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Your new favorite race: Critérium du Dauphiné

The Critérium du Dauphiné is a key tune-up race for the Tour de France. Expect to see fireworks when Froome, Contador, and Porte line up.

Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. Great news: There are tons of cycling races all season! Less-great news: Like trying to pick an ice cream flavor at Ben & Jerry’s, tons of choices can be overwhelming. So, we’ll try to help out by giving you quick, fun overviews of major races. Stay tuned for more previews.

Need to pick Your New Favorite Team? Here are 11 teams you should follow in the 2017 season >>

Your new favorite race: Critérium du Dauphiné, June 4-11.

Why should you care about this race? The Dauphiné may not be the toughest one-week stage race. It isn’t always the most entertaining. However, it is safe to say it is the most important one-week stage race on the WorldTour calendar. The French event is promoted by ASO, which also runs the Tour de France. As such, it’s a key tune-up for Tour favorites, and its timing, about one month before the Grand Départ, makes it a must-race event for all the big names.

Most dramatic edition in recent memory? American Andrew Talansky pulled off an unbelievable coup in the 2014 Dauphiné. Through the first seven days of racing, it was the Chris Froome and Alberto Contador show. Froome beat Contador by eight seconds in the opening time trial at Lyon. The Spaniard bided his time and then took the fight to Froome on the penultimate day, stage 7, gaining time and the yellow jersey on the uphill finish at Finaut-Émosson. Stage 8 was short at 130.5km, but it featured another mountaintop finish, this one in Courchevel. Talansky took advantage of some squabbling between the two outright favorites. He rode away early with teammate Ryder Hesjedal, accumulating a sizable lead. Although Contador attacked and chased in earnest after Vincenzo Nibali rode clear, it was too late. Talansky finished fourth on the stage, behind Mikel Nieve, and took the overall win on the race’s final day.

Your race’s defining feature: The Dauphiné changes its route regularly, partly to line up with what the riders will expect in the Tour. However, the race usually hews to a proven formula. There is often a time trial in the first half of the week, to set up the GC standings. Then, the race is back-loaded with a handful of climbing stages. Usually one is a mountaintop finish. This leads to climactic finishes, like in 2014, or one year later, when Froome snatched the yellow jersey from another American, Tejay van Garderen. For 2017, stage 4 is the time trial, a 23.5km test. The must-watch mountain stages are 7, which finishes atop Alpe d’Huez, and 8, which is very short at 115km, with a summit finish after three other categorized climbs. Stage 6 is also mountainous but doesn’t have an uphill finish.

But the thing is … This race is a fine tune-up for the Tour, and it certainly delivers good stage race action, but most top GC contenders play it cool one month away from their season target. So, we shouldn’t always read too much into what Froome or Contador do in the Dauphiné. And if a wildcard like Talansky wins the race, it might be premature to peg him as a shoo-in for the Tour podium.

Ladies first? There isn’t a women’s race at the Dauphiné, but the OVO Women’s Tour, a WorldTour event, takes place June 7-11 in Great Britain.

Who are you betting your beer money on this year? Richie Porte should ride a very strong race. He’s BMC’s outright leader for the Tour — his first real opportunity as such — and will want to prove his mettle. Plus, Porte is exceptional in one-week stage races, having won Paris-Nice twice, as well as Volta ao Algarve and Tour de Romandie. He’ll ride a solid time trial and then have plenty of fun in the final three days of racing through the Alps.