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Critérium du Dauphiné stage 7: Rodríguez attacks to win stage, Wiggins defends to win overall

Stage 7: Pontcharra to La Toussuire, 117.5km

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.

Pinot made a brave solo break, eventually finishing second (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

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.

Wiggins easily defended his lead to claim overall victory (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

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

General classification:

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

Points classification:

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

Mountains classification:

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

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official websiteSteephill.tv

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!

Stage 6: Wiggins hangs on as Rodríguez climbs 

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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 websiteSteephill.tv

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!

Critérium du Dauphiné stage 5: Can he win it? Yes he Kern!

Stage 5: Parc des Oiseaux – Villars-les-Dombes to Les Gets, 210km

On the Critérium du Dauphiné‘s first day in the Alps, Europcar‘s Christophe Kern claimed his first win as a professional – and his first victory of any kind since 2004 – at the end of a lumpy fifth stage, courtesy of a perfectly timed solo attack 3km from the finish in Les Gets. The concluding second-category climb of the day featured a spate of attacks, but Bradley Wiggins was comfortably able to maintain his overall lead ahead of tomorrow’s hors catégorie summit finish at Le Collet d’Allevard.

On an awkward, lumpy day featuring three second-category climbs and plenty of bumps in between, the peloton was unwilling to let an early break go, shutting down several early efforts as they averaged a rapid 48kph over the first two hours of racing. Finally, RadioShack‘s Jason McCartney was allowed to ride away on his own after 96km, just before the feed zone. 23 minutes down and posing no threat on the general classification, McCartney was allowed to build up a lead of 12:30 before Katusha and Wiggins’s Sky team picked up the pace in the peloton. They were later supplemented by riders from both Garmin-Cervélo and Europcar, and the deficit quickly started to tumble. Indeed, just over 10km from the base of the final 10.7km climb Europcar put five men on the front, a clear statement of intent that the French team were looking to set up national champion Thomas Voeckler.

Wiggins had no problems defending his lead today, but will face stiffer challenges over the next two days (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

With just over 20km to go, a crash took out both AG2R‘s Nicolas Roche and Quick Step’s Andy Cappelle. Roche eventually continued after several minutes with a bruised arm and thigh, finishing 25 minutes down. He was later treated for a deep wound in his elbow which required stitching. His status remains uncertain. Cappelle was taken to hospital with bruising to his skull, a fractured foot and ribs, and a suspected fractured collarbone.

By the start of the final climb, a visibly tiring McCartney’s advantage was barely a minute, and as the attacks started on the steep lower slopes it was inevitable he would soon be swallowed up. Time trial winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) was the first to attack with 10km to go. He was joined by Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Cannondale), and the trio quickly caught and passed the long-time solo leader.

Wiggins, always at the head of the peloton, looked comfortable as he benefitted from an escort of Sky teammates, with first Geraint Thomas and then Rigoberto Urán setting a steady tempo on the front. Five more riders – none a threat to the leader – were allowed to slip off the front, bridging the gap to Martin’s trio. Almost immediately Leopard-Trek‘s Oliver Zaugg then launched himself off the front, establishing a lead of over 20 seconds and causing the rest of the lead group to fragment.

Kern claimed by far the biggest win of his career

It was not until inside the final 4km that some of the bigger names tried to make their move. A small group including Voeckler and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez punched clear of the yellow jersey group, but Wiggins and the other favourites had little difficulty bringing themselves back up to their wheels.

At the front, Zaugg was caught and Kern then made his stage-winning move inside 3km on the steep upper section of the climb. Saxo Bank Sungard‘s Chris Sørensen was the only rival able to give chase and Voeckler, this time playing the dutiful support role with his teammate up the road, simply sat on his wheel and man-marked him all the way to the top. Kern’s advantage was never less than six or seven seconds, and with his tongue hanging out and his shoulders rolling from the effort, he was able to savour the biggest win of his career. The 30-year old has always been a solid all-rounder, but this was his first taste of glory since winning a stage at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2004 – and his first since he joined the professional ranks in 2005.

Behind him Wiggins, with second-placed Cadel Evans never far from his wheel, was able to counter every attack. Garmin’s Irish rider Dan Martin tried twice in quick succession, and Alexandre Vinokourov also had a dig, but just about all the big names finished together in a bunch nine seconds behind the winner. Of last night’s top ten only Thomas, who sacrificed himself pacing the yellow jersey group up the climb, and white jersey wearer Rui Costa, who was unshipped near the end and conceded ten seconds, lost any time. Leonardo Duque increased his lead in the mountains competition.

An ecstatic Kern was delighted to have finally won, having suffered a near miss earlier in the week:

I attacked with three kilometres to go, knowing that even if I was going to get caught, Thomas [Voeckler] was one of the fastest sprinters for the stage win.

