Towering climbs in French Alps will decide Critérium du Dauphiné: ‘Tomorrow a new race starts’

Jumbo-Visma in pole position to carry the GC into the Alps, but Ben O'Connor promises to be aggressive.

Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

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GAP, France (VN) — The towering heights of the French Alps loom on the horizon for the final weekend showdown that will decide the winner of the 2022 Critérium du Dauphiné.

The six-stage stalemate between the sprinters and the breakaways will shift gears with back-to-back summit finishes and ascents of such monster climbs as the Col du Galibier and the Croix-de-Fer on Saturday’s seventh stage.

Wout van Aert knows his nearly weeklong run in yellow that was only interrupted by a second-day breakaway is coming to an end.

“I will be available to help the team,” Van Aert said Friday after a break fended off the chase into Gap. “Tomorrow straight away is going to be hard with the Galibier coming early, so I expect a big battle early on. I hope to have good legs in the mountains, but tomorrow a new race starts.”

The likes of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard are hoping to take over from Van Aert, and after Wednesday’s time trial, hold a slender lead on most of their GC rivals.

Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën) is hovering in ninth at 2:10 back.

“I don’t know how Saturday is going to pan out,” O’Connor said Friday after the stage. “Vaujany will be an explosive, you cannot hide there.

“If you want to try to win the race, you have to be aggressive. Maybe the gaps won’t be so big on Vaujany, but on Sunday, the gaps are going to be really big. Whoever wins on top Sunday will probably win the race.”

Both stages are short, at 134.8km on Saturday and 138.8km on Sunday. And altitude will be a factor as well.

“I’ve not done any altitude in two years, and I will probably suffer tomorrow,” said Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), who doesn’t sound optimistic about defending his fourth place overall. “Even the other day I was suffering, so I could be done. It will be a challenge just to finish these stages so I will hold it for as long as I can.”

The second-category summit Vaujany on Saturday should see a select group hit the bottom for the short but steep run to the finale.

Sunday’s hors-categorie summit finish to Plateau de Salaison will likely decide everything. The Cat. 1 Col de la Colombiere is midway through the stage to soften up the already tired legs.

“This weekend will decide everything,” said Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious), sixth at 1:49 back. “The race so far has been very fast and people will be tired. Whoever has the good legs Sunday will probably win everything. I hope to move up if I can.”

All eyes will be on Jumbo-Visma, by far the strongest team in the race. Others will try to search out their opportunities.

“The form is pretty good right now, so I will see how I go this weekend,” said Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), 22nd overall at more than two minutes back. “A stage victory would be fantastic, or to win a stage. We will have to see how the race develops, whether it’s out of a breakaway or trying to stay with the GC riders.”

Brandon McNulty, who lost more than two minutes in Wednesday’s time trial, said he’s hoping to show off his form this weekend.

“The legs are feeling good so I am looking forward to seeing what I can do in the mountains,” he said. “It’s a shame about what happened in the time trial, but the race isn’t over yet.”

Ben O’Connor is poised to move up this weekend in the Alps. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

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