The eight stage Criterium de Dauphine which begins on Sunday in the Swiss city of Champery will give a clear indication of what kind of form Tour de France contenders Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are in ahead of the 100th running of the Grand Boucle, which begins on June 29. The 65th running of the Dauphine is the ideal tune-up for cycling’s biggest race and a challenging route that begins for the first time in Switzerland features an individual time-trial on stage 3, with three tough days of climbing sandwiched around a flat stage before a final mountainous test on the way to Risoul on June 9.
All the leading teams building up to the Tour de France will be on the start line, including heavyweight outfits Team Sky, led by Froome, Contador’s Team Saxo-Tinkoff as well as French outfit Europcar, who are led by former Tour yellow jersey holder Thomas Voeckler. The Kenyan-born, 28-year-old Froome finished second on the Tirenno-Adriatico earlier this season, where Contador settled for third and newly crowned Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali claimed victory.
“I’m feeling really good” said Froome. “I came off a good block of training up in Tenerife with the guys and I’ve had about a week at home now. It’s been nice to sleep in my own bed for a little while.
“Having said that, I’m starting to feel ready, I feel like the form is definitely on its way up and everything is heading in the right direction for the Dauphine.” he added.
Fellow Briton Bradley Wiggins announced Friday he will not defend his Tour de France title or the two Dauphine victories he won in 2011 and 2012 but Froome can lean on significant support in the shape of Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte and Edvald Boasson Hagen, who claimed honours on the Tour of Norway earlier this year.
“It could be seen as a mini Tour de France as all the contenders and most of the big names will be there,” continued Froome. “Everyone should also be in pretty good shape this close out from the Tour. And to go with that we’ve also got a really tough route with some really challenging mountain-top finishes, as well as a time trial. It’s eight days of racing but it’s definitely going to be a good test for the Tour that’s for sure.”
Katusha leader Joaquim Rodriguez is also a podium threat while the race will see 22-year-old Natnael Berhane of Eritrea line up for Europcar after becoming the first black African to win a major stage when he tasted glory on the Tour of Turkey and finished second overall.
“It’s very moving to think that now people in Africa can also watch me live on TV. They saw me win in Turkey and I received lots of messages of congratulations afterwards,” he said.
The race heads west from Champery and takes in finishes at Oyonnax, Tarare, Parc des Oiseaux, Valmorel, Grenoble, Superdevoluy and finally Risoul.