It’s super to win here today because the Dauphiné is a big race and this is a mountain stage. I got close two years ago at the Tour de France in Arcalis. I tried again on stage one here on Monday but I got caught with 800 metres to go.

I had a knee injury at the beginning of the year and I came back nicely to my best level. Three weeks before the Tour de France, this is my best win ever so far.

Wiggins was delighted with both his and his team’s effort, but accepted that the moderate gradient of the final climb meant significant gaps were always unlikely:

The team worked very well. There were a lot of attacks in the final section but everyone was in a bunch on the final climb. It was not steep enough to build big gaps.

He was wary ahead of tomorrow’s two big climbs, but remained confident:

We’ve always known it would be tough this weekend. I’ve trained very well in the last couple of months. I believe in my condition, where I’m at at the moment.

The penultimate stage of the Dauphiné sees the riders tackle six categorised climbs. After four middling mountains to loosen the legs, the route culminates in the one-two punch of the first-category Col du Grand Cucheron (a gruelling 16.2km, 5% ascent) and the hors catégorie climb to the Le Collet resort in Allevard-les-Bains. The Allevard climb is relentless, averaging 8.4% over its 11.2km, with a middle 4km section which exceeds 10%. With the Col du Glandon still to come, the racing between the leaders may be somewhat cagey, possibly allowing a breakaway to succeed, but a selection of sorts is surely inevitable.

Stage 5 result:

1. Christophe Kern (Europcar) 5:05:03

2. Chris Sørensen (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:07

3. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) +0:09

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) same time

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) s/t

General classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 18:02:30

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:11

3. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +1:21

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:56

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +2:22

6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:28

7. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +2:45

8. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +2:46

9. Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +2:52

10. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +2:52

Points classification:

1. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 58 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 56

3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 55

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 53

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 47

Mountains classification:

1. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 39 pts

2. Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) 16

3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 16

4. Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne) 15

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 13

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official websiteSteephill.tv

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

Critérium du Dauphiné stage 4: Degenkolb’s double, HTC-Highroad’s hat-trick

Stage 4: La Motte-Servolex to Mâcon, 173.5km

If HTC-Highroad‘s rivals breathed a sigh of relief when powerful German sprinter André Greipel defected to Omega-Pharma Lotto over the winter, they did so too soon. A team which already boasts a pair of world-class sprinters in Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss has simply added another powerhouse in the form of 22-year old John Degenkolb. Having won Tuesday’s stage to Lyon, the impressive young German added stage four of the Critérium du Dauphiné on a flat finish in Mâcon. Degenkolb’s second victory of the race completed a hat-trick of wins for HTC-Highroad over the past three days. The top of the general classification was unchanged, although Cofidis‘s Leonardo Duque moved into the lead in the mountains classification.

Serial breakaway merchant Jérémy Roy (FDJ) shot off the front of the peloton after just 4km and was joined by Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD), perhaps best known as the lanterne rouge, the last man to complete last year’s Tour de France. However, with the big sprinters’ teams all eager to ensure a bunch finish on the last flat stage of the race, the pair were never allowed to venture much more than four minutes up the road, and the peloton, with Tyler Farrar‘s Garmin-Cervélo squad particularly active, had the luxury of allowing them to dangle off the front before timing the catch just before the 2km marker to ensure no one else had an opportunity to disrupt affairs with a late counter-attack.

Degenkolb sweeps past Boasson Hagen (left) to take his second victory of the Dauphiné (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

However, once the diesel engine of HTC’s Tony Martin had peeled off the front of the line inside the final kilometre, the organisation faltered as no one team was willing to take up the running until Boasson Hagen’s Sky lead-out man Geraint Thomas picked up the baton. In a chaotic finish, Thomas dropped Boasson Hagen off in the perfect spot to launch his sprint. Astana‘s Thomas Vaitkus had his wheel but was unable to make any impression. However Degenkolb, who had moved patiently forward in the line in the final 600 metres, had a perfect view of the action from fifth or sixth wheel, and despite giving Boasson Hagen more than a bike length’s head start, appeared to all but throw his bike forward through sheer force of will before sweeping past the Norwegian in the final 50 metres to win by a good half-length.

Boasson Hagen held onto second, comfortably ahead of Saxo Bank Sungard‘s J J Haedo and Vaitkus while Farrar, who had been well positioned for the sprint, appeared to have no kick whatsoever and finished a distant sixth.

With the vast majority of the peloton finishing together immediately behind the sprint for first place, race leader Bradley Wiggins enjoyed a largely uneventful day in spite of a mid-stage puncture. He retains an advantage of 1:11 over Cadel Evans. Duque swept up the key mountains points behind the breakaway duo to move into the lead in the mountains classification ahead of three days in the Alps starting tomorrow.

