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This year’s Dauphine will be devilishly hard

Critérium du Dauphiné 2016 starts with short, steep uphill TT and features three stages with major climbing in France's high mountains.

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Starting with a brutish uphill time trial and concluding with a trio of Alpine stages, the 2016 Critérium du Dauphiné will quickly reveal which Tour de France contenders are on form for July’s match-up. The eight-day stage race runs June 5-12 in France’s mountainous southeastern regions.

Defending champion Chris Froome will likely be favored in stage 1’s 3.9km prologue, which ramps up to over 15 percent in Les Gets, France.

After the June 5 kickoff, sprinters and opportunists will take the fore. Stage 1 is hilly for the first half of the 186km day, but then affords a flat run to Saint-Vulbas. Stage 2, on the other hand, is the race’s first uphill finish, on the category 3 climb to Chalmazel-Jeansagnière.

The GC pecking order will likely be established after three days, so the hilly stage 3 to Tournon-sur-Rhône, with a downhill run to the line after 182km, may be one for the breakaway.

After one more day for the sprinters in stage 4, the Dauphiné’s remainder will favor the climbers. On June 10, we have a Cat. 2 climb to finish stage 5. Then, stage 6 boasts 4,000 meters of total climbing (13,123 feet) — three Cat. 1 ascents (including the finish in Méribel), as well as an hors categorie climb of the Col de la Madeline, halfway through the 141km day. Finally, the fearsome trio of climbing stages wraps up with a 151km day over six categorized climbs. Although not as spectacular as the penultimate day’s queen stage, stage 7 features a tricky one-two punch of the Cat. 1 Col de Noyer, followed by a descent, and then the Cat. 3 Superdévoluy finish.

Froome, Alberto Contador, and Fabio Aru, who have won the last four grand tours between them, will all take part in the Dauphiné ahead of the Tour de France, organizers confirmed on Thursday. The trio are winners of 2015’s Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a Espana respectively, making it an “absolutely phenomenal field” for a “very difficult and intense course,” according to race director Christian Prudhomme.

2016 Criterium du Dauphine route

Sunday, June 5 – Prologue: Les Gets, 3.9 km (ITT)
Monday, June 6 – Stage 1: Cluses to Saint-Vulbas, 186km (flat)
Tuesday, June 7 – Stage 2: Crêches-sur-Saône to Chalmazel-Jeansagnière, 167.5km (hilly)
Wednesday, June 8 – Stage 3: Boën-sur-Lignon to Tournon-sur-Rhône, 182km (hilly)
Thursday, June 9 – Stage 4: Tain-l’Hermitage to Belley, 176km (flat)
Friday, June 10 – Stage 5: La Ravoire to Vaujany, 140km (mountains)
Saturday, June 11 – Stage 6: La Rochette to Méribel, 141km (mountains)
Sunday, June 12 – Stage 7: Le-Pont-de-Claix to Superdévoluy, 151km (mountains)