There is still a long way to go to the Tour de France, but Richie Porte put Chris Froome on notice Wednesday at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The BMC rider blasted his way to victory in the 23.5km rolling time trial ahead of reigning world time trial champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin). He put himself in pole position to win the eight-day stage race just weeks ahead of the Tour.
The Dauphiné is always an important test of form and intent going into July’s Tour de France. Froome (Sky) has won the Dauphiné each year he’s gone on to win his three Tour titles. On Wednesday, the teacher ceded 37 seconds to his former pupil. Porte again confirmed that he is emerging as a dangerous rival.
“We have seen in the past that if Chris Froome is good here, he is good at the Tour de France,” Porte said. “I just hope that’s the same for me.”
In his second season with BMC Racing, Porte’s been on a tear. He won six races, including the Santos Tour Down Under and the Tour de Romandie. His former teammate Froome remains uncharacteristically winless so far in 2017.
With eighth in the time trial, Froome slots into sixth overall, 37 seconds behind second-place Porte. The Brit is 1:04 behind race leader Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), who rode well to defend his leader’s jersey.
Froome put his performance into context, and said there’s no reason to panic.
“I’ve still got three weeks now after the Dauphiné in terms of time trial work, and it’s obviously something that I’m going to have to do a little bit of work on,” Froome said. “I’ve done everything right up to now, and I’ll just keep going up until the Tour.”
After a busy 2016 that included the Tour, Vuelta a España, and the Olympics, Froome has been easing into 2017. He is focused on winning a fourth yellow jersey next month. While Porte might want to set early season markers to gain confidence and momentum, Froome insists he’s already done that. He said what matters is how he’s racing next month.
While Porte’s gains against Tour rivals, such as Froome, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are important, his performance across the mountains will be even more decisive — both for the Dauphiné and the Tour.
Three mountain stages wait this weekend, including Alpe d’Huez and Mont du Chat.
Porte’s lead means that rivals will have to attack to try to win. That will also be an important test both for Froome, who typically can race defensively, and for Porte, who needs to demonstrate he can manage a team as well as fend off rivals in a major race. Valverde, Contador, Froome, and 2014 winner Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) all loom within one minute of Porte.
Of course, everyone first has to get rid of de Gendt.
“It changes the dynamic,” Froome said. “I can be more offensive going into the next few days … [the time trial] was a good test, but we’ve got three big days of climbing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That will be another big test to see exactly where everyone is at.”
After another transition stage Thursday, the Dauphiné will play out in a trio of mountain stages.
“In the Tour de France, it’s going to be won more in the mountains than in the time trials,” Porte said. “I’m quite confident in how I am climbing at the moment. … I’d rather be climbing well than time trialing well. It’s not over yet. There are some hard stages to come so I’m just happy about how today went. Whatever happens, happens, but I am on a good path.”
The Dauphiné doesn’t always indicate who will win the Tour de France, but it has in four of the past five editions. Whoever wins Sunday will be hoping history repeats itself.