‘Turbo’ Durbridge grabs Dauphine lead
British Bradley Wiggins reacts after wearing the yellow jersey. AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau
Luke Durbridge’s stage victory in the prologue time trial of the Criterium du Dauphine is a great sign of his potential at the top level, and temporarily puts Cadel Evans’ return to racing in the shade.
Durbridge has performed well this year at the Tour of California and the Circuit de la Sarthe (winning the latter overall), but defeating the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Cadel Evans is a big step up.
Durbridge himself seemed shocked: “For me, this is a huge result! I didn’t expect to win here today. I was hoping for a top five but not to beat these guys like Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin, who I’ve watched on TV for a few years now.”
It’s worth remembering that up until a couple of months ago, Durbridge was in full track training for the 4000m team pursuit squad at the Olympics, and if that isn’t ideal preparation for a pancake-flat 5.8km prologue, I don’t know what is.
Before the race, Orica-GreenEDGE Sports Director Matt White indicated that the Dauphine was all about experience and grabbing stage wins for the team: “Our main goal is to provide experience at a very high level of racing to some of our developing riders… we’ll also encourage each of our riders to take any opportunities they can throughout the week.
“We have no clear leader and we’re not organized around any overall ambitions. This gives any of our riders a chance to step up.”
Durbridge has now stepped up, and given Orica-GreenEDGE the opportunity to lead a major race for a few days. The team now faces an interesting tactical decision: try to defend the jersey for Durbridge for a few days, or save some energy to help Simon Gerrans (who quietly slipped into a very creditable sixth in the prologue).
There are a few stages that suit a puncheur like Gerrans, and he’s been travelling under the radar while in pre-Tour training for a couple of months. He should like the look of stages one, two and seven.
The rest of the cycling world will be glued to the phoney war between Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans as they grapple for psychological advantage before the Tour. Cadel should be happy with a top-ten prologue, but we won’t have a clearer picture of his form until the end of the week.
It’s easy to get carried away with this Anglophone bias: Luis-Leon Sanchez, Vincenzo Nibali, Jurgen Van Den Brouck, Denis Menchov, Janez Brajkovic, Thomas Voeckler, and Andy Schleck are all potentially capable of winning this week.
This year the Dauphine is heavily back-end loaded: the final four stages are easily the most difficult and will provide plenty of opportunities for the Tour contenders to slip in a few pre-July jabs at each others’ confidence.
I feel that if Durbridge can hold onto his slender lead until the end of stage two, with its three Category 2 climbs before a flatter finish in Saint-Félicien, he stands a reasonable chance of leading until the long time trial in stage four. That would be a great outcome for Orica-GreenEDGE.
Stage four’s 53km time trial will signal the real start of the battle for the overall victory.
The rolling terrain will suit the likes of Wiggins, Evans and Porte, and will flatten the legs of all of the riders. This is where we are first likely to see proper time gaps emerge.
Stage five features the HC-rated 1,501m ascent of Le Grande Colombier, which to me sounds like a moustache-twirling pantomime villain. In fact it’s a very difficult climb that will severely test the legs and resolve of anyone who is feeling flat after the time trial.
Stage six is another monster, featuring two Category 1 climbs (including the confusingly-named Col de la Colombiere – no relation to the previous day’s villain) and the HC Col de Joux-Plane, a regular Tour de France climb. Crucially, the stage finish comes at the bottom of a fast descent into Morzine, which could result in some hair-raising demonstrations of high speed bike handling if the likely gaps eventuate on the final climb.
The race could well still be up for grabs leading into stage seven, featuring the Category 1 Col du Corbier and a 20km drag to an uphill finish in Chatel. If the pace is on, this will be another very hard day of racing, difficult enough for small time differences to be gained. A week-long race may be decided on the final climb.
All in all, the Dauphine looks likely to provide compelling viewing in its own right, and as a precursor to its bigger brother in July.
Durbridge’s excellent prologue provides some sweet icing, but the real cake will only arrive later in the week.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.
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