But since Miguel Indurain has used it as his pre-Tour event of choice, the Dauphine is now a significant event on the Calendar. This year's edition will see most of the Tour de France favourites entered.
Indurain is the top bill. However, Jalabert, Riis, Leblanc, Boardman, Virenque, De Las Ceuvas, and maybe Tony Rominger will ride.
Toughest stages include the summit finish on Mont Ventoux (climbed from the steepest side - Bedouin), followed by a 43 km ITT, a stage to Briancon (over the Allos, Vars, and Izoard Cols and finishing on the drawbridge in the Briancon's castle), and a final stage over Lauteret, Coq and Porte Cols, and finishing on the very sheer La Bastille climb in Grenoble.
Prologue: Sunday June 2, Megeve, 6km Stage 1: Monday June 3, Megeve-Villefontaine, 227km Stage 2: Tuesday June 4, Charbonnieres-les-bains-Firminy, Stage 3: Wednesday June 5, Saint Maurice de Lignon-Tournon sur Rhone, 179km Stage 4: Thursday June 6, Tain l'Hermitage-Le Mont Ventoux, 173km Stage 5: Friday June 7, Gigondas-Beames de Venise, 43km ITT Stage 6: Saturday June 8, Digne-Les Bains- Briancon, 214km Stage 7: Sunday, June 9, Briancon-Grenoble, 174km
1. Chris Boardman (Eng) Gan 7.55 (43,168 km/h) 2. Laurent Brochard (Fra) Festina + 0.11 3. Tony Rominger (Sch) Mapei-GB + 0.13 4. Miguel Indurain (Spa) Banesto + 0.15 5. Melchor Mauri (Spa) Once + 0.17 6. Laurent Madouas (Fra)Motorola + 0.18 7. Aitor Garmendia (Spa) Once + 0.23 8. Jean-Claude Colotti (Fra) Agrigel + 0.24 9. Thierry Laurent (Fra) Agrigel + 0.24 10. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once + 0.25 11. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Gan + 0.26 12. Thierry Marie (Fra) Agrigel + 0.26 13. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina + 0.27 14. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme + 0.28 15. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Festina + 0.30 16. Gilles Talmant (Fra) Aubervilliers + 0.33 17. Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom + 0.34 18. Gilles Bouvard (Fra) Collstrop + 0.34 19. Jacky Durand (Fra) Agrigel + 0.35 20. Richard Virenque (Fra) Festina + 0.35
Boardman clocked seven minutes and 55 seconds in the 5.7-km event in the French Alpine resort of Megeve. Frenchman Laurent Brochard was second 11 seconds behind Boardman, and Switzerland's Tony Rominger was third a further two seconds back. Race favourite Miguel Indurain of Spain was 15 seconds slower than the winner, finishing fourth.
"This race is going to teach me a lot," said Boardman, who was second in last year's race, won by Indurain. "Some of the best riders are here to get ready for the Tour de France and are gradually reaching their best level. It will be tough."
The Dauphine Libere, which ends in Grenoble on June 9, is traditionally a warm-up for the Tour de France, which this year starts on June 29. Boardman, who crashed out of last year's Tour after a nasty crash in the rain-hit prologue, said the dry conditions in Megeve had boosted his confidence. "If it had rained, I certainly would have been more cautious," he said.
Certainly there's a race on here, but it's worth noting that only three in the top 10 finishers in the Prologue had taken part in the very difficult Classique des Alpes (see separate report) the day before -- Indurain, Jalabert and Thierry Laurent. Chris Boardman had other things to worry about than aching limbs -- damp conditions.
There was a heavy mist hanging over the cote de Chozeaux that had to be climbed and descended. The climb, 1km in the middle of the time trial, was where Boardman put time into his chief rivals -- Rominger conceded 11 seconds to him at the summit and Indurain five. The twisting descent apparently gave Boardman some heeby jeebies -- he says he saw patches of water in places where there were just bends. "It's true," he said. "I braked a couple of times when Ididn't need to." And Legeay also pointed to the Saint-Brieuc effect: "He didn't descend as fast as before -- there's still a bit of apprehension."
