Tag Archives: dauphine

Talansky, Contador and the Crack of Froome

What an explosion of colour and movement the Dauphine turned out to be! Andrew Talansky’s smash and grab mission to steal the overall victory sent expectations flying like a watermelon truck in a car chase scene.

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High drama indeed, and one of the best stages of any race in recent memory. But does it signify much for the Tour de France?

I don’t think there are any Earth-shattering revelations to be found: the list of main Tour favourites stays the same (with some shuffling).

However, there are serious tactical implications that emerge from this race. Some chinks emerged in the armour of Team Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo, and that’s great news for a Tour that should be less predictable than the two previous editions.

Talansky has long been tipped by the US cycling press as a future star, and at 25 he has already had some good results in Europe: overall podiums at the Tours of Romandie and Paris-Nice, and top ten’s on GC at the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France.

But it’s too easy to remember the tactical blunder in stage 5 of the 2013 Paris-Nice, when Talansky, riding in yellow, defended his jersey aggressively, only to crack and hand Richie Porte the stage and overall victory.

Still a promising result, it nevertheless fueled the perception that the Miami native has a vice: over-confidence.

Talansky’s natural aggression paid off at the Dauphine though, producing a final-stage ride that could scarcely have been more audacious if he’d performed it in the nude while whistling the theme to the Great Escape.

Not only did he pinch the overall victory from the two men widely assumed to have the race stitched up, he also knocked off most of the next tier of contenders.

But how the hell was a breakaway that included Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Jurgen van den Broeck, Vincenzo Nibali, Ryder Hesjedal, J-C Peraud, Thomas Voeckler, Romain Bardet, Adam Yates, Mikel Nieve, Richie Porte and Wilco Kelderman ever allowed to go away in the first place?

That’s not a breakaway, it’s a list of guys most likely to finish top ten in any contemporary Grand Tour. You don’t simply sit back and let them blow up the race, because with that much firepower it was always going to be nearly impossible to bring them back on the day’s final climbs.

Race leader Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team had the responsibility to control the race, and they failed dismally.

This left Contador completely isolated and forced to chase down the most powerful breakaway since the Kit Kat was invented.

Perhaps this was a cunning plan to force Contador into the most extreme pre-Tour training possible – a 15km solo effort up two Cat 1 climbs trying desperately to defend a slipping yellow jersey.

If that was the plan, it could be euphemistically described as ‘brave’.

More likely, the team just had a shocker, dropped its bundle and left its leader cursing a missed opportunity to pump up his palmares and his confidence before the Big One in a few weeks’ time.

That said, even while the Dauphine slipped away Contador’s ride was super impressive. If he had started the climb to Courchevel level with his rivals, he would’ve won handsomely. His form is ominous. He will have better team support at the Tour.

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Meanwhile at Team Sky, what were we witnessing with The Crack of Froome?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Froome rides like a man fighting an octopus. This week, the octopus won.

After a perfect start to the Dauphine, the rest of the week has been a shocker for poor old Froome-dog. An inflated controversy about an asthma inhaler; a crash; cracking on stage 7; cracking even harder on stage 8; and allegations of irregularities with his therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for the corticosteroid prednisolone (bizarrely reported as ‘penisolone’ through some outlets – stop sniggering, up the back) which the UCI is desperately trying to quash.

I don’t think any of that matters. Froome only cracked because he crashed. That’s not a lack of form, it’s just dumb luck.

The rest is a sideshow if he’s got medical clearance from the UCI.

There’s been some comments that Team Sky wasn’t up to the job when it mattered in the Dauphine. I disagree.

In stage 8 the team was still supporting Froome in numbers: eventual stage-winner Mikel Nieve and Richie Porte were both in the important break (Porte ultimately dropped back to support Froome), and David Lopez, Vasil Kiryienka and Geraint Thomas were with him until it was clear that all was lost.

The team was unable to respond to Contador’s counter-attack because Froome himself was suffering and a harder tempo would have cracked him even faster.

It’s true that Team Sky is not invincible: they are vulnerable to coordinated attacks from multiple teams.

It’s especially true when everyone else wants to take Sky down, and that’s the price of two years of domination.

The Dauphine showed that Tinkoff-Saxo, Movistar, Garmin-Sharp, AG2R and Astana are all more than happy to put aside their differences and bury the hatchet, if it means putting it in Team Sky’s back.

So what does this all mean for the boys in black and blue?

I think Team Sky needs to adapt. They don’t have the strength to boss the race on their own terms anymore. A more canny approach is needed. Let other teams control the race. Save energy until it matters. Don’t give them an excuse to gang up on you.

I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom. Froome looked in great nick until his crash, and has plenty of time to recover before the Tour. Porte improved through the week, Kiryienka was typically indefatigable, David Lopez and Geraint Thomas also proved themselves more than useful controlling the race for long periods.

