When Chris Froome won the first two stages of the 2014 Criterium du Dauphine to lead Alberto Contador by twelve seconds, it was assumed that it was business as usual and yet another successful stepping stone in his attempt to secure a second successive Tour de France. Yet a crash on stage six of the race was not considered too decisive at the time but has now proved to be more significant than first envisaged.
Although Froome has not experienced the best of preparations during the late winter and early spring months, his victory in the Tour de Romandie and a stage win at Col du Beal in the Dauphine race suggested that another Tour de France victory was within his grasp.
The first signs of a chink in his armour appeared when he has unable to respond to an attack by Contandor in the final two kilometres of the summit finish at Finhaut Emosson on the penultimate day of the eight stage race. Froome lost the leader’s yellow jersey as Contandor claimed an eight second lead and appeared the stronger of the two cyclists despite a lack of help from team members.
What followed on the final day was the first visible sign that Froome cannot be considered an automatic certainty to win another Tour de France title. Granted that his crash on stage six may have somewhat impaired his cycling ability, but the manner in which he conceded time and distance to his rivals was a concern.
Contador was guilty of an error of judgement in riding with Froome when other riders attacked and when he realised that his Team Sky opponent was incapable of bridging a growing gap, the Spaniard decided to launch his own attempt to regain the lost ground.
Showing the climbing ability of his earlier dominating years, Contador was able to narrow the distance between himself and the stage leaders but unfortunately the group of leading riders contained American cyclist Andrew Talansky who began the stage only 39 seconds adrift of the Spaniard.
By the stage finish at Courchevel, Contador had been unable to maintain his spirited fight-back and was forced to concede the Dauphine to Talansky. It may have been a serious tactical error by the Spaniard in delaying his forward move but the past two days have proved that he will be a serious challenger during July in Le Tour.
As for Froome, there may be extenuating circumstances for his lack-lustre performances during the final two days but other riders have crashed during races and continued to produce the goods as with Nairo Quintana in the recent Giro d’Italia.
Froome may now have conceded the psychological advantage to his Spanish rival, but there have also been the first signs that the Kenyan born cyclist is not immune to bad days on the bike.