This week I’ve been mostly watching the Dauphiné Libéré, or as it’s more recently known, Critérium du Dauphiné. Like many stage races in France, it was started by a regional newspaper, before recently handing over responsibility to the ASO. The Dauphiné is considered as the last proving ground for the Tour contenders; an opportunity to fine-tune the form and gain a last-minute psychological boost ahead of the greatest show on earth. It usually echoes aspects of the Tour route in a compressed form, perhaps using the same stage as the time trial or incorporating climbs from the Queen stage. You also get to hear the dulcet tones of Daniel Mangeas echoing out across the mountain passes, a welcome harbinger of the return of Le Grand Boucle.
It’s been grand to see Chris Froome warm-up for a tilt at the Tour this year. He’s very much the flag-bearer for Kenyan British hopes in the absence of Sir Wiggo of Wiggins. His team are an impressive bunch, with lieutenant Richie Porte a GC contender in his own right, assisted by the monstrously strong Ian Stannard and the ferocious Geraint Thomas.
Ian Stannard is one of my favourite cyclists. He’s a complete beast on the bike and looks like he’s about to tear the handlebars away from the stem with each pedal stroke, such is his latent power and force. Froome is antithetical; a willowy and elongated sapling, each arm and leg seems to be working at odds with the other limbs and his head shakes and dips with the syncopated cadence. The bike seems almost unable to contain the narrow proportions of his 6″1 frame and his feet move at odds to his lower limbs. His elbows point outwards; the acute angles resemble the spindly and fragile joints of a spider.
He lacks the effortless charisma and bonhomie of Sir Wiggerton of Wiggston, but this is balanced by a willingness to attack and countenance the unpredictable when racing. His effort to overhaul Contador was similar to Dan Martin’s ride in Liege-Bastogne-Liege; a beautifully timed attack and paean to cycling in its purest form. His determination to lead the team around France this summer is also telling and appropriate. Everything he’s done over the past two seasons points to rider full of self-belief, fitness and form.