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UCI WorldTour: Critérium du Dauphiné a major test of mountain strength




Three summit finishes and no long individual time trial will combine to make the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné a major test of climbing strength. It will also provide an intriguing new chapter in  the battle for supremacy in the UCI WorldTour.

Running from Sunday June 8th to Sunday June 15th, the Critérium du Dauphiné’s only time trial is stage one’s very short  -   10.4 kilometres -  race against the clock through the streets of Lyon. But as soon as stage two, which concludes with the 13.6 kilometre Col du Beál climb, the ball moves into the climbers’ court with a vengeance.

Unusually for the prestigious eight-day French race, there is no mid-week time trial, making the following two back-to-back summit finishes, on stages seven and eight all but decisive in the race’s outcome.

Stage seven’s 160 kilometre stage from Ville-la-Grand - Finaut-Émosson, which culimates with two Hors Categorie climbs is the most difficult single day of climbing, but contenders losing time on Saturday could yet bounce back on the race's final summit finish at the ski station of Courchevel on stage eight.

Whilst victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné is hugely significant in its own right, traditionally the race acts as a major test of form, too, for the upcoming Tour de France.

So it is no surprise to find top Tour de France contenders Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Pro Team) and last year’s winner, Chris Froome (Sky) amongst the Criterium du Dauphiné’s line-up. Other riders keen to make their mark in July who will be present in Lyon this Sunday include  Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team), Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale).

UCI WorldTour leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) is not participating, and instead is taking a well-earned rest after his recent victory in the Giro d’Italia. Rather Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) currently second overall in the WorldTour ranking  will be keen to use the Critérium du Dauphiné to try and regain the top spot overall - which the Tinkoff-Saxo rider first took after the Volta a Catalunya in March. Quintana’s current total of 345 points is only 53 more than Contador’s total of 308, so a victory for the Spaniard would allow Contador to turn the tables on his Colombian rival - for now.

A strong performance by Spanish riders would also allow their country to re-gain ground on second-placed Colombia in the UCI WorldTour nations ranking. Colombia moved up no less than six places thanks to their outstanding collective performance in the Giro, and currently trail Spain, who have 805 points, by 121 points.

A solid Critérium du Dauphiné ride for Kwiatkowski, currently sixth in the individual UCI WorldTour rankings with 251 points, could  both help the Pole move into the top five overall and simultaneously would become an equally important factor in the UCI WorldTour teams classification. Kwiatkowski’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad currently has a narrow margin of just 13 points on second-placed Movistar Team - 789 points for the Belgian outfit compared to 776 for the Spaniards.

The battle for leadership in all three UCI WorldTour categories, therefore, now enters a potentially crucial phase, with the Critérium du Dauphiné offering what will surely be a particularly intense high mountain battle. Check back late  on June 15th to see who has managed to benefit the most.

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