Dauphiné set to reveal the form of Tour contenders

cycling, Criterium du Dauphine, France
The Criterium de Dauphine peloton rides during the second stage of the 2012 edition of the race (Getty)

The eight stage Criterium du Dauphiné which begins in the Swiss city of Champery will give a clear indication of what kind of form Tour de France contenders like Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez are in ahead of the 100th running of the Grand Boucle, which begins on June 29.

The 65th running of the Dauphiné is the ideal tune-up for cycling's biggest race and a challenging route that begins for the first time in Switzerland features an individual time-trial on stage 3, with three tough days of climbing sandwiched around a flat stage before a final mountainous test on the way to Risoul on June 9.

All the leading teams building up to the Tour de France will be on the start line, including heavyweight outfits Team Sky, led by Froome, Contador's Team Saxo-Tinkoff, as well as Katusha with Rodriguez at the helm.

Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE will arrive at the start line hunting for stage wins with Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke its go to riders.

Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins will not be in Champery to defend his 2012 title so Sky will be looking for a repeat victory from Froome.

Froome has had a dream run this season with wins at the Tour of Oman, Criterium International and Tour de Romandie. He also finished second on the Tirenno-Adriatico, where Contador settled for third and newly crowned Giro d'Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali claimed victory.

"I'm feeling really good" said Froome. "I came off a good block of training up in Tenerife with the guys and I've had about a week at home now.

"It's been nice to sleep in my own bed for a little while.

"Having said that, I'm starting to feel ready, I feel like the form is definitely on its way up and everything is heading in the right direction for the Dauphine." he added.

Froome will have significant support with Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte and Edvald Boasson Hagen, who claimed the honours on the Tour of Norway earlier this year, by his side.

"It could be seen as a mini Tour de France as all the contenders and most of the big names will be there," continued Froome.

"Everyone should also be in pretty good shape this close out from the Tour. And to go with that we've also got a really tough route with some really challenging mountain-top finishes, as well as a time trial. It's eight days of racing but it's definitely going to be a good test for the Tour that's for sure."

Contador arrives in Champery with a strong team of support riders arranged to give him his first significant victory of the season.

Saxo-Tinkoff will place Timmy Duggan, Nicki Sørensen and Benjimin Noval ahead of Contador on the flat and windy sections while Australian Michael Rogers Chris Anker Sorenson, Jesus Hernandez, and Sergio Paulinho will support him on the climbs.

"We will be supporting Alberto all the way and we're targeting a top result in the overall standings," said Saxo-Tinkoff's sports director Philippe Mauduit.

"Several of our riders have not raced now for a while so it is also a chance for us to refine the shape and to let the Tour riders have the opportunity of getting to know each other a bit better before it goes on in Corsica in a month's time."

Katusha leader Joaquim Rodriguez is also a Dauphiné podium threat but the team will have Daniel Moreno, who won two stages of the race in 2012, in the line-up.

Rodriguez, who finished second at the 2012 Giro d'Italia, has raced lightly this season as he prepares for a major assault on the Tour de France general classification.

While not a powerful rider against the clock, Rodriguez's punchy and combative climbing style should see him make up any time lost in the mountains.

Along with Moreno he will have Sergey Chernetckii, Xavier Florencio, Mikhail Ignatyev, Petr Ignatenko, Timofey Kritskiy and Alberto Losada riding in support.

Orica-GreenEDGE poses no threat to the general classification at the Dauphiné, but its opportunistic style will be perfectly suited to a stage win.

The team will be aggressive in the breaks and looking to attack, as outlined by sporting director Matt Wilson.

“We’ll be on the hunt for stage wins. We’re not focused on the overall at all. We have a few riders here that are using the Dauphiné as one last tune-up before the Tour.

"For someone like Simon Gerrans, the focus is on the final hit out. If he can get up with an opportunity in the process, fantastic, but the pressure isn’t really on him for that.”

“The other guys are on the team will be attacking each stage,” Wilson continued. “There aren’t many stages for Michael Matthews, so on the days where it’s a projected sprint, we’ll put all our eggs in his basket. On other days, any of our riders can look for opportunities.”

Along with Gerrans, Clarke and Michael Matthews, Orica-GreenEDGE will also send a support cast of Daniel Teklehaimanot, Fumy Beppu, Mitch Docker, Travis Meyer and Wesley Sulzberger.

The Criterium de Dauphine will be the first start of the season for the Eritrean Teklehaimanot who has missed the season so far to visa issues.

“It’s very hard to step in from no racing to racing the Dauphiné,” said Wilson. “We’re not putting on pressure on Daniel for this race. We’ll ease him back into things as much as you can ease anyone back into racing with the Dauphiné. If he can give the other guys a hand, great. If he can try something himself, fantastic. We’ll need to see where he’s at during the week.”

The race heads west from Champery and takes in finishes at Oyonnax, Tarare, Parc des Oiseaux, Valmorel, Grenoble, Superdevoluy and finally Risoul.

SBS will have LIVE online streaming of the Criterium du Dauphine through the Cycling Central website followed by a replay television broadcast of each stage. Details here.

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