Critérium du Dauphiné stage 6: Wiggins hangs on as Rodríguez climbs to stage win

Stage 6: Les Gets to Le Collet d’Allevard, 192.5km

Joaquim Rodríguez proved the strongest climber at Le Collet d’Allevard to claim victory on the first of two big summit finishes which conclude this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné. Despite losing touch at the very end of the climb, race leader Bradley Wiggins extended his overall advantage after a solid defensive ride which showcased both his strengths and weaknesses on the very toughest climbs.

On a day featuring six categorised climbs the peloton was unwilling to let a sizeable break go too soon, and quickly stamped out a number of early breakaway attempts. Not until close to 80km had been completed did a group of eight finally succeed in getting away at the base of the descent of the day’s third climb, the Col des Aravis, establishing a lead of close to four minutes. In the break were Mauro Finetto (Liquigas), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) – all competent climbers, with Casar the highest ranked on general classification, 5:41 behind Wiggins.

Wiggins and his Sky team rode a strong defensive race to extend his overall lead (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

With Wiggins’s Sky team doing a fantastic job controlling the tempo in the peloton, however, the break was easily reined in and caught with 10km left, on the lower slopes of the Allevard. Edvald Boasson Hagen then tapped out a deceptively aggressive rhythm on the front for his team leader, which was only really apparent from looking at the back of the main group, as rider after rider dropped rapidly out of the back until an elite set of about 16 were left. That group became increasingly select as big names such as Ivan Basso and 2010 winner Janez Brajkovič fell away.

His job done, Boasson Hagen peeled off exhausted with under 7km to go, providing the cue for the attacks to begin. Robert Gesink twice drove hard off the front of the yellow jersey group, Rodríguez and Jurgen Van Den Broeck surged ahead, Alexandre Vinokourov charged over the top of everyone, and then Cadel Evans also had a go. Meanwhile behind all the action Wiggins remained calm, grinding on at a comfortable pace and keeping everyone within touching distance.

Rodríguez dominated the final climb to take an impressive stage victory

Not until Rodríguez launched a decisive acceleration inside the last 5km did the elastic finally snap in the elite group as riders counter-attacked and yo-yoed off the back in rapid order. Vinokourov, Gesink, Van Den Broeck, Wiggins and yesterday’s winner Christophe Kern formed a five-man group which trailed the lone leader by 45 seconds with 3km remaining, with Evans slowly losing touch behind them. As these five approached the 2km marker, Wiggins finally began to unship almost in slow motion. The gap was just a couple of lengths at first, but he inexorably continued to slide away from the other four, with Vinokourov soon joining him in drifting backwards as the final finishing order began to set itself.

Rodríguez finished well clear of the rest to claim a deserved win, being clearly the strongest climber on the day. Gesink accelerated away from Van Den Broeck and Kern in the final few hundred metres to finish 31 seconds down but eight seconds ahead of Van Den Broeck. Then, nine seconds adrift of Kern came Vinokourov in fifth, with Wiggins crossing shortly after. A grim-faced Evans was a further 15 seconds back. Overall, although he lost a few seconds to Vinokourov and Van Den Broeck, Wiggins extended his overall lead to 1:26.

Kern and Rodríguez were the big winners on the day, with the former jumping from 11th to fifth, while the Spaniard leapt from 15th to sixth. Brajkovič lost over three minutes and slipped from third to ninth while Basso, who has struggled for form all week after his recent training crash on Mount Etna, lost a further four minutes and is now 33rd, over 14 minutes down on Wiggins.

Rodríguez was tired but delighted to have won a stage he had specifically targeted:

This is the stage win that made me decide to ride the Dauphiné at the last minute. But what a fatigue! It’s been a very demanding stage. In the previous days when I had a chance of winning, I probably attacked too early, so today I wanted to wait for the very end. Five kilometres from the top was the perfect timing for going solo.

This was the stage that suited me the most. I’m more than happy with this victory. But the Dauphiné is not over. Tomorrow I’ll fight for the final top three overall.

For Wiggins, the day went pretty much according to plan:

It was a perfect day. We gained ground over Cadel and Janez Brajkovič . That was the true test.

I did not follow every attack. If I try to go with every rider who attacks – Vinokourov tried to do that and he was burnt out. I have a good advantage over my rivals, I can’t race with the pure climbers like Rodríguez.

And therein lies both Wiggins’s strength and his limitations in a nutshell. He is an excellent defensive climber who can remain calm, ride to a plan and get the maximum out of himself by putting himself into time trial mode. But he lacks the explosiveness to attack on his own, or to live with the accelerations of the very best climbers such as Rodríguez, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. With the advantage he gained in Wednesday’s time trial, he seems to have more than enough in the tank to defend his Dauphiné lead. But is he good enough to challenge for the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, where a succession of major climbs precede the penultimate stage time trial? On this showing, he can be considered a strong contender for a top five finish next month. But a potential winner? No.

Before Wiggins can claim overall victory here, however, there is the not insignificant challenge of Sunday’s final stage to overcome. Starting in Pontcharra, it pits a tired peloton against one of cycling’s Alpine giants, the hors catégorie Col du Glandon which, for added fun, has the final section of the climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer tagged on to its end – 22 lung-bursting kilometres at an average of 7%. However, the leaders will probably save their attacks for the climactic La Toussuire climb – where Floyd Landis cracked in the yellow jersey during the 2006 Tour. This is less severe, averaging 5.8% over its 14.8km, but bites hard in its opening kilometre and will ruthlessly expose anyone who strays into the red zone as the top men battle it out for the podium positions.

Stage 7 profile

Stage 6 result:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 5:12:47

2. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:31

3. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:39

4. Christophe Kern (Europcar) +0:41

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +0:50

General classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 23:16:11

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:26

3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:52

4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:13

5. Christophe Kern (Europcar) +2:52

6. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +3:01

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) +4:27

Points classification:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 71 pts

2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 60

3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 59

4. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 58

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 48

Mountains classification:

1. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 45 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 36

3. Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 30

4. Mauro Finetto (Liquigas-Cannondale) 29

5. Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) 26

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official

Critérium du Dauphiné recaps

Prologue: Boom blasts his way into the lead

Stage 1: Van Den Broeck underlines credentials with debut win

Stage 2: Degenkolb beats Dumoulin in little-and-large sprint

Stage 3: Blue Sky on a rainy day as Wiggins takes overall lead

Stage 4: Degenkolb’s double, HTC-Highroad’s hat-trick

Stage 5: Can he win it? Yes he Kern!

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