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Although running for five days rather than its usual eight and postponed until mid-August, the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné will, as ever, afford Tour de France contenders the chance to hone their fitness and demonstrate their form against one another.
The Dauphiné traditionally offers opportunities for the sprinters, but the mountainous five-day route for the pandemic-delayed 2020 edition means that there are few fast men on hand this week, although Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), André Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will all line up looking for some climbing experience ahead of the Tour.
Here, then, are our 10 riders to watch at this year's Dauphiné (August 12-16), all of whom happen to be Tour de France top-10 contenders. Honourable mentions go to a number of team leaders and Tour-bound likely protagonists in the shape of EF Pro Cycling's Rigoberto and Sergio Higuita, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mitchelton-Scott's Adam Yates, the in-form Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe, who's always one to watch, whether we suggest it or not.
But with Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma once again dominating proceedings – just like at the recent Tour de l'Ain – with their three-pronged approaches of very real Tour de France and Dauphiné contenders, it's difficult to squeeze everyone in. Any one of the British and Dutch teams' three leaders could come out on top at this Dauphiné, but there are a number of WorldTour teams' leaders waiting in the wings should they falter.
Cyclingnews will be bringing you full live coverage, reports, results, news, and analysis before, during, and after the race.
Egan Bernal (Team Ineos)
The Colombian appears to be steadfastly getting on with being ready to win the Tour once more. His performances at the Route d'Occitanie at the start of August – which he won – followed by the Tour de l'Ain, where he was second behind Jumbo-Visma's Primoz Roglic, suggest that the Colombian is very much on track, but that perhaps everyone but him is beginning to get just a little worried about Jumbo-Visma and their man most likely – for the Dauphiné and the Tour – Primoz Roglic.
Bernal opted for the Tour de Suisse last year – which he won – as his route to the Tour, but with the Swiss stage race cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the myriad Dauphiné climbs will have to function this year as the 23-year-old's playground ahead of La Grande Boucle.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
He's looked the likely ultimate leader for Jumbo-Visma for the Tour de France since winning last season's Vuelta a España, and Roglic appeared to all but cement that status in the past week.
Since finally beginning his 2020 season at the Slovenian championships in June, where he won the road race and finished second in the time trial behind UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogacar, Roglic has looked sharp. After another five-week break, the 30-year-old went to the Tour de l'Ain alongside Jumbo-Visma teammates Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk, and promptly dismantled his rivals by taking second place on the opening stage and then winning the final two mountain stages and the overall title at the expense of Egan Bernal and Team Ineos.
Will it be more of the same at the Dauphiné? His form and performances rather suggest that it will be. Roglic has emerged not only as the best rider at Jumbo-Visma, but also a very likely winner of both the Dauphiné and the Tour – or a top-three finisher at both, at least.
Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma)
Kruijswijk perhaps doesn't get as much praise from fans and the media as he deserves; third place at last year's Tour should have him close to the top of most pundits' lists for this year's Tour de France, but the rise-and-rise of former ski jumper Primoz Roglic and Jumbo-Visma's acquisition of 2017 Giro d'Italia champion Tom Dumoulin from Sunweb for this season has seen him drop down the pecking order to a very definite third place in the Dutch WorldTour team's triumvirate of Tour leaders.
Kruijswijk helped Roglic to win last week's Tour de l'Ain – and took fourth place overall in what was his first race of the season – and so Roglic could do a lot worse than push the Dutchman to the fore and return the favour at the Dauphiné, providing Kruijswijk proves that he can have the measure of Team Ineos in the French Alps.
Last year's Tour saw the 33-year-old play second fiddle to Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, but he led his own team's orchestra. This season is a whole different beast, in so many ways, and it might be time for Kruijswijk to exploit his team's rise in fortunes and ability, and feature as a protagonist at the Dauphiné, no matter what the final result.
Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma)
Dumoulin's clearly coming back to form, as his strong work for Roglic at the Tour de l'Ain indicated, but it is worth recalling that he went some 420 days without racing. The Dutchman crashed out of the 2019 Giro d'Italia, and then made an aborted return at last year's Dauphiné, still suffering from his knee injury. A postponed start to the 2020 season with his new Jumbo-Visma team due to being unwell with intestinal parasites then gave way to the sport's coronavirus closedown, and suddenly 14 months had passed by without turning a pedal in anger.
He gamely rode in Roglic's service last week – and teammate Steven Kruijswijk has suggested that the three Dutch squad's leaders genuinely get along – but at the Dauphiné, Dumoulin will be pleased to demonstrate to himself, as much as to anyone else, that his annus horribilis is now truly behind him and that he's back as a genuine Grand Tour contender, as demonstrated by his 2017 Giro d'Italia victory, and his second-place finishes at the following year's Giro and Tour.
Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos)
Thomas had a quiet return to competition at the Tour de l’Ain following the COVID-19 shutdown. The collective showing of Team Ineos will give ground for concern, it’s worth noting that Thomas crashed out of the 2019 Tour de Suisse but recovered sufficiently to place second overall on the Tour. Despite placing 34th at the Tour de l’Ain, he will expect to be ready come the Grand Départ on August 29.
Is he capable of winning the Tour again? Yes, but a seemingly more capable teammate in Bernal would suggest the reality of doing so is made that much harder. If the Welshman could win the Dauphiné – like he did in 2018 ahead of his Tour victory – it would elevate Thomas to true 2020 contender status once more.
Chris Froome (Team Ineos)
Froome is a three-time winner of the Dauphiné – in 2013, 2015 and 2016 – and each time he won the Tour de France afterwards. His fourth Tour victory came in 2017, when he faded on the final stage of the Dauphiné and could only finish fourth, behind Astana's Jakob Fuglsang, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Dan Martin (then with UAE Team Emirates).
At last year's Dauphiné, Froome crashed while warming up for the stage 4 individual time trial, and his horrific resulting injuries kept him out of competition until the UAE Tour earlier this year.
He'll be keen to quickly get that Dauphiné monkey off his back on the first stage from Clermont Ferrand to Saint-Christo-en-Jarez on Wednesday, and his feisty retort to some booing by fans at the Route d'Occitanie indicate that he's either rediscovering his competitive fire or is perhaps a little frustrated that he's not yet reached the level of Ineos teammate Egan Bernal or likely competitor Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).
Although Froome will leave Ineos at the end of this season to join Martin at Israel Start-Up Nation next year, he will expect to be picked for his British team's Tour squad, and the Dauphiné will be absolutely key as an indicator of whether he'll start in Nice at the end of the month as one of the squad's three leaders or as a super-domestique for Bernal or Geraint Thomas.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren)
Landa will have the full backing of his Bahrain McLaren team at the Dauphiné, which will act as somewhat of a dress rehearsal for the Tour de France, where the Spanish rider will also have top billing.
The 30-year-old has so far avoided the onslaught of Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma's best by following a route since the restart that has been made up of the Vuelta a Burgos – where he was second behind the rampant Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – and Spanish one-day race the Circuito de Getxo-Memorial Hermanos Otxoa last week, where he finished in a lowlier 71st place.
"After taking second place overall at the Vuelta a Burgos, I believe that I'll be in even better, and very good, shape for the Dauphiné," Landa said at the weekend. "The hard climbs in the French Alps are always very challenging for me. I'm looking forward to racing there, and giving it my best, and keeping my good feeling for racing going."
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
As strange as it may sound, Martin may just be the man to challenge the status quo that is the current Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma domination of stage racing since the restart – notwithstanding Deceuninck-QuickStep's Remco Evenepoel, who won’t be at either the Dauphiné or the Tour. That's perhaps a lot of pressure to heap on one rider who appears to only just be truly finding his feet in the top echelons of the sport, thanks mainly to his third place at the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge last week and his fourth place on the final stage of the Tour de l'Ain on Sunday.
However, Martin is aiming high, and aiming to better his 12th place at last year's Tour. His 17th place at last year's Dauphiné was perhaps a portent of what was to come, but the 27-year-old Frenchman has now changed teams – from Wanty-Gobert to Cofidis – and will be able to count on unwavering support from his new teammates and enthusiastic home support, both at the Dauphiné and the Tour.
Martin could be the revelation of 2020.
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic)
Undoubtedly the rider of the season up until the cessation of competition in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Quintana has picked up again nicely since the post-coronavirus pause, taking eighth place at his first race back – the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge – and then third overall at the Tour de l'Ain last week, sandwiched between Team Ineos and Jumbo-Visma's best.
Joining Arkéa-Samsic from Movistar this season seems to have given the Colombian a new lease of life, and he could feature on any, if not all, of this year's five Dauphiné stages. He'll have the company and support of French road race champion Warren Barguil, too, who should be able to help Quintana against the might of Ineos and Jumbo, and who may be looking for a stage win himself.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)
Pinot's recommenced season has gone well enough: at the Route d'Occitanie – his only race so far since the restart – the 30-year-old French took fourth place overall, and fourth and third place on the final two stages, respectively.
However, Pinot won't have right-hand man David Gaudu at his side at the Dauphiné as the younger rider has been suffering with digestive problems. The team have decided to rest him as a result, in the hopes of him being back to health in time for the start of the Tour de France in Nice on August 29.
Pinot is nevertheless surrounded by experience and ability – Matthieu Ladagnous, Sébastien Reichenbach and Stefan Küng will never be far away – and the Dauphiné could act as another opportunity for Valentin Madouas to step up in readiness for what will be his first Tour at the end of the month.