• Stage 8, 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné: Talansky, Van Den Broeck and van Garderen turn the tables on Contador and Froome. (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)Source: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
The Criterium du Dauphine has a way of throwing up exciting and unexpected results when it gets down to the final stages and 2020 could be a great opportunity for the same thing to happen again!
By
SBS Cycling Central

15 Aug 2020 - 11:47 AM 

Let's take a brief step back in time to 2014. It's the peak of Contador vs Froome.

At least by the Spaniard's count he has won six of the ten Grand Tours he has competed in, while Froome's solitary win at the 2013 Tour de France is something that has yet to become the inevitable parade of success it stands as today.

All eyes are on the pair as a preview of the podium in Paris in a month's time, and Contador has just taken the upper hand after Froome claimed first blood on the opening time trial and summit finish. The Spanish star is in yellow and on the ascent while Froome looked vulnerable losing time, but it is clear that the race is between the two of them with just the final stage - an easier course on paper - remaining for this Tour de France contender showdown.

However, no one told the rest of the peloton that! A super-strong group of 23 broke away on the first climb of the day, with third-placed Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharp making the move and sliding into virtual yellow. Of course there's still plenty of racing left, still over 115 kilometres, so no need to panic quite yet. The problem is that Contador is running out of Tinkoff-Saxo teammates.

When Froome and three Sky teammates take off in a team trial-esque move to pursue the breakaway, Contador is the only one that can follow and is isolated. What follows is an odd scene, the Sky train is making very little inroads into the advantage of the large breakaway. 

Eventually, it becomes clear that Froome is struggling and Contador just rides away with apparent ease on a slight incline and makes it a solo crusade to keep yellow, having to make up minutes on Talansky, Wilco Kelderman and Jurgen van den Broeck who could all steal the overall win. All have incentive to work, and do so.

He overhauls rider after rider and it appears that he might be about to complete one of the most improbable yellow jersey defences in history, but as he's approaching the rear of the front group, attacks at the front distance the no doubt tired Spaniard slightly and he finishes over a minute behind stage winner Mikel Nieve, who Sky left as an insurance policy up the road. 

Talansky, an afterthought before the stage, pulling all sorts of pain faces, finished fourth on the stage and was the unlikely winner of the race. 

So what lessons can we take from that classic stage on what to expect from the final weekend's action from the 2020 Dauphine?

Firstly, early action is always a possibility. It's the Criterium du Dauphine, an important race, but it's not the Tour de France. Contenders and teams are happier to risk their minor placing on the general classification to make the top step of the podium. 

Hard climbs early in the stage help create action. When the action is concentrated at the finale of the stage, there's a tendency to save energy for the finish, rather than go aggressive from the start. When the harder climbs are concentrated at the start, domestiques are eliminated earlier, the top riders are more vulnerable and somebody on a bad day will be put in a lot of trouble. 

Also, breakaways on climbs are more selective and less of a random group of non-dangerous types that happened to attack at the same time.

Stages 4 and 5 of the Dauphine (on SBS VICELAND from 11.05pm AEST Saturday) are very much in this mold.

Neither has a very hard climb to finish, and probably not hard enough for the contenders sitting below Roglič to realistically think that they'll be able to take enough time to overtake the strong Slovenian with a conventional late attack. It's time to get creative. 

Putting strong riders in the breakaway to set up a later attack, or perhaps driving the pace on early climbs with a view to creating a select elite group that will allow attacks on Roglič.

If pressure is put on early and some dangerous riders attempt to form a breakaway, how many Jumbo-Visma riders will survive with the need to commit to chasing hard on the opening climbs?

Van Aert has been great, but isn't a pure climber, and all the others have shown some type of vulnerability with the exception of Sepp Kuss. He's been great, but the young American will have a lot on his plate if the likes of Kruijswijk, Dumoulin and Gesink aren't present.

It's something that second-placed Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has on his mind as well.

"Saturday and Sunday are two nice stages where the climbs are well designed," the Frenchman said. "I think there’ll be people who’ll want to risk everything to try and up-end the GC, who are going to try things. I think we’re in for an exciting weekend and, why not, some nice surprises."

INEOS have some scores to settle, Arkea-Samsic have options for a long raid with Quintana and Barguil and from an Australian perspective a nice breakaway would be a nice chance for Jack Haig to show his current form. 

There are plenty of riders who don't want to settle for an also-ran GC finish, and more still that need a few hard days in the saddle to prepare for the Tour de France. It should add up to a tumultuous and thrilling few days of racing.