The much-anticipated Critérium du Dauphiné began today with a formidable uphill prologue. The route to Le Mont Chery from Les Gets featured gradients of over 20% – a course that would soon mark out who was on form and who wasn’t. As one of the last riders out, Tinkoff’s leader, Alberto Contador, started out strong, first taking the provisional lead, before taking the stage win with an advantage of six seconds.
A fearsome uphill prologue started the Critérium du Dauphiné. The prologue’s 3.9km uphill time trial, featuring an average gradient of 9.7%, was one of the race’s most exciting and toughest starts in recent history – and of any race in the professional cycling calendar. The 3.9km distance was deceptive, as in spite of the short distance, the road ahead of the riders was steep and was only going to get steeper.
With a tough opening kilometre at an average gradient of 6.1%, this already difficult start swiftly rose to a maximum gradient of more than 20% before the finish in Le Mont Chery. Even for the strongest riders, this wasn’t going to be an easy day.
Starting his campaign as one of the last riders out, Alberto’s GC rivals had already set some incredibly strong times on the course, with the fastest coming home in under twelve minutes. With Alberto passing his minute-man with ease, the scenes on the climb resembled a full mountain stage, with spectators lining the roads to give the Tinkoff leader their full support. Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, said the atmosphere was great for the riders. “There were a lot of people on the climb. There was no room for camper vans so people had to make an effort to walk up the climb, but still there was a great atmosphere.”
Alberto’s split times showed that he was performing well, but some of the steepest sections of the day were still to come. The last hairpins out of the way, and looking comfortable, it was a straight run in to the finish line – and the crowds already knew that the Spanish rider was going to start his race with a stage win. Alberto crossed the line with a time of 11’36” and held the provisional lead by an incredible thirteen seconds. With all riders in, Alberto took the stage win with six seconds separating him and second place.
With such a strong field, Alberto was surprised to have won the stage. “I knew there was a good trial on this course but I didn’t know if it were tough enough to win. My legs were missing speed, my heart was beating like crazy but I can’t say it’s a surprise to beat Chris Froome however, I didn’t expect to win. It was a very hard time trial, especially from km 2 to 1km to go with a gradient of more than 20%. You had to do the first part really fast and keep the rhythm there as well. The fact it was hard suited me really well.”
De Jongh was pleased to see Alberto come out so strong on the first day of this important race. “We knew that the prologue suited Alberto. With such a steep climb we were hoping for a good result. It was nice to finish the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, have a good rest and then go hard here and win again. It’s good for morale so we’re really happy.”
While taking a stage win today, Alberto was well aware there was a lot of racing still to come. “Today was a perfect a perfect day. We had a short race, we had to do it a full pace and from now we will take the race day by day. The time gaps are very small and some teams, especially Sky, came here to win. They brought a team with four or five riders that could claim the GC. I think they are the ones that will go for it.”
Tomorrow’s first road stage will see Alberto wearing the Maillot Jaune of the race leader. The 186km route will see the race cross four fourth category climbs earlier on in the day, before a flat run for the last 50km. This is unlikely to be a stage the GC riders will contest, however, and so the aim will be to keep Alberto safe. De Jongh was pleased to see some time gaps early on, but there’s a lot of the race to come. “Ahead of tomorrow there are already some gaps in the GC but the most important thing is to come out better as the race goes on. Of course the GC is important, but not at any price. Tomorrow’s stage suits the sprinters so we’ll see what happens there.”
While already ahead in the GC race, the Tinkoff leader was sticking to his plan of building for the Tour de France. “My goal here is to keep building my form for the Tour de France. It will be a long week and the squad and myself will stick to our goal of fine-tuning for the Tour. Aiming at the GC here will be a big wear for us, so we will let other teams take that responsibility.”
Tinkoff Press & Bettini Photo