Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) took the fight to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) on Sunday, winning the Critérium du Dauphiné on the final stage.
Mikel Nieve (Sky) won stage 8, leaping away from a lead group containing third-placed Talansky, fifth-placed Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), and seventh-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the final steeps of the 131.5km grind from Megève to Courchevel, with four rated climbs and a final uphill finish.
Bardet likewise jumped away, hitting the line second with Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) third.
But Talansky finished fourth on the day, more than a minute ahead of race leader Contador, who had left his pursuit until too late — and that was what counted.
“You put your life into something — the sacrifices, the training, the times when you crash or get sick — but it’s moments like this that make everything worth it,” said Talansky. “Just one moment like this makes you forget it all. This is why we do this, for moments like today.”
Talansky made it into an early break along with teammate Ryder Hesjedal and moved into the yellow jersey on the road as behind, Contador and green jersey Chris Froome (Sky) argued about who was responsible for the chase.
As they debated, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) had a dig and rode away from the yellow-jersey group in pursuit of the Talansky break.
The gap was shy of two and a half minutes with 24km to go when Contador decided to go it alone. Froome couldn’t follow and settled in behind Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte to ride his own pace through the light rain.
Contador swept past rider after rider in pursuit of the leaders. Nibali was 48 seconds off the Talansky group, and the Spaniard was just 90 seconds down and closing. Froome was a minute down on Contador, losing ground and looking grim.
Talansky led the break over the category-1 Côte de Montagny, the penultimate climb of the day, with one final ascent remaining — the cat. 1 Montée de Courchevel Le Praz, 5.9km at 6.2 percent.
The Garmin rider tore down the fast, technical descent, stringing out the break and hoping to start the final climb with an edge over Contador, who started the day with a 39-second cushion over the American.
Nibali had collected white jersey Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and was just a hairpin behind the leaders with 7.5km to go. Undeterred, Talansky just kept driving along with an occasional assist from Van Den Broeck), their lead group trimmed to eight men.
Nieve took off out of the lead group with just over 3km to go. Van Den Broeck and Talansky kept plugging along, as behind both Nibali and Contador began finding themselves running out of road. The latter caught and dropped the former, but neither would reach the leaders.
Nieve hung on for the stage win as the remnants of the lead group duked it out for the final standings, with Bardet attacking the Talansky-Van Den Broucke group in the final kilometers to take second behind Nieve.
“It was very, very hard today. Chris still hadn’t recovered from his accident so I went for the stage win.” said Nieve. “He really suffered after the crash and yesterday he still hadn’t recovered, and today wasn’t better. I had an opportunity and went for it.”
Talansky and Van Den Broucke crossed the line together, fourth and fifth respectively. Contador didn’t make it until 1:14 later; Froome crossed more than five minutes down.
When the final times were calculated, Talansky had the win by 27 seconds over Contador, with Van Den Broeck moving into third at 35 seconds.
“It was a very hard start but Ryder Hesjedal went to the front and worked so hard to sacrifice for me and when we got in front, we saw the opportunity and we had to try,” said Talansky.
Asked if he considered himself among the favorites for the Tour de France, rhe 25-year-old demurred.
“No, I’m not a favorite,” he said. “This is the Dauphiné. The Tour de France is a different race. But I hope to do a good ride.”
As for Contador, he too was looking ahead to July in France.
“What I did, it’s a victory,” he said. “I’m not at all disappointed. I knew it would be difficult to keep the yellow jersey. Talansky is a very good racer, he has very strong teammates.”
Contador added that he would rest and then undertake a final training camp in preparation for the Tour.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the Dauphiné.