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And if any rider is looking to measure their pre-Tour form this summer, the Dauphiné is most definitely the place to be.
Jonas Vingegaard, Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, Enric Mas, and David Gaudu are just some of the headline names in a talent-packed peloton that will start the eight-day Dauphiné on Sunday.
Packing a time trial, mountaintop finishes, and some sprinter opportunities, ASO’s flagship stage-race should serve some tasty nuggets as to what might happen at the forthcoming Tour.
Here are some narratives to follow at the Tour’s key tune-up race:
Is Jonas Vingegaard on track for a second yellow jersey?
All eyes will be on Tour de France defending champion Jonas Vingegaard when he rolls out of Chambon-sur-Lac for the first stage of the Dauphiné.
The Dane went off-grid through April and May while he span out some big miles in the thin air of Sierra Nevada.
The Dauphiné, a race historically seen to herald a future yellow jersey, offers him the perfect place to reinforce his pomp as the rider that will wear the prized number one bib at the 2023 Tour.
Vingegaard had the pain piled on him by Tadej Pogačar and David Gaudu at Paris-Nice but came back swinging in his pre-altitude camp ride through Itzulia Basque Country.
Three stage wins and the overall in what is touted as the hardest stage race of the season reminded the peloton of the power that propelled Jumbo-Visma’s fish factory worker-turned-megastar to a near-three-minute victory in last year’s lap of France.
It’s likely Vingegaard stepped up a level further at Jumbo-Visma’s high altitude winner’s academy, and he’s seen as the top favorite for next week’s Dauphiné. If he delivers on that hype, the pre-Tour pressure will be very much on Pogačar while he fast-tracks his training after his injury setback.
If Vingegaard does any less than dazzle at the Dauphiné, Pogačar and the rest of the GC pack will land into the July 1 Grand Départ with a whole different outlook.
Who’s hot for a Tour de France podium spot?
This year’s Critérium du Dauphiné is a full showroom of GC talent.
David Gaudu, Richard Carapaz, Ben O’Connor, Enric Mas, Jai Hindley, and Adam Yates all ride through the south of France this week before they transfer toward the Tour’s Bilbao start.
If next month’s Tour turns into the Tadej Pogačar vs Jonas Vingegaard face-off everyone expects, there will be just as brutal a battle for the final step on the Paris podium.
Gaudu led the chase for third in last year’s Tour and his stock is rising rapidly after a strong spring. O’Connor hit fourth in 2021 and has a score to settle with the Tour after his heartbreaking abandon last year in the Alps.
And remember Carapaz? He just won the Mercan’Tour Classic, is one of the most consistent GC riders in the bunch, and will lead a buoyant EF Education EasyPost team through the TdF.
And if a Pogačar vs Vingegaard prize fight doesn’t rule the race for the yellow jersey next month, riders like Carapaz, Gaudu, and O’Connor won’t wait for an invite to step up. The Dauphiné might show which of the GC “second tier” is best placed to make that leap.
Who might stop Mark Cavendish from making more history?
The “Can Mark Cavendish set a new stage-win record” narrative will dominate this year’s Tour de France.
Cavendish powered to a convincing victory at the Giro d’Italia and has a date with destiny next month at the French tour that made his legend.
But the Manxman’s fast-finishing rivals won’t just roll over and let him score a heart-warming, record-topping swansong win that would see him into retirement.
Cavendish isn’t racing the Dauphiné, but Dylan Groenewegen, one of the riders best-placed to stop him writing more history this summer, will be at the start on Sunday.
Jayco-AlUla’s Dutch freight train will line out at the Dauphiné as the fastest finisher in the race. Groenewegen has been one of the most prolific speedsters of the season so far and will bring the core of his leadout crew to next week’s race to smooth any final wrinkles before he locks in to chase a sixth Tour win.
The only other elite sprinter on display in France next week is Sam Bennett, who still hasn’t recaptured the legs that scored him the Tour’s green jersey in 2020. Nevertheless, the Irishman is hungry as ever and has a point to prove at a Bora-Hansgrohe team that offered him a fresh opportunity only to pivot toward classification racing just a few months later.
The Dauphiné won’t paint a full picture of who might stop Cavendish’s fairytale ending at the Tour de France. Caleb Ewan, Tim Merlier, and Fabio Jakobsen will all be sharpening their sprints at the Swiss or Belgian tours before they head to the French three-weeker.
But next week’s race will paint some intriguing brushstrokes as to who might get in the way of Cavendish and “Number 35” in July.
Can Julian Alaphilippe assure his ‘Wolfpack’ future?
How long will Julian Alaphilippe remain at the Wolfpack? The Tour de France will decide, and the Critérium du Dauphiné will give clues as to which way the needle might swing.
“Juju” heads up Soudal Quick-Step at the Dauphiné next week in his first race since a ragged ride through the classics.
The eight-day Dauphiné offers Alaphilippe a stepping-stone toward his first Tour since 2021 and may give some insight into his longer-term future with the Belgian team that took him to the WorldTour.
Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere has taken all the stoke he once stashed into Alaphilippe and invested it directly into Remco Evenepoel in recent seasons.
A year of injuries and illnesses saw tensions between the Frenchman and his forthright team manager rise to the point that Alaphilippe’s future at “The Wolfpack” is now uncertain. Alaphilippe is under contract through 2024, but Lefevere is reported to be ready to let him loose or cut his cash if the 30-year-old doesn’t dazzle the way he did through the turn of this decade.
The Tour de France is the race that will decide Lefevere’s mind.
The hilly Basque start of this year’s Tour is the type of terrain Alaphilippe used to rule. He won a stage and the yellow jersey on similar lumpy parcours in the opening days of the past two Tours he started. Could Alaphilippe ride into an early yellow jersey again next month and steal Lefevere’s heart once more?
The punchy opening stages of the Dauphiné in the coming week might give us a clue.
Is Egan Bernal still on the grand tour map?
OK, Egan Bernal isn’t likely to win the Tour de France this summer, but his ride through the Critérium du Dauphiné will show if the former yellow jersey might claim another grand tour win sometime soon.
Bernal bumped his way through his comeback season so far. Injuries and DNSs seem just as frequent in his 2023 palmarès as the promising signs he flashed at the Tour of Hungary and Romandie.
Ineos Grenadiers is likely to take Bernal, Carlos Rodríguez, and Dani Martínez to the Tour next month, and all three will line out Sunday at the Dauphiné.
Where will “Bernalito” sit in the Ineos trident? Is he even ready to be a prong in the team’s Tour de France push?
Let’s see what form Bernal can bring in the next week.