Alberto Contador (Astana) kept saying he wasn’t ready to win the Critérium du Dauphiné, but nobody believed him, especially after he won Sunday’s opening prologue to take the leader’s jersey.
After he lost 1:46 in Wednesday’s 49km time trial on a windy, technical course and sunk to fourth overall at 1:41 back, now perhaps people will.
“As I said from the start, this race is about finding my rhythm for the Tour de France,” Contador said. “I’ve always left the Dauphiné to the others to fight for the overall. For me, the most important thing is to use this race to prepare for the Tour.”
With Contador reducing his risk, especially after he saw he was 32 seconds off the fastest split at 15.5km, the door was open for someone to step in.
Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack) buried himself against gusty winds howling up the Rhone Valley to pull the double, winning the stage in 1 hour, 1 minute, 51 seconds (47.534kph).
The bird-like Brajovic won 26 seconds faster than David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) and took the race leader’s jersey, 36 seconds ahead of Millar. And that came after a loose aero-bar extender forced him to switch bikes atop the day’s lone obstacle at a third-category climb at 15.5km.
“I didn’t expect to win today, especially after I had to change my bike at the top of the climb. I just gave it everything I had. It’s a great day for me and for Team RadioShack,” Brajkovic said. “I came here feeling fresh. We’ll see how it goes in the mountains. Maybe I will lose the jersey tomorrow, maybe not, but I am more than happy so far.”
Van Garderen third overall
Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) posted an excellent result in the longest time trial he’s ever raced, stopping the clock fourth on the stage at 53 seconds off the pace and settling into third overall, now 50 seconds behind Brajkovic.
“It was very heavy headwind and a climb at first, and then tailwinds back to the finish. On the first half of the course, I was sometimes having trouble holding 40kph, and on the way back, I was going faster than 70kph,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “This is the longest time trial I’ve done by 15km. I just don’t have the experience to go in that full gear the entire race, but I am satisfied. I wanted to do well on GC here, so to be sitting here at this point of the race fighting for a podium spot is awesome.”
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) posted an early fast time of 1h02:34 that stood for third at 43 seconds slower. The Norwegian was pleased with the performance in his first hard effort since pain in his Achilles tendon sidelined him ahead of Ghent-Wevelgem.
“It feels good to be back to racing at full-strength after my injury,” Boasson Hagen told VeloNews. “I just want to get through this Dauphiné and hopefully I can be ready to go to the Tour de France. I am racing without pain, so that’s the most important thing right now.”
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) also rode well, stopping the clock for fifth at 55 seconds off the winning pace. That gave his Rabobank leaders encouragement ahead of the Tour for their Russian leader, who’s suffered with illness and inconsistent results all spring.
“We’re pleased with his ride. He was ahead of Contador and he was close to the others,” said Rabobank manager Erik Breukink. “The most important thing for Denis is use this race to prepare for the Tour. He’s missed a lot of racing this spring due to illness, so he has no pressure here. He’s on a good way right now.”
Horner to help Brajkovic
Chris Horner (RadioShack) stopped the clock at 36th at 3:41 back and said the team will rally around Brajkovic.
“Jani is a rider who is always working for others. Every race he goes to, he always gives 100 percent for the team, so now we’ll work for him,” Horner told VeloNews. “It was very windy today. There were a couple of times the front wheel got lifted off the ground, but each time right before I thought I was going to crash, it came back and I was OK.”
RadioShack will do what it can to help Brajkovic, a former U-23 world time trial champion who made a strong 2006 pro debut, but struggled with illnesses through 2007 and 2008.
Six of the team’s starting eight riders were involved in a heavy crash in Monday’s first stage. Only Horner and Brajkovic could avoid falling and Spanish climber Haimar Zubeldia pulled out of the race with a broken bone in his arm.
“We lost Haimar, and that’s a very big loss, but I am sure the team can do the work until the last climb, then it’s up to me,” Brajkovic said. “I am sure they can do it, we’ll see if I can do it.”
The 62nd Critérium du Dauphiné (as the race is being called by new organizers ASO) continues Thursday with the first entrée into the Alps. The 210km fourth stage runs from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to the Cat. 1 summit at Risoul.
The undulating route rolls across rural country north of Mont Ventoux toward Gap and up the Durance Valley, where strong winds can be a factor. The final summit push is 12.8km at 7 percent, certainly steep enough to put Brajkovic to the test.
- Zubeldia undergoes surgery: Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) underwent surgery Tuesday in Spain for a distal radium fracture in his right arm. Doctors inserted three pins to strengthen the bone and speed along his recovery. Zubeldia went down in a massive spill about 15km from the finish line Monday. Team officials are holding out hope that he might be ready for the Tour de France. “We’re waiting to see how Haimar recovers, because not only is he a good climber, but he’s very experienced as well,” said RadioShack sport director Allan Gallopin. “There were 15 riders on the Tour list, now two of them have crashed, with Zubeldia and Sebastian Rosseler.”
- Soler out: Colombian climber Juan Mauricio Soler (Caisse d’Epargne) crashed hard Wednesday and finished outside the time cut. Michel Kreder (Garmin-Transitions) abandoned and Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia), who broke his collarbone in a spill Tuesday, did not start.
- 1. Janez Brajkovic (SLO) RadioShack 49km in 1:01:51
- 2. David Millar (GBR), Garmin, at 26 seconds
- 3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR), Sky, at 0:43
- 4. Tejay Van Garderen (USA), HTC-Columbia, at 0:53
- 5. Denis Menchov (RUS), Rabobank, at 0:55