By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong makes his penultimate start as a professional bike racer at the 57th Dauphiné Libéré June 5-12 in what will be his final warm-up before the 2005 Tour de France.
Armstrong’s European return and a climbing stage up Mont Ventoux highlight the 2005 Dauphiné, which should be one of the most exciting races of the season.
The 33-year-old hasn’t raced in Europe since the Tour of Flanders in April and will be among the favorites for the eight-day race, which includes a spectacular course across the French Alps. In addition to the legendary Ventoux, there are two time trials (prologue and the 46.5km stage 3); a tough day across the heart of the Alps; and an exciting finale that covers much of the 1980 world championship course in Sallanches.
The Dauphiné is Armstrong’s preferred pre-Tour race. He has competed in the French race five out of six years, skipping it in 2001 when he raced and won the Tour de Suisse after the inclusion of a climbing time trial. Armstrong has won four stages and the overall Dauphiné twice (2002-03).
Missing in the start in Aix-les-Bains will be last year’s winner, Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who took more than two minutes out of Armstrong on the Ventoux climbing time trial only to flame out in July’s Tour. Mayo will be racing the Tour de Suisse instead.
Also missing will be Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), who will defend his title at the Swiss tour. T-Mobile will bring a strong team, however, headlined by Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden.
Other Tour contenders stretching their legs include Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Floyd Landis (Phonak), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole) and Carlos Sastre (CSC).
As always, the Dauphine is heavy on climbs, and that’s what draws the Tour’s big guns. This year’s course is no exception – organizers have delivered a challenging course that’s sure to keep interest until the final day. The prologue is no walk in the park and should provide with some significant time gaps right off the start with a 100m climb up the Côte du Biolay in the first 2km. Stage 1 is a long haul that pushes 224km west to Givors, hitting two Cat. 4s and the 715m Cat. 3 Côte de la foret de Chambaran midway through the day, nothing that should stop the sprinters from what looks like their only chance. The 187km second stage heads further north to Chauffailles, hitting a Cat. 3 and Cat. 4 between 90 and 110km, but it’s the Cat. 4 Col de la Cépée some 15km before the finish that could provide a launching pad for stage-hunters. Wednesday’s 46.5km race against the clock will prove decisive in the final GC and provide Armstrong with a final exam before the Tour. The course hits the punchy Cat. 3 Côte de Paimpillod with nearly 1000 feet of climbing at 20km. From there, it’s a fast run back to the start-finish in Roanne. Thursday’s run down the Rhone Valley is dead flat until the road goes straight up the fearsome Mont Ventoux. The course takes the approach through Bedoin, and the legendary climb needs no introduction. Will Armstrong rise to the bait and go for the stage win? After all, Big Tex has never won atop the Giant of Provence and it’s his last chance at history. Friday’s hilly stage 5 is a nice appetizer for what lies in wait in the Alps. The 219km course features no less than six rated climbs, including two Cat. 2s, but it’s the 787m Cat. 3 Côte des 4 Seigneurs 9km from the finish in Grenoble, that could spring the stage winner. Saturday’s mountainous stage north of Albertville hits some cols familiar to all the Tour contenders, including three Cat. 1s and the beyond-category Col de Joux-Plane before the plunge to Morzine. That’s where Armstrong suffered his worst Tour bonk in 2000.
Sunday’s finale into Sallanches should provide plenty of fireworks, with no less than seven passes over the Cat. 4 Côte de Domancy 246 meters above the finish over much of the same course as the epic 1980 world championships that saw Bernard Hinault escape with the rainbow jersey.
Stages, 57th Criterium de Dauphiné Libéré (June 5-12)
Sunday, June 5: Aix-les-Bains, prologue, 7.9km
Monday, June 6: Stage 1, Aix-les-Bains to Givors, 224km
Tuesday, June 7: Stage 2, Givors to Chaufailles, 187km
Wednesday, June 8: Stage 3, Roanne-Roanne, ITT, 46.5km
Thursday, June 9: Stage 4, Tournon- to Mont Ventoux, 182km
Friday, June 10: Stage 5, Vaison-la-Romaine to Grenoble, 219km
Saturday, June 11: Albertville to Morzine-Avoriaz, 155km
Sunday, June 12: Morzine-Avoriaz to Sallanches, 115km
Bouygues Telecom, Crédit Agricole, Cofidis and Française des Jeux (FRA), Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile (GER), Davitamon and Quick Step (BEL), CSC (DEN), Euskaltel, Baléares, Liberty and Saunier Duval (SPA), Discovery Channel (USA), Fassa Bortolo, Domina Vacanze, Liquigas and Lampre (ITA), Rabobank (NED), Phonak (SWI) and Ag2r (FRA – non-ProTour)
Winners since 1990:
2004 Iban Mayo (Sp)
2003 Lance Armstrong (USA)
2002 Lance Armstrong (USA)
2001 Christophe Moreau (F)
2000 Tyler Hamilton (USA)
1999 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz)
1998 Armand de las Cuevas (F)
1997 Udo Bölts (G)
1996 Miguel Indurain (S)
1995 Miguel Indurain (Sp)
1994 Laurant Dufaux (Swi)
1993 Laurant Dufaux (Swi)
1992 Charly Mottet (F)
1991 Lucho Herrera (Col)
1990 Robert Millar (GB)