Two of cycling’s “Fab Four” will test their mettle in next week’s Critérium du Dauphiné (June 7-14), with Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) set to face off in the important one-week race across the French Alps.
Long seen as a measuring stick of success in the Tour de France, several top contenders for July’s big prize will be revving up their engines. The other top Tour favorites — Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) — will not be starting. Contador is hot off his emotional victory at the Giro d’Italia, while Quintana remains in Colombia. Both are expected to race the Route du Sud (June 18-21) ahead of the Tour.
Success at the Dauphiné doesn’t always foreshadow Tour success, however. Last year, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) beat Contador in a fantastic, final-day tactical coup, yet neither managed to finish the 2014 Tour. In sharp contrast, Nibali rode discreetly to seventh overall at the Dauphiné only to steamroll across France a month later.
Nibali has never won the Dauphiné, and based on his performances so far this season, it’s unlikely he will be firing on all cylinders next week. Froome, meanwhile, likes to ride for results in June, winning Dauphiné stages in both 2013 and 2014, while capturing the overall in 2013 — the same year he won the Tour. Last year, he won the opening two stages before crashing and finishing 12th overall.
The 67th Dauphiné lines up with a quality startlist, including seven of the top-10 finishers from last year’s Tour.
Other big names include former two-time winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Jean-Christophe Péraud and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Tony Martin and French sensation Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step).
Joining Talansky and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin) from the United States are Tejay van Garderen and Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing), recently crowned U.S. champion Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Ian Boswell (Sky), and Lawson Craddock, Chad Haga and Caleb Fairly (Giant-Alpecin), the latter two who recently completed the Giro.
This year’s route features no individual time trials, but a 24.5km team time trial in stage 3 should prove decisive. Stage 5 traces the same exact route featured in next month’s Tour. Heavy climbing days in stages 5, 7, and 8 should crown the overall winner.