1. Arturas Kasputis (Lit) Petit-Casino 5.31.15 (41,116 km/h) 2. Frederic Moncassin (Fra) Gan + 4.12 3. Jean-Claude Colotti (Fra) Agrigel 4. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once 5. Gilles Talmant (Fra) Aubervilliers 6. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Gan 7. Christian Henn (Ger) Telekom 8. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Festina 9. Nico Mattan (Bel) Lotto 10. Mariano Rojas (Spa) Once 11. Kai Hundertmark (Ger) Telekom 12. Cyril Saugrain (Fra) Aubervilliers 13. Jose Antonio Espinosa (Spa) MX Onda 14. Francois Simon (Fra) Gan 15. Michel Lafis (Swe) Telekom 16. Marcel Wust (Ger) MX Onda 17. Max van Heeswijk (Ned) Motorola 18. Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Mutuelle 19. Laurent Brochard (Fra) Festina 20. Franck Bouyer (Fra) Agrigel all s.t. to 120th all s.t. (127 classified) Stage bonifications: Kasputis 10 seconds, Moncassin 6 seconds, Colotti 4 seconds] Intermediate bonifications: Durand 6 secs (3+3), Kasputis 4 seconds (2+2), Lesniewski 1 sec, Mulders 1 sec
1. Arturas Kasputis (Lit) Petit-Casino 5.39.42 2. Chris Boardman (Eng) Gan + 3.40 3. Laurent Brochard (Fra) Festina + 3.51 4. Tony Rominger (Sch) Mapei-GB + 3.53 5. Miguel Indurain (Spa) Banesto + 3.55 6. Melchor Mauri (Spa) Once + 3.57 7. Laurent Madouas (Fra), Motorola + 3.58 8. Jean-Claude Colotti (Fra) Agrigel + 3.59 9. Altor Garmendia (Spa) Once + 4.03 10. Thierry Laurent (Fra) Agrigel + 4.04 11. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once + 4.05 12. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Gan + 4.06 13. Thierry Marie (Fra) Agrigel + 4.06 14. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina + 4.07 14. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelm + 4.07 15. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme + 4.08 16. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Festina + 4.10 17. Gilles Talmant (Fra) Aubervilliers + 4.13 18. Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom + 4.14 19. Gilles Bouvard (Fra) Collstrop + 4.14 20. Richard Virenque (Fra) Festina + 4.15 21. Francois Simon (Fr, GAN) s.t. 22. Christophe Bassons (Fr, Festina) s.t. 23. Thierry Gouvenou (Fr, Aubervilliers 93-Peu) + 4.17 24. Mariano Rojas (Sp, ONCE) + 4.19 25. Benoit Salmon (Fr, Collstrop) + 4.20
Durand and Kasputis's lead rapidly grew -- by the feed at km124 they had 3.30 on Lesniewski and 8.50 on a peloton which was leaving the chasing to GAN, with Ronan Pensec assigned to do the donkey work on the front. With no help coming from the rest of the bunch, Chris Boardman decided after a while that it was best to throw in the sponge, so with 90km to the finish the leading pair had 9.50 on the peloton. "Our objective is focused not just on a day but on a week," GAN directeur sportif Roger Legeay said after the stage. "We've no interest in being the only ones to use up our strength and we're giving most attention to the mountain stages to come. The important thing is that the lead shouldn't get too big."
When Lesniewski was caught the peloton was still 6 minutes behind Durand and Kasputis. Then 35km from the finish, Durand broke a spoke, leaving Kasputis to ride alone to victory -- his team's first. Durand was weighed down with despondency at the finish -- he came in 121st out of 127 at 5.13. When disaster struck, he said: "I already saw myself in yellow. I tried very hard to get back to Kasputis [riding alone into a headwind], but my morale little by little gave way."
