THE CRITÉRIUM DU Dauphiné stage race began in France on Sunday with Irish riders Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin present.
The eight-day stage race got underway with a 5.4km prologue time trial which was won by Lars Boom (Rabobank). Neither Roche nor Martin can consider themselves experts when it comes to peologue time trials. As such, Martin finished 42 seconds off Boom’s time down in 144th place.
Roche fared better however, managing 42nd place just 19 seconds adrift. Top GC contenders Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) all finished in the top 10.
The race continued yesterday with a hilly 144km stage to Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse with an uphill finish which was won by Jurgen van den Broeck (OmegaPharma-Lotto). The Belgian, who finished fifth in last year’s Tour, broke away from the lead group with two kilometres to go.
Just behind him over the line were Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Nicolas Roche, in that order. It was a hugely promising performance from Roche who has struggled slightly with form and injury so far this year. He is now in sixth place on G.C. just 17 seconds behind the new leader Vinokourov.
Martin finished slightly further behind in 25th place 54 seconds back and is now in 38th place overall.
As the Critérium du Dauphiné is primarily used as a preparation race for the Tour de France it is very difficult to determine how each rider approaches the race.
It is an opportunity to gain a psychological advantage on rivals before the Tour, but there can also be an element of conservatism amongst the GC riders. Either they don’t want to reveal to their competitors how strong they are actually feeling or they may not want to over-extend themselves with less than four weeks to go before the Tour begins.
In the 2003 edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Lance Armstrong famously over-reached himself in his quest for victory. Although he won the Tour de France the following month it was his narrowest ever winning margin and he has admitted it was by far the toughest of his seven victories. He attributed his relatively poor form at the Tour to trying too hard to win the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he also suffered a nasty crash.
So over the coming weeks we may see the Tour de France contenders targetting one moment in the race where they will test their legs and go for a stage win before slinking back into G.C. obscurity to save themselves for July.
Roche is definitely going to be on the startline at the Tour. But the same cannot be said for Martin who is still vying to be included in his Garmin-Cervelo team’s nine man squad. As a result, we may see Martin quite active during the race as he aims to prove to his team manager Jonathan Vaughters that he is worthy of a Tour start. The penultimate stage on Saturday ends in a tough summit finish and should provide Martin with an ideal opportunity to show his form.
The Critérium du Dauphiné or the Dauphiné Libéré as it was known before 2010 is one of very few major cycling races which has not been won by an Irish rider. Stephen Roche won two stages in 1985 and Seán Kelly won a stage in 1980, 1981 and 1989 but neither ever managed to win the race overall. The closest either came was a sixth place by Roche in 1984 when he also won the points classification.
Today’s flatter stage sees the race finish in Lyon, where the sprinters will also be looking to hone their form in the run-in to the Tour de France.