Tour de France now just a little more than two weeks away, the cycling world is starting to gear up for the biggest spectacle the sport has to offer. One of the major races that is often used as a tune-up for Le Tour is the Critérium du Dauphiné, an 8-stage road race that usually gives fans of the sport an indicator of who to watch on the roads of France in July. The Critérium was run last week, and ended on Sunday, with a few surprises that show that this year's Tour de France could be anyone's race to win.
25-year old American Andrew Talansky won the race, easily making this the biggest victory of his young career so far. Riding as part of the Garmin-Sharp squad, Talansky was lurking near the top of the leaderboard heading into the final day when he went on the attack with his teammate Rider Hesjedal in support. Tour de France favorites Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, who is the defending champ of that race, kept a close eye on one another, both trying to decide when they would need to attack the American if they wanted to reel in his breakaway. Their move came too late however, and Contador ended up giving away 1:15 to Talansky, while Froome cracked out on the road, lost more than five minutes of time, and ended up out of the top ten altogether.
What this all means for the Tour in a few weeks remains to be seen, and it is difficult to read too much into the performances here. Still, this is the part of the season where team managers want to see their cyclists rounding into form, as they tune-up for the big stage. The Critérium has historically been a good indicator of how well riders will do in the Tour de France, and there is no reason to expect anything different this year. That isn't to say that Talansky is set to win, but he could easily improve on his tenth place finish from last year, when he made his debut.
As for Contador, it appears that he is in fine form as he gets ready for the Tour, but unfortunately it remains to be seen whether or not his teammates are up to the task. On Sunday, in the final stage, he started the event in first place. But when Froome attacked early in the stage, Contator's team disappeared, and he was forced to ride without support for the rest of the day. That takes its toll on a rider after awhile, and makes it very difficult to stay with the leaders.
For his part, Chris Froome has to be disappointed with his showing, and very concerned heading into the final weeks leading up to Le Tour. He is expected to defend his 2013 win for Team Sky, but this past weekend he didn't have the legs that we're use to seeing him have on big climbs. Froome has earned a reputation for being one of the best climbers in the sport over the past two seasons, and he'll need those legs in the Alps and Pyrenees if he has any hope of defending his title.
As usual, I'm already getting excited about the Tour de France. I can't wait for it to get underway in a just a few weeks. As usual, I'll be posting daily notes and commentary on the race.