Chris Froome (Sky) won the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Monday.
Froome out-climbed the GC contenders, including Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), on the HC climb to the summit finish on the Col du Béal. Contador was second with the same time and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) was four seconds back in third.
Froome remains in the race lead, with Contador (+12 seconds) and Kelderman (+21) chasing him.
“Hot day, new bike, summit finish, tough competition & another stage win. Perfect day out! Thanks to my team for setting it up,” Froome said on Twitter.
The GC men rode together on the slopes of the Col du Béal, which was 13.6km long with a 6.6 percent average gradient. The maximum grade was 9 percent.
With just over 5km left, Froome attacked with a big acceleration. Contador remained glued to his wheel and matched every pedal stroke. A minute later, the others in the group — Nibali, Kelderman, Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) — caught back on.
Seconds after the group came back together, Froome attacked again. In typical Froome style, the British rider turned the pedals at an incredibly high cadence as he pressed forward up the road toward the summit. Contador kept his front wheel right on Froome’s bike, however, and never fell back.
From that point, the group again came back together with 4.4km left. Kelderman then attacked and Froome led the chase, and Kelderman was caught about a kilometer later. Nibali and Talansky drifted a few seconds behind the group, while Van den Broeck attacked up the road. The chasers followed, and with 2.5km remaining the entire group — including Nibali and Talansky — was together once again.
As the riders passed under the flamme rouge, Froome was driving the pace. He moved right and everyone followed. Then he moved left and the same thing happened. When he sped up with around 800 meters to go, Contador stayed on his wheel as the pair surged ahead of everyone else. Froome attacked two more times, each time out of the saddle as he mashed on the pedals.
“It’s the first time this year that we’ve both battled,” said Froome of Contador. “I gave it everything. It was block to block. I tried several times to attack but [Contador] is very strong. It was really tough between us.”
Froome’s final acceleration, which occurred with about 500 meters left, had him sitting down as he put in a huge effort. Contador had to stand up and pedal to stay with him.
A few minutes after crossing the finish line, Froome got off his bike and sat in a chair next to a trailer, letting his long legs stretch out as he sipped a cold drink after an impressive ride to stay in the yellow jersey.
Van den Broeck said he was very pleased with this ride. “This is the Dauphiné, not the Tour de France, but after the time trial yesterday, the first mountain stage worked out perfectly,” he said. “I was convinced the form was good when I came to this race, but this result gives confidence as well. It’s obvious that Froome and Contador are the best here, but this opens up options. It was obvious that the last climb could make a selection. Sky set a high pace and when his last teammate pulled off, Froome took over. It was unbelievable, the sprints he did, but Contador stayed on his wheel. I kept my own rhythm and could join them again each time. Nibali and Talansky had to let go as well, but came back; at the end they got dropped again. It’s of course very pleasant to be riding in the mountains with the top riders.”
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma) and American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), both Tour de
France hopefuls, lost two minutes to Froome.
Though he could count on teammates Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve in the first part of the climb, Froome’s usual trusty lieutenant, Australian Richie Porte, struggled throughout the day to finish more than ten minutes off the pace.
The race resumes Tuesday with the 194km stage 3 from Ambert to Le Teil, and gives the sprinters a race opportunity in the mostly mountainous race.
Information from AFP was used in this report.