Vélo Files: Dauphiné Faux Pas?

Anthony Tan

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The one that got away....David Veilleux (Getty Images)
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If the peloton of the 65th Critérium du Dauphiné kept their wits about them last Sunday, they would’ve never let a guy like David Veilleux get away with so much. They won’t again – Anthony Tan is sure of it.

I have what it takes. The opportunity will arise one day.

Is David Veilleux is the product of more than a decade’s over-reliance on race radios? Or do we attribute it to conservatism by the bigger teams, who have bigger fish to fry in July? Or did he simply get lucky?

In case you missed him – just like most of the Critérium du Dauphiné peloton did last Sunday – the 25-year-old Europcar rider, along with three others whose names you’d probably never heard before, broke away three kilometres into the opening stage of the week-long race that, along with the Tour de Suisse, serves as the final litmus test before The Big Daddy, a.k.a. Le Tour de France.

It wasn’t till the 40-kilometre mark, when the quartet had established a maximum and rather sizeable double-digit advantage of 10 minutes and 10 seconds, that the peloton thought it wise to form a chase.

First Vacansoleil-DCM put some men on the front. Orica-GreenEdge then gave a helping hand, followed by Team Sky and Movistar. Meanwhile, world time trial champ Tony Martin, probably thinking the four in front were a bunch of lightweights, attempted to bridge across on his own.

They all got nowhere.

Veilleux, the only Canadian on Team Europcar – and a seven-time national champion, no less – was on a good day. A very good day, in fact.

On the second of the day’s four climbs, 74 kilometres in and with 47km to go, the lad from Cap-Rouge, Quebec, boldly decided to leave his breakaway companions in his wake two kilometres from the summit of the Cat. 1 col du Corbier.

With 25km remaining, Veilleux still enjoyed a five-minute buffer to the Movistar-led peloton. By the base of the Côte de Champéry, the 6.6km final climb leading back to Champéry itself, where the day begun and would end after 121km, three minutes separated escapee from assemblage, who by this time had realised their faux pas, albeit much too late.

The bunch caught everyone except Veilleux, who would win by 1 minute and 56 seconds and in so doing, almost certainly cement his place in Europcar’s coterie of nine for La Grande Boucle.

Last year, he was set to make his Tour debut – and would have been the first ‘Québécois’ to participate – but Veilleux was overlooked; team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau telling him five riders were going for two positions and they preferred to give it to a Frenchman. (“For us Canadians, the most difficult part of our career is to put the foot in the door,” he said after his stage win in Champéry.)

Nevertheless, Bernaudeau promised he would take him before too long. “Whether I was selected or not, I was mentally prepared for both scenarios. I was eager to learn and it was a month that I was sincerely considering (riding the Tour),” he told his local TV station RDS at the time, and, quite refreshingly, with not a grain of spite. “My manager told me he would take me to the next editions.”

Anyway, back to the Dauphiné.

As early as the second stage, teammate Pierre Rolland said he won’t be able to hang on, and will likely lose the maillot jaune on the penultimate day that takes in the imperious switch-backed ascent of Alpe d’Huez.

Nice to have the support of your buddies, innit, David? (By the way, this is the same Pierre Rolland who, on the fourteenth stage of last year’s Tour, chose to attack when up to thirty riders became victims of sabotage when tacks were thrown on the descent of the Mur de Peguere – only ending his excursion when the Lotto-Belisol and Liquigas-Cannondale teams hunted him down. He later claimed not to know of the misfortune behind him, saying his race radio wasn’t working.)

It’s worth noting that four of Veilleux’s national titles were won against the clock, which means he could at least hold onto yellow after Wednesday’s 32.5km time trial. The third-year pro, who began his career with Europcar in 2011 after four years riding for US domestic teams (Jittery Joe’s and Kelly Benefit Strategies), is also the holder of five stage-race victories, including overall wins at the Tour of Pennsylvania, Tour of Elk Grove, Fitchburg Longsjo Classic and the Mi-Août Bretonne; a clear indicator he can display consistency of form over multiple days.

Last year, a week after his win in the Mi-Août Bretonne, Veilleux took the biggest victory of his career – prior to last Sunday, that is – when he triumphed in the last of the ‘Trittico Lombardo’ one-day classics in August; a solo win on the banks of Lake Maggiore in the Tre Valli Varesine. The past winners’ list reads like a who’s who of cycling: Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Giuseppe Saronni, Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci, Stefano Garzelli and Daniel Martin, to name a few.

Better still, one of those he beat was a juiced-up-to-the-eyeballs-Italian by the name of Danilo Di Luca, winner in 2003, who ran third.

True, Saturday’s seventh stage is a brute, but it may not be beyond him; the summit of the ‘Alpe’ comes just 51km into the 187.5km journey, followed by a Cat. 2 and a pair of Cat. 1 climbs. For mine, the bigger test will come Thursday, the day after the time trial, where the race finishes in Valmorel, a 12.7km HC-rated climb averaging seven percent.

If he can hang on there with a half-decent advantage, he can hang on till Sunday, I reckon. Either way, I’m expecting a Thomas Voeckler-esque performance out of Veilleux, à la ‘Ti-Blanc’s’ plucky performance in the 2011 Tour where he finished fourth overall.

I’d love to see him pull it off, if only to rub it into Rolland’s face good and proper.

When his team manager chose not to take him to the Tour last year, as gentlemanly as he was, Veilleux also said: “I have what it takes; it’s just not the right time to participate. The opportunity will arise one day.”

Surely, Monsieur Bernaudeau, that day has arrived… Bonne chance, David!

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