Mikel Nieve provides a huge boost to Sky in the mountains. The former Euskaltel climber has finished in the top ten overall in the Vuelta and the Giro, and has won stages of each. He will take an enormous amount of pressure off Porte.

The ‘Schrödinger’s Wiggins’ theorising will continue, but Dave Brailsford must now be giving some serious thought to bringing his former star back into the fold.

Hell, if there’s trouble on the team bus, I’m sure someone can drive Sir Wiggo around in one of their sponsor’s cars.

Froome and Contador: a class above at the Dauphine?

Chris Froome’s authoritative stamp on the first two stages of the Criterium du Dauphine shows the defending champion’s form is excellent, but Alberto Contador is right there with him.

It makes for an intriguing race in its own right, but with the Tour de France looming the stakes are considerably higher.

Last week I woke up one morning and realised with horror that it’s already June and the year is half over and “Oh my god, the Dauphine is starting!”

The tête-à-tête-à-tête between Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, the three big favourites for July’s main event, is the first time this season they have all raced together, providing a popular core narrative for the race.

All three big favourites have been training on the same roads in Tenerife, and no doubt there’s been a bit of cloak and dagger funny business as the rivals try to observe each other’s times on the slopes of Mt Teide.

The secondary cast of Tour de France aspirants racing this week includes Tejay van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Michal Kwiatkowski. Wilco Keldermann and Ryder Hesjedal are both racing in the aftermath of a tough Giro, where each seemed to be getting stronger in the third week.

Most are within reach of the leaders after two stages, but there will be some stern faces at BMC after their designated Tour leader Tejay van Garderen dropped 2:38 on Monday.

Nevertheless, it was always difficult to go past the trio of Froome, Contador and Nibali for favouritism this week.

Nibali has been the least impressive of the three; still yet to win a race in 2014 and with a string of mediocre results, he has the most to prove at the Dauphine. Has the birth of his first child earlier this year been too much of a distraction?

Nibali doesn’t need to win the Dauphine to settle the nerves, but he needs to show his team that his best form is within reach for July. Unfortunately losing 27 seconds to Froome on the Col du Béal doesn’t spell out the most ideal scenario for the popular Italian.

The resurgence of Contador has had tongues wagging: he’s already won Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta Ciclista a Pais Vasco); and taken second overall at the Tour of Catalunya and Volta ao Algarve.

In other words, Contador has raced in four stage races this season and never finished worse than second overall, including defeating Froome in Catalunya. His time trialling seems back to its best, and his confidence and strength on long climbs seem much improved over the 2013 version of ‘el Pistolero’.

Contador was the only rider able to withstand Froome’s pace on the Col du Béal.

As for Froome, his form has been very good this season, despite a back injury that kept him out of Tirreno-Adriatico and a chest infection that forced him to withdraw from Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

He won the Tour of Romandie a month ago, defeating Nibali in the process. The last three winners of Romandie (Cadel Evans, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome) have gone on to win the Tour de France.

Unfortunately, instead of letting his legs do the talking, it’s been disappointing to see Froome getting involved in the unedifying public stoush with Wiggins over Tour de France selection, which continues to build pressure within Team Sky.

Froome has seemed more than happy to kick the feud along with some choice words about Wiggins in his recently released ghost-written autobiography, sections of which were published in major British newspapers to generate maximum attention. That’s a fair tactic to generate sales, but it doesn’t create an ideal team atmosphere.

Wiggins responded with a self-defeating round of “pity me” interviews with that most influential of cycling newspapers, L’Equipe, suggesting that he would love to ride the Tour but Froome doesn’t want him.

Relations have become so fraught that Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford was forced to publicly remind everyone that he’s in charge of picking the Tour team. It’s a huge distraction.

It’s now difficult to see how the surly Sir could possibly stay at Sky beyond this season: the team bus is clearly not big enough for both egos.

It’s a huge personal shame for Wiggins that he won’t be riding the Tour, particularly as he’s done as much as anybody else to bring the race to England this year.

But this very public slanging match is doing damage to the team and its brand. Neutral fans are turned off by the petty squabbling. I find it hard to warm to Froome at the best of times, but having a crack at a teammate, in print, is poor form no matter who started it.

On the bike, for all its stars and individual performances, cycling remains a sport where teamwork is essential, and disunity often means defeat.

For all the team strife, Froome’s still stomping the pedals. Apparently he recently destroyed his personal best on the Col de la Madone, famously a key benchmark for Lance Armstrong.

Crushing everyone in the prologue was a jutted chin more than anything else, but Monday’s HC-rated Col du Béal was the real thing.

The Dauphine has two more summit finishes, and won’t be decided until Sunday’s 8km climb to Courchevel, but already it seems like Froome and Contador are a class above.

 A version of this article first appeared on The Roar.

Image credit: Presse Sports/B.Papon via www.letour.com/