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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, June 7, 2016

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Ever notice how irons have a setting for permanent press? I don't get it. - Steven Wright

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Critérium du Dauphiné stage one reports

Race leader Contador's Tinkoff squad sent me this:

Tour of Flanders, the Inside Story

After a strong performance on yesterday’s prologue, Alberto Contador started today with the yellow jersey on his shoulders. On a day that was marked out as likely to end in a sprint finish, it was a straightforward affair for Alberto and the Tinkoff riders to defend the jersey. Keeping safe in a hectic and frenetic bunch sprint, Alberto crossed the line with the same time as the sprinters, keeping the race lead for another day.

The Critérium du Dauphiné ventured out onto its first road stage today after a stellar performance by Tinkoff’s leader, Alberto Contador, on yesterday’s prologue. In the race leader’s yellow jersey, Alberto started out with his teammates on today’s 186km stage in bright sunshine in the starting town of Cluses. Ahead of the riders were four fourth category climbs, but with three of these out of the way in the first 75km, it was unlikely that these would trouble the peloton. After another fourth category climb 52km from the stage’s finish, it was to be a flat run to what was expected to be a bunch sprint.

Almost as soon as the flag dropped to signal the end of the neutralised zone, the attempts to break away came. Quickly gaining an advantage on the peloton, the group of two built up a sizeable gap, extending their lead to more than three minutes with less than 20km of the stage covered. The sprinters’ teams were confident that they would be able to bring the escapees in as they got closer to the finish, and this was reflected in the relatively slow speed in the peloton.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador at the stage start

Building up their lead to a little over five minutes, the breakaway climbed the third of the day’s four climbs. With a fairly flat approach to the day’s final climb, the pace in the peloton crept up in order to take back some of the break’s advantage, and as the final climb approached, with a little over 50km to go, the break’s gap dropped to below three minutes, and by 25km the escape had only 1’20”. Knowing it was only a matter of time until the peloton caught them, one member of the break dropped back at 20km to go leaving one man out in front with a gap of 1’15”.

The break caught with 13km remaining, it was all back together for the run in to the finish in Saint-Vulbas. The final kilometre was flat and absent of any twists or turns that might catch riders out and cause splits, and so as the sprinters’ teams massed at the front, a bunch sprint was almost certain.

With only a few roundabouts to negotiate before the finish the speed in the peloton was increasing, with a few riders caught out by taking the wrong line before the finish. The lead teams were jostling for position and the speeds were monstrously fast. Staying safe and crossing the line with the bunch, Alberto Contador took the same time as the sprinters, retaining his yellow jersey.

While the route was fairly flat, the pace was high from the start, as Alberto observed. "It was a relatively calm day but with a fast pace from the start. We knew the sprinters team would be in charge, so it was important to stay in front, especially in the finale in order to stay safe and avoid any gaps. We achieved that, we didn't lose any time or suffer from any crash, so I'm satisfied.”

From the stage’s finish, Sport Director, Sean Yates, knew Alberto would be in a good position to keep the yellow jersey. “Defending the jersey was fairly straightforward today, and being on a sprint stage this was as easy as it could be. While there were two guys up the road there are only two stages for the sprinters in this race and they’re not going to pass up those opportunities – we knew they would pull it back together.”

As the whole team had come in safely, Yates was pleased with the teamwork today, riding at the front and keeping the break in touch. “As the yellow jersey team we wanted to take control and not let the break get too far out, and the sprinters’ teams worked with us to do that. The gap was kept small so there would be less hard work pulling it in and lots of teams had an interest. For us in the end it was just a matter of keeping Alberto safe and avoiding incidents.”

Echoing Yates’ comments, Alberto saw how the team took control at various points in the stage. “Wearing the leader's yellow jersey doesn't change much in the way we race. Maybe the only difference is that the team would take a bit more responsibility. However, it's a nice feeling to have it.”

Tomorrow’s stage sees the race’s first uphill finish, along with an uphill start that might bring with it some surprises. The 167.5km stage features four tough categorised climbs, and after the prologue will give the climbers and GC riders something to aim for, with both the stage win and time bonuses up for grabs. The first few kilometres of the stage would set the tone for the day – and the team’s strategy, as Yates explained. “There are a hard few days ahead of us though, and tomorrow we’ll need to try and defend the jersey. Tomorrow there’s an uphill start and it will be hectic from the off, but once the stage is underway we’ll have a better idea of how things will go. There are time bonuses available so we want to make sure the other GC riders don’t take those and chip into Alberto’s lead. We’ve got a good team though – they’re motivated and Alberto is in fine form, so we’ll take each day as it comes.”

Coming to the Critérium du Dauphiné after spending some time at a training camp, Alberto felt his form was improving daily. “It was also a good day to build speed in the legs since they are still a bit lazy but I can feel my form getting better every day. Tomorrow, I know there is a small uphill finish but I haven't been able to look at it closely. Again, we will have to be attentive but this is something we will see tomorrow. As I said before, the Dauphiné is a good test to see our form and a good opportunity to fine-tune it for the Tour de France. I have good sensations right now and I look forward to a week of great racing.”

Chris Froome's Team Sky posted this Dauphiné news:

Chris Froome lost no time to his general classification rivals to maintain third place overall as Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) emerged after a wild final 10 kilometres to win the sprint in Saint-Vulbas.

On paper it looked like it would be a straightforward day in France, with just four fourth-category climbs to contend with across the 186km stage, but the pace went through the roof in the closing stages as both sprint and general classification teams looked to protect their leaders.

