It was the Dani and Jani show Friday at the Critérium du Dauphiné in a transition stage ahead of the highly anticipated summit finish Saturday up Alpe d’Huez.
Dani Navarro claimed his first pro win with a strong attack over the beyond-category Chamrousse climb (17.5km at 7.5%) in the 143.5km fourth stage from Serre Chevalier to Grenoble while Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack) safely defended his 1:15 lead to Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia).
Navarro won in impressive style, bridging out to a leading trio three minutes off the GC group and then immediately attacking them to hold a 50-second gap over the Chamrousse summit with 31km to the line. Navarro then held off the chasing Eros Capecchi (Fuji-Servetto) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJeux) to win by 34 seconds.
“Alberto told me to attack if I was feeling good. I still cannot believe it – I am so happy,” said Navarro, who hails from northern Spain’s Asturias region. “I’ve been at the service of the big captains, so I rarely get the chance to ride for my own results. We’re going to celebrate this in big style.”
Van Garderen could sit in the GC pack up the long, grinding Chamrousse climb. RadioShack set the pace, led by Sergio Paulinho and Chris Horner, and Van Garderen could ride their coat-tails to retain second place on a day that didn’t see any shakeups in the overall standings.
“I was feeling pretty good today. I was sitting right up there on the leader’s wheel, staying calm,” Van Garderen told VeloNews. “It was a pretty fun stage, fast and it was technical on the descents. We didn’t go too hard on the second. My legs are feeling a bit better than yesterday.”
Navarro takes first win
There were plenty of attacks early in the stage as the pack ran up the Cat. 2 Col du Lautaret (15.5km at 4%) as a big group of 18 tried to pull away.
Seven riders eventually pulled clear, with Capecchi, Pinot, Luis Pasamontes (Caisse d’Epargne), Dimitri Champion (Ag2r), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) being joined by Bram Tankink (Rabobank) and Grega Bole (Lampre) over the Lautaret summit.
The gap opened to a max of 5:15 on the long descent to the base of the Chamrousse climb, where their lead was trimmed to 2:20. Martinez, Capecchi and Pinot were nursing a lead of 2:25 when Navarro shot out of the GC group.
Navarro is one of Contador’s insiders. Along with fellow Asturian Benjamin Noval, Navarro and Jesús Hernández are Contador’s men of confidence and riders who can train with and trust.
The two-time Tour champ gave his teammate the green light to attack, and Navarro didn’t waste the opportunity. He topped out with a 50-second margin on the chasing Capecchi and Pinot, but he held on for the victory.
“I don’t consider myself a great descender, but I was playing for the win, so I took more risks,” Navarro said. “I am grateful for this opportunity. Tomorrow I will be back working for Alberto.”
Alpe d’Huez looms
Brajkovic enjoyed a relatively calm day in the leader’s jersey. After successfully fending off attacks in Thursday’s summit finish up Risoul, the ride to Grenoble was markedly less stressful.
“I was very happy I could stay with Contador on Thursday. Today was a lot calmer. There were a lot of attacks early, but the team did a good job to control it. We let a group get away and then Sergio pulled the entire way up the climb,” Brajkovic said. “It was a pretty easy day for me, but not for the team.”
While Paulihno and Horner were lined up at the nose of the GC group, Brajkovic floated back to ride alongside Contador throughout most of the Chamrousse climb, even chatting during the long ascent.
“We talked about the team, the race, the weather,” Brajkovic said with a smile. “The rider I am most worried about in this race is Contador, so it’s better to be right on his wheel. Because when he attacks, and you lose the wheel, it’s very hard to get him back. I was pretty glad he didn’t attack today.”
Brajkovic says he has a fairly simple tactic for Saturday’s summit finish atop Alpe d’Huez: “follow Contador’s wheel.”
“The Dauphiné is not his primary goal, but if he feels good, of course he’s going to attack,” he said. “I don’t know any of these climbs. I haven’t raced much in France before. I have no idea what to expect, except that it’s going to be long and hard. It’s the same for everyone.”
Another rider who’s never climbed the Alpe d’Huez is Van Garderen. The young American said he will ride the legendary climbs with respect.
“Tomorrow is going to go insane. With the Glandon before and the Alpe d’Huez, it will be hard. I’ve never done the climb before, so it will be new for me. I’ve Googled it,” he said. “I am not thinking that I am going to try to attack. There are guys like Contador, Menchov, Brajkovic, Taaramae is riding good. I just need to follow as long as I can, because if I do attack, I risk blowing myself up. Right now I am thinking if I can keep my second place, I’d be pretty stoked with that.”
The 62nd Critérium du Dauphiné continues Saturday with the 151.5km sixth stage from Crolles to Alpe d’Huez (13.8km at 7.9%). The route tackles a third-category and second-category climbs before hitting the beyond-category Col du Glandon at 99km. After a fast descent to Bourg-d’Oisans, the final hump up the 21 switchbacks to the Alpe d’Huez summit could crown the eventual winner. It’s the first time Alpe d’Huez has ever been featured in the Dauphiné.