Colombier preview highlights challenging Dauphiné route

New Tour climb to feature in warm-up race

Expect the Tour de France favorites to show up in droves at the start line of the 64th Critérium du Dauphiné as the highly anticipated return of the Grand Colombier will give them a taste of what awaits come July.

The Grand Colombier, set to make its Tour debut in July, is the centerpiece of a mountainous, challenging Dauphiné route that will provide a telling preview of who’s up for the task of taking on the Tour.

Set for June 3-10, the 2012 Dauphiné will feature one prologue, one longer time trial and three difficult climbing stages, including the Grand Colombier climb in stage 5.

The Grand Colombier is back in the Dauphiné for the first time in 24 years. In 1988, Charly Mottet was first over the climb and went on to finish third in that year’s edition.

The climb — with ramps as steep as 19 percent — has featured in other races, such as the Tour de l’Ain and the Tour de l’Avenir, and will make its highly anticipated debut in the Tour de France later this summer.

While this year’s Tour de France course is long on time trials and favors the likes of defending champion Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, the Dauphiné could give climbers like Andy Schleck a chance to bolster their confidence.

The route opens with a 5.7km course through the streets of Grenoble, where Evans pulled the maillot jaune from Schleck’s shoulder’s on the penultimate day of last year’s Tour.

Three transition stages should favor the pack’s sprinters and breakaway artists, with hilly parcours that will make things difficult to control for teams looking to set up their captains for a run at the overall.

The 53km time trial from Villié-Morgon to Bourg-en-Bresse favors the specialists in what’s a rolling, power course.

The Dauphiné closes with three climbing stages that will surely crown the overall winner.

The 186.5km fifth stage from Saint-Trivier-sur-Moignans to Rumilly tackles the Grand Colombier, but the climb comes midway through the stage, allowing any straggling riders at least with a chance to chase back on.

The six-climb, 166.5km sixth stage from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine tackles two first-category climbs as well as the fearsome Col de Joux-Plane, which tops out high above a plunging descent into Morzine.

The 126km, five-climb final stage has the potential to blow things up, with the first-category Col du Corbier thrown in as a late-race obstacle with 23km to go before a short, but steep third-category climb to the finish line to Châtel.

64th Critérium du Dauphiné
Prologue (June 3): Grenoble-Grenoble, 5.7km (ITT)
Stage 1 (June 4): Seyssins to Saint-Vallier, 187km
Stage 2 (June 5): Lamastre to Saint-Félicien, 160km
Stage 3 (June 6): Givors to La Clayette, 167km
Stage 4 (June 7): Villié-Morgon to Bourg-en-Bresse, 53km (ITT)
Stage 5 (June 8): Saint-Trivier-su-Moignans to Rumilly, 186.5km
Stage 6 (June 9): Saint-Alban-Leysse to Morzine, 166.5km
Stage 7 (June 10): Morzine to Châtel, 126km