Agence France Presse
Janez Brajkovic (Team RadioShack) finished with the bunch to win the Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré on Sunday as Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) soloed to victory in the final stage.
Boasson Hagen leaped away from a small lead group on the last of five trips up the 2.9km Domancy climb to win the 148km stage between Allevard-les-Bains and Sallanches.
Arkaitz Duran Daroca (Footon-Servetto) took second on the day with Egor Silin (Katusha) third.
When the times were tallied, Brajkovic had clinched the overall victory by 1:41 over two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana) with American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) third at 2:41.
The race was missing a number of top names who will be competing at the Tour de France come July, but for Brajkovic the presence of Contador was enough to make his victory a special one.
“Actually, I don’t care (who is here),” said the Slovenian, who is only beginning to display the kind of potential he showed when he won the world under-23 time trial title in 2004.
“This is the Dauphiné and whether there’s the world’s top 20 riders here or not makes no difference. To have raced against Contador and won is enough. He’s the best rider in the world, and although he is not on top form right now he can win just about any race he wants to.”
Indeed, Contador won the prologue last Sunday and held the race lead until stage 3 on Wednesday, when Brajkovic triumphed in a 49km race against the clock to take the race lead and leave the Spaniard 1:45 in his wake.
Brajkovic went on to defend his lead over four days in the mountains, notably resisting a series of attacks by Contador on Saturday’s sixth stage, which took in the Col du Glandon and finished on the summit of L’Alpe d’Huez.
Shortly after the start of Sunday’s final stage, it became clear that Contador would not challenge the 26-year-old Slovenian.
An eight-man breakaway formed as soon as Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacked at the 1km mark and went on to build a lead of three and a half minutes inside the first 20km.
But with several teams not represented at the front, Boasson Hagen’s Sky team drove the chasing peloton hard and as the leaders reached the 50km mark to begin the 11.2km climb over the Category 2 Cote des Rafforts their lead had evaporated to just 40 seconds.
The climb took its toll, with five riders, including Dumoulin, dropping off the front just as a counter-attack launched from the peloton.
It left 13 in front, including Boasson Hagen, and just after they crested the summit with a 35-second lead on the peloton they were joined by a further four riders, including Garmin’s David Millar.
A tiring Dumoulin soon quit the race as the 17-man lead group went on to build a two-minute lead.
They came into Sallanches with a margin of just over 1:30 but with the steep 2.4km Domancy climb to negotiate five times on a wet and slippery circuit they were far from safety.
An acceleration by Millar with 39km remaining only served to prompt Boasson Hagen to counter, and when the Norwegian flew past it was game over for the big Scot.
Despite being joined by four other riders from his escape group further on, the Norwegian sensation, who claimed 13 professional victories as a 21-year-old last season, was not to be denied.
Boasson Hagen simply upped the pace at the foot of the Domancy, kept a fast cadence despite the climb’s 9.2 percent average gradient and left everyone in his wake.
For Boasson Hagen the win was confirmation that his troubles with an injured Achilles tendon were at last behind him.
“It’s really great to be back after my injury problems,” he said. “We had a plan this morning and that was to try and win the stage and the team worked really hard in bringing back the breakaway. I had to work really hard and when I attacked for the last time on the climb I was going full gas, and then some.
“It was all worth it. It’s really nice to come back to racing and get a win this week.”
- 1. Edvald Boasson Hagen, Team Sky, 3:39:43
- 2. Arkaitz Duran Aroca, Footon-Servetto, at 0:27
- 3. Egor Silin, Katusha, at 0:32
- 4. Christophe Le Mevel, Française des Jeux, at 0:34
- 5. Tejay Van Garderen, HTC-Columbia, at 0:40