With the Tour de France roughly a month away, some of the best riders in the world are set to descend on Critérium du Dauphiné (June 5-12 ) this weekend as they look to fine tune their form and condition ahead of their July targets.
The start list for the 2022 Dauphiné may lack Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) but it’s stacked with three-time winner Chris Froome, and Tour de France contenders Primož Roglič, and the likes of Wout van Aert and American Brandon McNulty.
Also read: Critérium du Dauphiné race preview
VeloNews pick seven stars to follow during the French stage race.
Team: Israel-Premier Tech
Reason to watch: You’d think he’d already won the Tour de France given the reaction from some quarters after Froome’s 11th place in the 2ndMercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes earlier this week.
Look, the opposition at the French one-day race was decent but not exactly stellar – backed up by the fact that Israel-Premier Tech went one-two and they’d only won four races during the entire season up until this point. That said, Froome hasn’t been at the pointy end of a race since his Dauphiné crash three years ago and even the most vehement of Froome critics would have to acknowledge that progress has finally been made.
Now whether that’s enough to warrant the hype and hyperbole remains to be seen but the Dauphiné will provide a sterner test of exactly where Froome sits in comparison to genuine Tour de France contenders.
In the back of everyone’s mind should be the fact that miraculous comebacks are possible. Just look at Mark Cavendish, for example. And if you had to pick any athlete from the last 10 years who would have been consistently competitive against the Pogčar-Roglič combination it would have been Froome at his peak. Word in the peloton is that he’s already back to his 2019 levels too. Even as I type this I’m envisaging a reality in which Froome is competitive at the Tour.
Reason to watch: The Slovenian hasn’t raced since a lukewarm showing at the Tour of the Basque Country in April and spent his time since then nursing an injury and telling anyone who will listen that he’s not a top-favorite for this year’s Tour de France.
The Dauphiné will offer up real evidence as to whether the 32-year-old has merely been sandbagging or if young upstart Jonas Vingegaard really is the prime leader. If Roglic is beaten by the Dane then it will only increase the media speculation about leadership at the Tour, a feature Jumbo-Visma will be keen to avoid.
Roglic doesn’t necessarily have to be in peak condition now — there’s no good in that — but he does need to demonstrate that he’s healthy and that his mid-season issues are behind him.
Team: Ineos Grenadiers
Reason to watch: There was definitely talk of Geoghegan Hart racing the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year but for whatever reason that never happened and now the 27-year-old is on the long-list for the Tour de France instead.
Presumably that’s as a super domestique role given that Rod Ellingworth has talked up the prospects of Adam Yates and Dani Martinez, while also dampening the prospects of leadership for Geraint Thomas. The Dauphiné, however, provides Geoghegan Hart with a primetime audition for the Tour. Yates, Martinez, and Thomas are all missing from the line-up and the Londoner is easily the most experienced GC rider on the seven-man roster.
Whether he’s primed for a GC tilt isn’t clear — Ineos just releases rosters, not plans — but with a white canvas in front of him Geoghegan Hart has the freedom to remind everyone of his qualities as a leader.
At some point in the coming days someone is going to push a microphone in his face and ask, “well, Jai just bounced back and won the Giro, is it your turn?” and Geoghegan Hart is probably the sort of athlete that will find such an inquest quite antagonistic.
Who wouldn’t? He could let his legs do the talking though, because a strong Dauphine would both cement a Tour spot and put to bed some of the chatter surrounding his form post 2020.
Reason to watch: Third in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, and enjoying a quietly impressive start to this campaign, Haig is on course for leadership at the Tour de France in July.
The Dauphine marks his final appointment before Copehagen but after Mikel Landa’s third overall in the Giro d’Italia the Australian will be aiming to provide a similar result in the next eight weeks. First up the Dauphiné, a race Haig has consistently competed in during his career, and in which he finished fifth last year.
There’s plenty of terrain on which the 28-year-old can get stuck into but what will matter most is demonstrating continued progress heading into July. Bahrain have won every team’s classification in grand tours since last year’s Giro d’Italia and while that’s a title the team will want to continue into the Tour, Haig’s focus will be entirely on his own performance.
Reason to watch: With Richard Carapaz rumored to be on his way back from Ineos Grenadiers, it’s now on Mas to respond with some marquee performances in both the Dauphiné and then the Tour de France.
Sixth in the Tour last year, and second in the Vuelta a few weeks later, the Spaniard has become an incredibly consistent performer over the last few years when it comes to three week racing but those standards cannot afford to slip even if Carapaz will likely remain Giro-focused in the coming years as the team looks to move on after Alejandro Valverde’s imminent retirement.
Mas’s record in the Dauphiné is nothing to write home about, and he typically comes good towards the backend of the Tour de France but a victory of any kind in the Dauphiné would be a welcome boost for both rider and team. The 27-year-old’s last victory came back in 2019. Carapaz was winning for the team back then.
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Reason to watch: It’s been an up and down year for the American with three fine victories punctuated by illness and a couple of DNFs, the last of which came at the Tour de Romandie last month.
The Dauphiné provides McNulty with the chance to press the reset button on his season and correct his trajectory towards the Tour de France, and with the impressive young Juan Ayuso and George Bennett also in the team, UAE Team Emirates has one of the strongest teams in the race without having an out-and-out favorite. McNulty will no doubt be looking for a standout performance but what might matter most is consistency – the one thing that illness has robbed him of this season.
Reason to watch: With three stage wins and two green jerseys in his only two Dauphiné appearances, van Aert has to be included on this list. The fact is, he can win on almost every terrain, so the mountain stage, the time trials and whatever is left, are all fair game for the all-rounder who seemingly has no limits to his powers.
While Jonas Vingegaard and Primoz Roglic duke it out for GC, van Aert will still have his own chances to during the race, and even when he’s not allowed to race for himself you can bet that he’ll be turning himself inside out for his leaders in the mountains, just like he did at Paris-Nice earlier in the season. Once again, van Aert will be one of the most entertaining riders in the race, especially with Julian Alaphilippe still out with injury.