Roundtable: Mountains and mayhem at the Critérium du Dauphiné
With the Tour de France now 12 days away, what are the key takes from last week's wild and wacky edition of the key tuneup race?
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This year’s Critérium du Dauphiné was a wild ride of thrills, spills, and summit finishes.
Jumbo-Visma dominated the action until it lost two of its three leaders to crashes. Team Ineos looked on the back foot. EF Pro Cycling surprised them both with a late raid on the yellow jersey. And Sepp Kuss finished the race in style with a stage win that sealed his position as one of the greatest climbers in the peloton.
As if that wasn’t enough, Saturday saw a dramatic edition of Il Lombardia, where Jakob Fuglsang’s powerful victory was overshadowed by a terrible crash for Remco Evenepoel and a rogue public vehicle colliding with Max Schachmann.
It’s been a thrilling week of racing and the Tour de France is now just around the corner, so there’s plenty to talk about.
What’s next for Sepp Kuss? At 25-years-old, he has time on his side. What trajectory do you see him taking?
Andrew (@eurohoody): Kuss is emerging as America’s best climber in a generation. Could he develop into a GC rider? Most certainly. Though he is more on the side of a pure climber, he can improve his TT chops to defend on the right kind of course. A Tour winner? Hmm, maybe not, but he certainly has the caliber to win week-long stage races and perhaps even a Giro or a Vuelta — exciting times ahead.
Jim (@jim_c_1985): Kuss has said that he would be open to trying to challenge in three-week races – but that he needs time to adapt to the pressure-cooker of expectation on a team leader. Sepp has led Jumbo-Visma at a number of smaller races, including July’s Vuelta a Burgos, so the next logical step would be to give him more of the same but at WorldTour stage races such as Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné. However, riding on a team with so many GC talents does pose a tricky obstacle to navigate.
James: Well Sepp has already said that he would like to lead a team in a grand tour, but things are going to accelerate after his performance in the Dauphiné. Certainly, he could lead a Giro or a Vuelta for Jumbo-Visma, something that would work within a pre-existing structure as he evolves. But after the Dauphiné, plenty of teams could be interested in hiring him as an out-and-out team leader, something that will increase his pay scale but also the pressure and responsibility. One thing proving to be increasingly certain is that he has the talent to be a team leader. It just depends on how quickly Sepp wants to take that step up.
After Evenepoel’s crash, the car on the course at Lombardia, the dangerous descent in Dauphiné, and the Tour of Poland sprint, what can realistically be done to improve rider safety?
Jim: While there’s only so much a race organizer can do to prevent the endless list of things that could go wrong at a bike race, more attention needs to be paid when riders voice concerns. Both the Sormano descent at Il Lombardia and the downhill sprint at Poland have raised cries of disapproval from the peloton in the past – why didn’t race organizers or governing bodies do more to address these issues when they’re so vocally raised?
James: These are the best cyclists in the world. Negotiating the worst conditions is part of their job. The real issue here is that you have the world’s strongest riders in the world who have not raced in months, suddenly re-starting their season with the world’s biggest races. Suddenly every day is like the first stage of the Tour de France, fast and nervous. And there are surprises all day long. Riders are exploding and crashing unexpectedly all over the place.
Andrew: Cycling is the world’s most dangerous sport, and it doesn’t have to be. Other high-danger sports — alpine ski racing and Formula 1 — have already done a lot to dramatically improve safety. Cycling is way behind the curve on safety, and after what happened these past few weeks, the sport is lucky things did not turn out even worse. The UCI has taken some key steps to enhance safety at races, but more urgent action is needed to give the world’s best bike racers the safety and respect they deserve.
Martínez’s victory at the Dauphiné is a major boost for EF Pro Cycling before the Tour. Where would you place them in the pecking order?
James: Firstly, don’t forget the team skipped some of the early races and is hoping to peak in the Tour. I believe that the team is going to an altitude camp this week, and perhaps one of their leaders will be overwhelmingly dominant, but personally, I think the strength of the team is the power of numbers. Between Urán, Higuita, and Martínez they have three very dangerous riders that could upset the methodical approach favored by Ineos and Jumbo-Visma. Improvisation is the team’s strength.
Andrew: The team is always one of the most entertaining to follow simply because they consistently pip the noses of the bigger teams. This year’s team is particularly well-suited for the 2020 Tour route. If its riders can get through the first two weeks with their GC chances intact, a podium run could very well be within reach. David vs Goliath, what’s not to like?
Jim: I’m not sure they have a team able to challenge for the yellow jersey, but they sure could throw a cat among the pigeons with stage victories and a top-five on GC. The team is packed with explosive riders who could grab stages on this wild and hilly Tour. With Woods, Higuita, and Martinéz they’ve got the firepower, and with the experience of Van Garderen and Urán behind them, they got the direction and know-how.
What is your one major takeaway from the Dauphiné with regards to this summer’s Tour?
Jim: There’s still plenty of room for a ‘wildcard’ to unsettle the race. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in Roglič, Bernal, and Dumoulin, but there are so many dark horses that put in quietly impressive rides – look at how Pogačar flew under the radar to take fourth overall, or Pinot, who though disappointed with second, looked strong throughout. There’s even time for a reshuffling of the pecking order within teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pavel Sivakov is one step further up the ladder than Froome and Thomas within Team Ineos in a few weeks’ time.
Andrew: The Dauphiné underscored how unpredictable the 2020 COVID Tour could be. Form and condition are highly unpredictable in this jumbled, messed up approach to the Tour. Jumbo-Visma looked unbeatable until they weren’t. Ineos looks a bit under-cooked, but the Tour finale is still more than one month away. Some others will force their way into the frame. I’m still convinced this year’s Tour will see a “surprise” winner — i.e., someone not on Ineos or Jumbo-Visma.
James: I’ll give you two. Jumbo-Visma is the new Ineos but this condensed calendar is providing surprises galore. And it will continue into the Tour.