Thursday 16 June 2011

Critérium du Dauphiné

Since it's ignored by the mainstream British press, many people are unaware that the 63rd Critérium du Dauphiné has been in progress for the last week - a pity, because it's a spectacular and important race. It also provides an interesting chance to predict performances in the upcoming Tour de France and a sneak preview of the bikes as the teams and manufacturers put their new technology to the test on the grueling mountain stages. The chance to predict Tour performances is of particular interest this year due to the impressive rides put in by British rider Bradley Wiggins who is currently in the lead with a 1'26" advantage over Australian Cadel Evans in second place.

31-year-old Wiggins, who was born in Belgium but has lived in the UK since childhood, finished the 2009 Tour de France in fourth place on Mont Ventoux in 2009 and, with a long list of excellent results to his name (bronze in the 2000 Olympics, gold/silver/bronze in the 2004 Olympics, a brace of golds in the 2008 Olympics, an assortment of stage wins over the last three years) leading many people - myself included - to predict that we'd have the first ever British winner in 2010's Tour. However, it wasn't a good race for the Team Sky leader and he managed 24th overall, describing his 2009 success as "a fluke." Still, I didn't put money on him; nor shall I be doing so this year: a look at the points awarded for climbing in the Dauphiné reveals Wiggo isn't even in the top ten and the 2011 Tour is going to be even more all about the climbers than Tours usually are. A couple of stage wins during the early stages when the riders can concentrate on speed in the flatlands of Northern France may well be on the cards though - and a few Wiggins versus Cavendish battles for supremacy in the final kilometre would be nothing short of spectacular.

Joaquim Rodriguez is
worth watching
Today's stage, the last of the race, is a short one at just 117.5km but after a relatively easy first 53km, the riders have two serious climbs with which to contend. The first is the 2067m ascent of the Hors catégorie
Col de la Croix de Ferre from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the beautiful Savoy region, featuring a grinding 29.5km with a 5.5% average gradient - and a few 9.5% sections thrown in just in case the riders aren't suffering sufficiently. This is followed by a descent of some 14km, which should offer some high speed action as riders seek to let gravity take the strain and give their burning legs a break, before they face another steep climb to reach the finish 1703m above sea level at La Toussuire with the final 14.4km averaging 5.9%. A strong climber - such as Joaquim Rodríguez, currently in 6th place overall 3'01" behind the lead but in second place among the climbers and leading on overall points - could theoretically break Wiggo's hold. Unlike the Tour, in which the overall winner is often revealed several stages from the end, nothing is yet concrete in this year's Dauphiné and that'll make for some great racing today.

Rodriguez may be in 6th overall, but he'll doubtless be glad - the 32-year-old Katusha rider made the decision to take part at the last moment following his 5th place success in the Giro d'Italia. He'll be worth watching next month in France.

The fun starts at 13.25 CEST (12.25 BST) - as ever, it won't be on British TV but you can follow the action live at the Dauphine website or you can watch it live in French on sport.francetv. Links to live video in other languages (none of them English, unfortunately) and delayed video (including English) available from

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