Team Sky moved to the fore to protect Froome, with Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe putting in big stints at the front of the pack, before Michal Kwiatkowski took over inside the final 2km to guide him home safely. Froome held firm during a physical run-in to remain just 13 seconds off the lead.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome riding the prologue hill-climb

Froome wore the polka dot jersey on behalf of race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who was in the yellow jersey, but will revert to his usual Team Sky kit for stage two.

The stage had played out as expected, with a two-man break going clear in the early stages. Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) built a strong gap of around five minutes, but, after Docker had sat up, Backaert was caught 13km from home and the battle for the win intensified.

Bouhanni battled hard for position inside the final hundred metres before rounding Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon) to claim victory.

After the stage Sport Director Nicolas Portal was happy to see the team come through a sketchy finale as Froome just about stayed upright and out of trouble.
"In the finish the guys did really well. We had a plan to put Froomey in a really good position so he could avoid any crashes," he confirmed.

"With the sprint teams it's always hectic and you could see on the TV there was a big fight between the lead-out trains. It's dangerous, but that's why we want to be in a good position. The line is thin between fighting for position and being close to a crash. That's why we're always trying to have guys around Chris who know how to race in the wheels and move him up."

"Other than that today was pretty good for the team. We had a small incident during the stage where Sergio had an insect in his helmet on the climb. He crashed and that also caught up Ian Stannard. It was nothing major - just a bit of skin - and both guys were there at the finish.

"There were a couple of easier hours towards the start of the day where Tinkoff controlled the stage. Then in the last 70km after the feedzone the speed started to increase."

Here's Lotto-Soudal's post:

The first stage of the Dauphiné ended with a bunch sprint, as expected. Jens Debusschere got second, behind Bouhanni.

Naver Bouhanni

Nacer Bouhanni winning he stage. Debusschere is wearing the Lotto jersey.

Jens Debusschere: “It was a very hectic finale, I had to choose between the train of Giant and Cofidis. There were a lot of roundabouts in the finale and also the GC riders were riding on the first rows of the bunch because they were afraid the peloton would split. I chose the wheel of Bouhanni. 150 metres before the finish there was a small gap in between the rear wheel of Bouhanni and my front wheel and because he is so explosive it was impossible to win. I did all I could. I want to thank Kris Boeckmans and Tony Gallopin for bringing me in a good position into the final kilometre. My sprint was okay, but Bouhanni was stronger. At the Tour de Picardie he beat me a few times as well, I can only hope to beat him one day. Tomorrow and the day after aren’t suited for sprinters, but Thursday there might be another opportunity. After the finish I saw the images. It amazes me to see that riders who talk about safety do such things. It didn’t affect my sprint, but I think it’s logical that the victory can’t go to a rider who wrongfully conquered it.”

Bora-Argon 18 had this to report regarding the Dauphiné stage:

Even though everyone expected a sprint finish in today’s first stage at the Critérium du Dauphine, two riders attacked early and formed the break of the day. Their lead increased to over 5 minutes, but Katusha never let in doubt that their man Alexander Kristoff wanted to take another win under his belt. After the feeding zone the gap of the leaders started to come down and entering the last 50k it was already under 3 Minutes.

Also for BORA – ARGON 18 it was clear that under this circumstances the man to support is Sam Bennett. Therefore, the team tactics was to stay together in the peloton and not to try to catch the early break.

With 15k to go the break was over and the fight for positions in the peloton started. The teams with the GC favourites tried to protect their leaders, while the sprinter teams organised their trains. Because of a tailwind finish, the last kilometres were a real high speed challenge. BORA – ARGON 18 brought Sam Bennett well into the last kilometre. He decided to launch his sprint already with 300m to go. With a very confident performance he almost scored his first WordTour win, just on the last 30m N. Bouhanni and J. Debusschere could overtake Sam. But his 3rd place means a boost in confidence for the next stages.

“The team did a great job to position me well. In the last 500m I decided to go even up a little further by myself in the wind, then I thought I just give it a go. In a tailwind sprint it is better to lead early than get stuck somewhere. But in the end it was just a little too early. With 50m to go I thought I got it, but then Bouhanni passed me. It is a petty to be so close and then still get overtaken, but everyone could see today that my speed is really good now.” – Sam Bennett

And this came from Lampre-Merida:

The sprinters were the protagonists of the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphiné, which started from Cluses and finished in Saint-Vulbas after 186 km of race.

The only four light hills of the course (which were categorized as 4th category climbs) did prevent the sprinters' teams to control the race, neutralizing at 13 km to the arrival the breakaway of two riders (Backaert and Docker) which had led the stage with a maximum advantage of 5'.

The peloton approached the last kilometer at full speed and Zurlo, who was the designated fast wheel for LAMPRE-MERIDA, could rely on the support from Pibernik, who was very skillfull in exploiting a mix of power and riding skills in leading the team mate to the best positions in the front of the bunch.

The sprint was very harsh and in was characterized by some physical contacts, however Zurlo was not scared and he tried to defend the position, before his path was closed at 300 meters to the arrival, just before the sprint was launched.

"Pibernik was great in leading Zurlo to the front positions of the bunch - sports director Mauduit explained - Federico was just behind Bouhanni and Kristoff, who were fighting in a very intense way: the sprint became harsh, Zurlo succeeded in defeding his position, however he could not enter in the top ten because, just before he could start his final action, he could not find the necessary space".

Contador retains the leadership in the overall classification, Conti is 18th at 52".

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