Chris Froome will line up at the Criterium du Dauphine on Sunday not only looking to regain the title but also to find the form that will allow him to beat Alberto Contador at July’s Tour de France.
Two years ago, Kenyan-born Froome was the man to beat. He won the Dauphine in June before adding the Tour title a month later, emulating the feat his British compatriot and Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins achieved a year earlier.
Last year many were expecting Froome to again be imperious but after injury and illness interrupted his start to the year, his season really began to unravel at the Dauphine.
He led the race from the opening stage time-trial until the penultimate stage 7 saw him lose the lead to Contador before he cracked badly on the final day’s gruelling mountain stage — although he was hampered by the effects of a crash on stage 6.
He turned up at the Grand Boucle short of form and three crashes over two successive days in the first week saw him leave the race with a broken wrist before the fireworks had even begun.
This year his preparation has been slightly different as he raced, and won, the Vuelta a Andalucia rather than going to the Tour of Oman earlier in the year.
However, he was surprisingly beaten into third at the Tour de Romandie last month after a poor final time-trial.
Nonetheless, he will still be one of the favourites in July, alongside last year’s champion Vincenzo Nibali, new Giro d’Italia laureate Contador and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, the winner in Italy last year.
Yet Contador, who beat Froome into second at the Vuelta a Espana last year, is the man on the Englishman’s mind.
“He is the benchmark, the guy to beat,” said Froome in an interview with British newspaper the Telegraph.
“I think when it does come to the Grand Tours, both of us want it to be a good race.
“We want to be able to take each other on and for one of us at the end to be able to say, ‘we (his team) were better.'”
– Contador resting –
Contador won’t be racing the Dauphine as he rests following his Giro success.
Like Quintana, his final Tour warm-up will be at the Route du Sud from June 18-21.
But Nibali will be on the Dauphine start line and, like Froome, he has been training in Tenerife recently on the Teide volcano where Tour hopefuls gain altitude exposure.
Froome has been highly critical in the past of the lack of out-of-competition drug testing on the volcano but he said this time the testers were out in force.
“We had been coming up here for three years, two or three times a year, and we had only been tested once. Also, asking around the other teams who had been up here, they hadn’t been tested either,” said Froome.
“I just wanted to be able to say, ‘Yes we were up there, yes we were tested, the results are there, nothing to worry about’. I also wanted to know that all our competition is being tested, especially with so many teams using Tenerife as a training hub at those critical times of the year.”
Nibali, who was also on Teide with his Astana team, is working himself into Tour shape according to his trainer Paolo Slongo.
“He had 14 fruitful training sessions. His build-up to the Tour is very similar to last year, and the first thing that strikes you is that Vincenzo has lost weight,” Slongo told Italian newspaper La Gazzetta delloSport.
“Compared to Romandie, he’s lost a kilo. Now he’s at 64.5kg and before the start in Utrecht he could lose another kilo or half a kilo.” – Agence France-Presse