What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
As the American Andrew Talansky took the Critérium du Dauphiné into his own hands and won the overall honours last night, Lieu Westra pulled off the surprise of the century in the previous night’s miraculous comeback with around three centimetres to go.
Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador was lining up two slaps back in time for the rider who consistently wins the most awkward pedalling style on earth award, Christopher Froome. So the French prequel of Le Tour for 2014 has been won and lost, but what does this mean for Le Tour?
You know how the story goes: “If you are going too fast in June, you will be going too slow in July.” “If a fully grown racehorse can hold its form for six weeks, how long do you think a cyclist can?”
Well yeah, they’re just idealist euphemisms, but they do have some degree of application? Right?
I’m not going to search the Critérium du Dauphiné wikipedia page to actually see the numbers of how many Dauphiné winners have gone on to win Le Tour. Undoubtedly that route has been covered by a swathe of websites that specialise in the specifically un-opinionated (and unexciting) provision of interviews and results, so I will leave the clinical analyses to them as I go with some soundly subjective reasoning.
No then, this does not mean Chris Froome or Vicenzo Nibali are going to win the Tour de France purely because they performed ‘worst’ in this year’s Dauphiné.
My logic rests upon the idea that both Contador, Froome, and Nibali, are all still “creeping” in respect to what they will be doing next month. This Dauphiné has panned out better for Contador (and Talansky if I must factor in his tactical nous) in the types of mountains presented and a cunning dodging of crashes and kerfuffles.
But it was all pretty close.
Closer inspection of Contador’s laborious gear choices would indicate he is feeling less than optimal, as well as Froome’s display of permeability last night, but both riders were beaten at least once with what appeared to be sprite-less legs.
Sure Nibali or Talansky might stir some pots here or there when next month rolls around, but regarding the smart money, there are only really two men in the hunt.
The criterium around Dauphiné (and beyond apparently) is usually a tester to see how the form is building in the ‘grand’ scheme of things, and we often see riders trying to flog themselves. Froome appeared under instruction from his team scientists on Stage 2 as he chased down every single attack in the tiniest gear possible without actually attacking himself. It seemed to be a test of how he would perform under constant pressure of accelerations.
All professional riders will use certain races as training days. Jan Ullrich was the quintessential example. In the 2006 Giro he commenced the race quite substantially overweight, but he would just sit last wheel for large chunks of each stage and have his chain on the 11-cog doing strength efforts.
Yes he was a grinder, but it was next level. When the Stage 11 time trial came around he smoked everybody.
That analogy is far from optimal given his disagreement with regulation and society-in-general after 2006. my point stands though – some races are just for training.
So to what extent were those men at the Dauphiné just to train?
The best training is, in fact, racing. The randomness of a peloton’s speed, accelerating and slowing perpetually through corners and varying road widths, means there is no way to simulate such an intense environment outside of a race unless you have a moped driver with forearm muscular dystrophy.
It’s important to remember that the only reason that the Tour de France contenders are at the Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse is to build form for the Le Tour.
If they could find better form at home, or in West Bengal, or in a volcano, they would. It just happens that the racing is enjoyable, provides cash prizes, and establishes itself in the region from where (the one and only) Chartreuse hails.
Picking the Tour contender at this stage has proven a tricky task, but if there is one thing we can deduce from the Dauphiné du Chartreuse it is this: Who can argue with Team Sky?