Degenkolb was delighted to collect his second win despite having been slightly out of position entering the final:

Today was a very good day for me. My positioning for the sprint wasn’t the best but I had enough punch to stay in the front and go for the big fight with Boasson Hagen. It’s not a big surprise for me that I beat riders like Boasson Hagen and Farrar. I’m sure that other times they’ll beat me.

Wiggins was pleased to retain his overall lead, and looked forward to testing his legs in the Alps:

I still had the effort from the time-trial in my legs but that’s normal. The stage went well with a break from two riders. But it wasn’t difficult to control that.

As far as the next stages, we will have to see how it pans out. The hardest stage will certainly be on Saturday when we have a final climb that I don’t know. For the moment I have the legs for it but tomorrow (Friday) is when we have the real Dauphiné.

Stage 5 sees the first of three consecutive summit finishes to close out the Dauphiné, and features three second-category ascents. The second climb of the Mont des Princes is probably the most individually challenging – it is the shortest at 5.5km but also the steepest with an average gradient of 7%. However, the final drag up to the resort of Les Gets (10.7km, 4,7%) is an awkward one, with fairly steep ramps broken up by three near-flat sections. Attacks are most likely to come on the steep initial part of the climb, and also a relatively sharp section in kilometres eight and nine, and while some of the top riders may be distanced, the resultant time gaps will not be decisive.

Stage 5 profile

Stage 4 result:

1. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 4:15:41

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) same time

3. J J Haedo (Saxo Bank Sungard) s/t

4. Thomas Vaitkus (Astana) s/t

5. William Bonnet (FDJ) s/t

General classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 12:57:18

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:11

3. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +1:21

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:56

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +2:12

6. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +2:25

7. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:28

8. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +2:45

9. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +2:46

10. Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +2:52

Points classification:

1. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 58 pts

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 47

3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 40

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 38

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 37

Mountains classification:

1. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 20 pts

2. Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) 16

3. Brice Feillu (Leopard-Trek) 14

4. Jérémy Roy (FDJ) 13

5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 10

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official websiteSteephill.tv

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

Critérium du Dauphiné stage 3: Blue Sky on a rainy day as Wiggins takes overall lead

Stage 3: Grenoble, 42.5km individual time trial

Even though time trial ace Tony Martin won HTC-Highroad‘s second stage in consecutive days, on a rainy afternoon it was perhaps appropriate that the sun shone brightest on Sky. Bradley Wiggins and Edvald Boasson Hagen were second and third behind the German powerhouse, while Geraint Thomas made it three of the top seven. And on a day which produced some significant time gaps – there were exactly two minutes between first and tenth – Wiggins took over the yellow-and-blue leader’s jersey by more than a minute, while Thomas leapt from 20th to sixth.

The rolling course, starting and ending in Grenoble, was of particular interest in part because it is run over the same route as the time trial at next month’s Tour de France, but also because of its complexity. It featured two hills with a long descent to the finish which was initially quite twisty, requiring a mix of flat-out power, handling, climbing and descending skills, as well as the ability to measure effort appropriately over a 50-plus minute ride.

Martin took his fourth time trial win of 2011 (image courtesy of highroadsports.com)

It was a route tailor-made for Martin, doubly so after rain left the middle section of the course – including the most technical part of the descent to the finish – slick and treacherous. That meant the top overall contenders and those with an eye on next month’s Tour were more likely to avoid any unnecessary risks, and consequently tiptoed their way tentatively around the more dangerous bends. For Martin, however, this was his sole focus. Already over ten minutes down on the general classification in 131st place, he enjoyed an early slot in the running order and blasted round in 55:27 at an average of 46kph – a remarkable feat given the stage profile and road conditions.

Of the next 90 riders to set off only two – David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervélo) and Boasson Hagen – finished within two minutes of Martin’s benchmark, recording times of 56:25 and 56:10 which would ultimately be good enough for fourth and third-fastest. It was not until the top 40 took to the road that riders started clocking sub-58 minutes in heavy numbers. Rein Taaramae (57:23, ninth-fastest), Christophe Riblon (57:04, eighth) and Geraint Thomas (57:03, seventh) all laid claim to positions near the top of the timesheets, but the real action came as the top ten started to roll in, with everyone either winning or losing big. In running order:

  • Rui Costa (Movistar): tenth, +2:00 behind Martin – moved up from tenth to fifth overall
  • Rob Ruijgh (Vacansoleil-DCM): 54th, +3:48 – dropped from 9th to 20th
  • Thomas Voeckler (Europcar): 40th, +3:18 – dropped from eighth to 15th
  • Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack): 5th, +1:17 – moved up from seventh to third
  • Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha): 59th, +3:54 – dropped from sixth to 19th
  • Nicolas Roche (Ag2R La Mondiale): 43rd, +3:31 – dropped from fifth to 16th, and suffered the ignominy of being passed by Cadel Evans, who started two minutes behind.

