?

Andy: Blame the TTT. Sky took out nearly a minute on Mitchelton-Scott, and a lot more on everyone else. That changed the dynamics in what were four intense days in the mountains. Thomas could ride in defensive mode across the Alps. Efforts by Ag2r La Mondiale and others to shake up the race were largely nullified by Thomas’s huge TTT head start. A similar TTT in the first week of the Tour de France could have a similar muzzling effect on the race.

Dane: This one was all on the race, for deciding that stage 4 should be a team time trial. I’ll never waste a good opportunity to bash TTTs. They’re boring and they basically disqualify riders on lesser teams from GC contention. They’re bad enough in three-week races, but in a one-weeker? Race-ruiningly bad. This race was practically over from the moment Sky crossed the line.

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