With the Tour de France due to start in less than three weeks, 2013 winner Chris Froome ended his serious racing preparation for the event by claiming victory in the Criterium du Dauphine staged in the French Alps, a race which he also won prior to claiming his solitary Tour de France success. Although the Kenyan born cyclist secured his 2015 Dauphine win via a late attack on the final climb at Modane to beat Canadian Tejay van Garderen by 10 seconds, it may be that general conditioning was more important than overall victory for many of the participants.
The first four of the eight stages of the Dauphine were typified by very little action at the top of the general classification but as stage five was completed at Pra Loup, it appeared that Froome was merely biding his time with a comfortable finish behind winner on the day Romain Bardet. Meanwhile, 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali had not enjoyed the day and lost time to the overall leaders.
Yet that may have been a deliberate tactic by Nibali as he was content to attack during a following day of difficult climbs punctuated by adverse weather, in an attempt to clinch a stage victory at Villard de Lans. Nibali was eventually thwarted by Rui Costa at the finish but he was rewarded by claiming the leader’s yellow jersey with a significant 1:21 time gap to Chris Froome who failed to cope with the accelerations at the front in the rainy conditions.
The roles were reversed on stage seven which involved a ride through the Haute Savoie region of France and finishing at the mountain village of Le Bettex. Froome recovered from the previous day to attack on the final climb to claim the stage victory with Nibali seemingly unable to respond and losing approximately four minutes to his rival. Van Garderen led the overall classification race by 18 seconds from Froome but the Team Sky rider’s final day stage victory secured the overall title.
Froome was content with his performance and he appeared to grow stronger as the race progressed but the performance of Nibali was more puzzling. It may be that his aim was purely to gain that stage victory and it should also be noted that the Italian cyclist produced a fairly moderate performance in the 2014 renewal of the Dauphine, suggesting that he uses this race as a training exercise for the Tour de France.
It may have been a cycling race during the past week in the French Alps but the events may be more akin to a game of poker as the favourites for the Tour attempt to outwit each other. Alberto Contador has already displayed his hand with a strong winning performance in the Giro while Nairo Quintana has adopted a quieter role as he prepares for the three week race in July.
When the Tour de France begins on July 4th, Chris Froome will be aware that Vincenzo Nibali will provide much sterner opposition than during the past few days and that Contador and Quintana will be primed for the challenge.