Evans started with a realistic shot of relieving Alexandre Vinokourov of the race lead, but it soon became apparent it was not to be his day, as he fell 1:01 behind Martin at the first intermediate checkpoint. With second-placed Jurgen Van Den Broeck a competent but not outstanding time-trialist, that left only Wiggins as a serious threat to the yellow jersey. And as the Briton, displaying as ever a rock-solid aero profile and a smooth pedalling action, passed through that first check with the third-fastest time, it was clear the day was swinging in his favour, particularly when Vinokourov passed through exactly one minute slower than him, making him the virtual race leader.

Bradley Wiggins was second to Tony Martin on the day, but catapulted himself into the overall lead (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

By the second checkpoint Wiggins was level with Martin on time as he started on the treacherous descent, making hand signals to his following team car as he went. It wasn’t clear whether he was asking for more communication about the road conditions or less, but from his conservative cornering it was clear that he was fully focussed on riding for the GC rather than the stage win. Sure enough, by the finish he had conceded victory to Martin, albeit only by 11 seconds. With Evans over a minute back, and Vinokourov and Van Den Broeck giving up more than two minutes each, second place was enough to put Wiggins into the overall lead with a 1:11 advantage over Evans, with Brajkovič leapfrogging over Vinokourov into third.

The three R’s – Roche, Rodríguez and Ruijgh – were the biggest losers on the day, each suffering losses of over three minutes on the new race leader and effectively putting them out of contention for the overall. Riblon (who moved up from 32nd to eighth), Thomas (20th to sixth) and Costa (tenth to fifth) were the biggest winners outside of the new top three.

Stage winner Martin was pleased with this test run, giving him confidence that he will be able to challenge Fabian Cancellara in the Tour de France time trial over the same course next month:

It was a good test for me, and I’m feeling very confident now for the Tour de France time trial too. Of course there will be some other top names there but hopefully I’ll be going a little bit faster, too.

I’ve had four weeks of no races so the first few days of racing here were really hard for me, but now I’m feeling really good.

New race leader Wiggins was disappointed to miss out on the stage win, but confirmed that the overall classification is his priority here:

I’m happy but it’s just ever so slightly tinged with disappointment that we didn’t win the stage. I knew at the top of the last climb that I was way clear of the GC rivals and that was the priority today. I couldn’t afford to take the risk on the descent and subsequently lost the stage.

He pronounced himself pleased with his progress in advance of the Tour, and stated he would fight to defend his overall lead:

This was a fantastic course – a very, very nice one for a time trial. I think it was even harder than it’ll be at the Tour in July. I’m in great shape but I’m still preparing for the Tour de France. I’ll keep riding the Dauphiné as well as I can. I will fight for this yellow jersey, whatever it takes. I want to get the best overall result possible on Sunday.

The 24-year old Costa’s reward for a fine time trial performance was fifth place overall and supplanting Ruijgh in the white jersey young riders’ classification:

I’ve had very good sensations today during the time trial. I’ve passed a good test for the Tour de France. It’s nice to be awarded the white jersey after that. This was my first long time trial this year and I can only be happy with the physical condition I have.

I’m happy to be fifth in the general classification but it will be complicated to maintain this position. I hope for a top ten. This is a good objective for me to pursue.

Stage 4 from La Motte-Servolex to Mâcon covers 173.5km and should end in a routine bunch sprint. The three categorised climbs are early enough in the stage to present no major issues for the sprinters. Expect a breakaway to escape over the early second-category Col du Chat, and for teams such as Garmin-Cervélo and HTC-Highroad to feature prominently in the chase to set up Tyler Farrar and stage two winner John Degenkolb. Wiggins should have a relatively easy first day as race leader – the bigger challenges are yet to come.

Stage 4 profile

Stage 3 result:

1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 55:27

2. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:11

3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:43

4. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:58

5. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +1:17

General classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 8:41:37

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:11

3. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +1:21

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:56

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +2:12

6. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +2:25

7. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:28

8. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +2:45

9. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +2:46

10. Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +2:52

Points classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 40 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 38

3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 37

4. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 33

5. Cadel Evans (BMC) 29

Mountains classification:

1. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 10 pts

2. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 10

3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 9

4. Brice Feillu (Leopard-Trek)

5. Cadel Evans (BMC) 8

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official websiteSteephill.tv

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

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