June 12, 2011 1 Comment
In a carbon copy of Saturday’s stage to Le Collet d’Allevard, Katusha‘s Joaquim Rodríguez attacked late and soloed to victory at the summit finish of La Toussuire, while race leader Bradley Wiggins calmly defended his lead to claim by far the biggest win of his road career at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The Dauphiné concluded with a short, sharp stage of just 117.5km which featured the hors catégorie Col de la Croix de Fer (via the Col du Glandon) and then the climactic ascent of La Toussuire, where Floyd Landis famously cracked while in the yellow jersey during the 2006 Tour de France.
A breakaway of 11 riders went clear 15km into the stage and established a lead of 4:45 before the Katusha-led peloton started to reel them in. FDJ‘s Thibaut Pinot broke clear of his fellow escapees on the Glandon and he went over the summit alone, with a trio of Rodríguez, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Christophe Kern (Europcar) in hot pursuit and a group of ten containing Wiggins, Sky teammate Rigoberto Urán and the other top contenders not far behind. On the descent, these two groups recombined, but the effervescent Thomas Voeckler darted off the front to join up with and then pass Pinot to start the final 14.8km climb to La Toussuire alone.
Gesink and a resurgent Pinot caught up to Voeckler just after the 10km to go marker, and the trio maintained an advantage of around one minute as Urán tapped out the pace at the front of the yellow jersey group, which numbered about 15 by this point. Chris Anker Sørensen – a stage winner on this climb in 2008 – was the first to attack the group with 6km remaining, and he was allowed to go unchallenged and bridge the junction to the front three.
The serious attacks from the top contenders started with 5km to go. Jurgen Van Den Broeck was the first to attack, kicking on three separate occasions. Each time his move was covered and Wiggins continued untroubled in the middle of the group, but the accelerations were enough to put several others into trouble. But when Rodríguez made his move with 3.4km left, only Van Den Broeck, Alexandre Vinokourov and Cadel Evans were able to follow. Wiggins was unable to respond with a kick of his own, but he gradually worked his way back up to reattach himself.
After a second dig by Sørensen was rapidly shut down, Kern came to the front to drive a steady pace, looking to return the favour for Voeckler, who had supported him to his stage win on Friday. He kept the hammer down under the flamme rouge, but with about 700 metres to go Rodríguez put in a savage acceleration which left everyone else for dead, and he romped to his second win in as many days, securing both the points and mountains classifications as an added bonus.
Eight seconds behind, Pinot won a four-man sprint for second place ahead of Gesink, Van Den Broeck and Vinokourov – a just reward for his solo break – while Wiggins was able to coast over the line on Evans’s wheel three seconds later, arms raised to celebrate a hard-earned overall victory.
Wiggins was suitably elated to achieve this watershed result in his career – in many ways just as important as his fourth place at the 2009 Tour – which can only lift his confidence ahead of next month:
The Dauphiné is a very historical race. This is made of Tour de France champions. I don’t think that I’m on form too early before the Tour de France. You have seen that I wasn’t very well in the last climb. But once we got to the last climb, I didn’t panic. I’m still in a period of training. The condition is coming and I think I got the biggest win of my pro career.
However, he was under no illusions about the task of beating Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck:
Winning the Tour de France against Andy Schleck and Contador is a big call. The top 10 has always been the goal, but now with the confidence I got at the Dauphiné, the top six is the goal.
Third-placed Vinokourov was pleased with his progress, but downplayed Wiggins’s Tour chances:
My condition has improved every day. In the climbs, I’ve managed to maintain a strong rhythm. The work done was good, it’s just a pity that I didn’t win any stage.
Wiggins has done a good race but I don’t think he can win the Tour de France. He managed to hold on in the climbs but Contador will be above this level.
Double stage winner Rodríguez was pleased to have finally ridden the Dauphiné:
I came to the Dauphiné for a stage win and now I’ve got two! This is for sure the nicest week of my cycling career so far. I had never done the Dauphiné before because I was often at the Giro and the only year I’ve done the Tour de France, I went to the Tour de Suisse. Maybe I should have come to this race earlier because it suits me to perfection.
And runner-up Evans was pleased with the result, despite suffering from some physical problems:
All things considered, I’m pretty happy with second for once. We were so closely matched here all week and the racing has been hard from start to finish each day. We didn’t see the overall contenders winning many stages because it was so closely matched between the first three or four on the general classification.
I wasn’t feeling good, I’ve suffered from allergies this week. But I’m not disappointed. Second is still a good result. I’ll go home, rest a bit and resume training for the Tour de France.
It is all too easy to knock Wiggins for winning in unspectacular fashion. Second in the time trial was the closest he came to winning a stage, and in the Alps on the last two stages he rode conservatively in the middle of the lead group and never really asserted his authority at any time, let alone attack. But in fairness he did not need to attack – the onus for that was on others – and he did everything he needed to in order to cover dangerous moves and protect his advantage.
Yes, it was a win high on grit and low on flamboyance. As I said in yesterday’s post, it is no secret that he lacks the acceleration to live with or really hurt Contador and Schleck, which is hardly a surprise given his prior achievements in pursuits and time trials, both disciplines which rely on efficiency and consistent speed rather than out-and-out acceleration. However, as this week has proved, there is more than one way to win a race – even though this method is less-than-swashbuckling and unlikely to sustain more than the briefest of challenges for the yellow jersey at the Tour next month.
But a win is a win, and this was a win in a leading race against a high-class field in which both Wiggins and his team responded well to the challenge of defending the race lead. As only the third British rider to win the Dauphiné after Brian Robinson in 1961 and Robert Millar in 1990, he has certainly proven himself worthy of a seat at cycling’s top table. He should certainly be thoroughly satisfied with his week’s work (as should Vinokourov, Evans and Van Den Broeck). Chapeau.
Stage 7 result:
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 3:24:30
2. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +0:07
3. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) same time
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) s/t
1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 26:40:51
2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:26
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:49
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:10
5. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +2:51
6. Christophe Kern (Europcar) +3:05
7. Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale) +3:30
8. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +4:14
9. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +4:22
10. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) +4:31
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 86 pts
2. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 65
3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 61
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 55
5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 48
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 63 pts
2. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) 53
3. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 49
4. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 45
5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 43
Critérium du Dauphiné recaps