Kasputis was all smiles as he celebrated "the most beautiful victory of my career" on a ride that had taken him past his home in Chambery and his family at the roadside. He's not necessarily going to be a short-lived race leader -- the yellow on his back is reinforced by the motivation of riding for a team based in the region, one that is desperately chasing a wild-card entry in the Tour de France. What's more he can climb a mountain -- after all, he finished third overall in the Dauphine Libere in 1994, 1.25 behind winner Laurent Dufaux.
1. Francois Simon (Fra) Gan 4.42.58 2. Kaspars Ozers (Let) Motorola 3. Miguel Indurain (Spa) Banesto 4. Jean-Claude Colotti (Fra) Agrigel 5. Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom 6. Gilles Talmant (Fra) Aubervilliers 7. Kai Hundertmark (Ger) Telekom 8. Pascal Chanteur (Fra) Petit-Casino 9. Laurent Brochard (Fra) Festina 10. Emmanuel Magnien (Fra) Festina all s.t. 11. Lamour (Fr, La Mutuelle de Seine-et-Marne) 12. Max Van Heeswijk (Neth, Motorola) 13, Mirko Gualdi (It, Team Polti) 14, Christian Henn (Ger, Telekom) 15. Melchor Mauri (Sp, ONCE) 16. Mariano Rojas (Sp, ONCE) 17. Chris Boardman (GB, GAN) 18. Genty (Fr, Aubervilliers 93-Peugeot) 19. Thierry Laurent (Fr, Agrigel-La Creuse-Fenioux) 20. Gilles Bouvard (Fr, Collstrop) 21. Chauviere (Fr, La Mutuelle de Seine-et-Marne) 22. Richard Virenque (Fr, Festina) 23. Laurent Dufaux (Swi, Festina) 24. Frederic Moncassin (Fr, GAN) 25. Stephane Heulot (Fr, GAN) .also 27.Tony Rominger (Swi, Mapei-GB) .... 29. Laurent Jalabert (Fr, ONCE) ... 31. Luc Leblanc (Fr, Team Polti) all s.t. as 10th (123 classified) Abandons: Wust, Garcia (MX Onda), Deschuytter (Collstrop), Quaranta (Polti) Stage bonifs: Simon 10 secs, Ozers 6 secs, Indurain 4 secs Intermediate bonifs: Talmant 4 (1+3), Chanteur 4 (2+2), Simon 3, Maignan 1
1. Arturas Kasputis (Lit) Petit-Casino 10.22.50 2. Chris Boardman (Eng) Gan + 3.40 3. Laurent Brochard (Fra) Festina + 3.41 4. Miguel Indurain (Spa) Banesto + 3.41 5. Tony Rominger (Sch) Mapei-GB + 3.43 6. Melchor Mauri (Spa) Once + 3.47 7. Laurent Madouas (Fra), Motorola + 3.48 8. Jean-Claude Colotti (Fra) Agrigel + 3.50 9. Francois Simon (Fra) Gan + 3.52 10. Altor Garmendia (Spa) Once + 3.53 11. Laurent + 3.54 12. L. Jalabert + 3.55 13. Heulot + 3.56 14. Dufaux + 3.57 15. Escartin + 3.58 16. Talmant + 3.59 17. Christophe Moreau + 4.00 18. Riis + 4.04 19. Bouvard s.t. 20. Virenque + 4.05
With 30km to go the finish the lead was still almost 3 minutes. On the major difficulty of the day, the 650m cote de Chambles, 14km from the finish, the break was caught, giving way to five riders all testing with attacks on the climb: Laurent Jalabert, Miguel Indurain, Richard Virenque, Bjarne Riis and Laurent Madouas. On the climb and the long descent into Firminy at 75 kph the peloton became extremely strung out with Laurent Brochard and then Jalabert attacking. Riis in turn attacked with 800m to go, but it was Simon who picked up what he had started earlier in the day to outsprint Ozers and Indurain on the 300m rise to the finish. "Once the peloton got up to me, I forced myself to stay in the first 20 on the way up to the summit before the finish," said Simon.