A trio of climbing stages in the Alps this weekend will tell us who will win the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Will it also tell us who will win the Tour de France?
Much is made of the Dauphiné as a barometer for the yellow jersey, and rightly so. Since its inception in the 1940s, slotted onto the calendar about a month ahead of the Tour, the weeklong French race across the spine of the Alps draws out the peloton’s top names.
Most are there to measure their strength against their rivals just weeks ahead of the Tour’s start.
Yet the Dauphiné winner is far from being a harbinger of a future Tour champ. In fact, only 10 Dauphiné winners have gone on to win the Tour de France in the same season.
The race grew its reputation as being a “Tour-maker” in part because all five of the Tour’s five-time winners all won the Dauphiné at least once en route to winning of their yellow jerseys.
And it makes sense. A strong June would naturally indicate a strong July.
Yet the peculiarities of the Dauphiné route, especially with its penchant of delivering the surprise winner, often sees a winner in June who is far from the spoils of July.
Andrew Talansky, for example, won the Dauphiné in 2014 in a daring raid, but never finished better than 10th in the Tour. On the other end of the scale, Alberto Contador won two yellow jerseys (at least officially) en route to his grand tour sweep, but never won the Dauphiné.
Tour winners want to be in peak shape in July, not June, so that’s another reason that the race serves up the occasional surprise winner.
No matter who wins, the eight-stage Dauphiné typically serves up delicious racing among the Tour de France contenders. Even if a rider doesn’t win, a sharp observer discerns who has the legs and who doesn’t.
You can be sure sport directors and rivals are squaring each other up all this week.
What have we seen so far in this Dauphiné among the top contenders?
To be honest, not too much. Geraint Thomas‘s winning flare Thursday was just that, a flare. Even the time trial didn’t give too much away. At 16km, the time differences were not going to be that big. Organizers like that because they want a close race. A decade or so again, the Dauphiné would often see a big, Tour-style time trial.
G ON THE LINE!@GeraintThomas86 catches a reduced bunch off-guard with a late attack in the final kilometre to win stage5⃣
What a finish 🙌🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/8FX8cYfm9U
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) June 3, 2021
A big reason grand tour racing is so competitive these days is that there isn’t a rider who can take huge gains against the clock and then hang on in the mountains. That’s how Miguel Indurain used to win, and it’s how riders like Tom Dumoulin should have been winning.
With a relatively middle-distance course Tuesday, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions about the Tour from the race against the clock. The only real conclusion so far is that Thomas is looking sharp, but we’ll know more by Sunday.
The Olympic year is throwing another twist into the Dauphiné-Tour plot lines.
Neither of the top Tour riders in the peloton right now — Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič — are racing this week. Pogačar is racing the Tour of Slovenia instead, and Roglič is not racing at all this month, in part to be as fresh as possible for July, and to prepare for Tokyo.
Last year, Roglič was flying at the Dauphiné, but ran out of gas at the Tour. Will his new timetable deliver yellow? Jumbo-Visma is certainly banking on it.
When a Dauphiné winner rolls hot into July, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Looking back at Thomas’s 2018 Tour win doesn’t seem such a surprise when you reconsider what he did at the Dauphiné that year. No one was stronger in the climbs, and he confirmed it in July.
Right now, Thomas is in pole position to win this Dauphiné. Will it mean that he will win the Tour? Odds say probably not.
Riders who won the Dauphiné and Tour de France in the same year:
Louison Bobet — 1955
Jacques Anquetil — 1963
Eddy Merckx — 1971
Luis Ocaña — 1973
Bernard Thévénet — 1975
Bernard Hinault — 1979, 1981
Miguel Indurain — 1995
Bradley Wiggins — 2012
Chris Froome — 2013, 2015
Geraint Thomas — 2018
Lance Armstrong — 2002, 2003 (results stricken from official results)