PreviewHaving left Mont Ventoux off the agenda last year, the 50th Dauphine Libere (June 7-14) returns to the hors categorie climb again this year. As in 1996, when Richard Virenque took the sprint at the summit from Laurent Jalabert, leaving Miguel Indurain biding his time almost a minute back, the race takes the southern route up Ventoux from Bedoin finishing at the 1910m summit.
This year's Dauphine - one of the five stage races awarded hors categorie status this year - also caters fully to the time trial specialists, though, with a 5 km prologue and then a longish (41.2km) individual effort midway through the race, the day after the Ventoux climb. On the last weekend of the race there is plenty more climbing: the penultimate stage is from Challes-les-Eaux with an "altiport" summit finish at Megève Cote2000. There are six other climbs on the stage (three category 1) before this including the Cret de Chatillon (1,680m), the col de la Forclaz (1,157m), the col de la Croix (1,477m) and the col des Aravis (1,498m). The final stage is a circuit from Megève to Megève that takes in Sallanches, the scene of Bernard Hinault's 1980 world championship win.
Fifteen teams of eight riders have been invited to the 1,080,2km, seven-stage race, of which four will be seeking a performance that will improve their chances of being selected as wild cards for the Tour de France: Cofidfis, Big Mat-Auber, La Mutuelle de Seine-et-Marne and Vitalicio. Riders expected to take part include ONCE's Laurent Jalabert (who preferred the Tour de Suisse last year), Telekom's Bjarne Riis and Udo Bolts (last year's winner), Festina's Richard Virenque and GAN's Chris Boardman.
Richard Virenque, Laurent Brochard, Laurent Jalabert, Bo Hamburger, Evgueni Berzine or Udo Bolts, last year's winner, will all be looking to take the GC over the next week.
After the prologue on Sunday over 5 kms on the streets of Villeurbanne, the next two days will give the sprinters the chance to show their wares.
"There is something for everyone" said the Organiser Thierry Cazeneuve. By Wednesday, the strong men will come out on the 21 km climb of Ventoux (average slope of 9 per cent) - the giant in Provence - for the stage finish on top of the summit. They will get some chance to recover with a 42 kms ITT in St Paul Trois Châteaux (Drôme).
The last 3 days will be in the mountains. On June 13, the riders have to climb 6 cols before the finish on the summit of Megève.
Charly Mottet, former world number one and three-times winner of the Dauphiné analysed the race: "It is an ensemble where the stages are very difficult. But this is the result of where it is situated on the calendar, given the World Cup (football), it is nearly a month before the start of the Tour de France on July 11. "The route permits all the riders to get a more structured preparation for the Tour. The Dauphiné though is not the last training chance before the Tour."
15 teams will be entering for the 1,063 kms race with the objective certain - to get one of the last wild cards into the Tour de France. Banesto is without Abraham Olano, the big loser in 1997 - he lost the GC in the last hour. The Spanish team will be led by their National Champion and 8th place getter in last year's Tour, José Maria Jimenez.
The current world champion Laurent Brochard will be riding. "I have been taking antibiotics since the Midi Libre and therefore I am short of form. His teammate Richard Virenque is coming into form though. Virenque has been surveying the alpine stages in the coming Tour for the last week and said: "I have to see what I am capable of in the Critérium, after a Midi-libre where I started to feel good."
Laurent Jalabert (Once), Udo Bolts (Deutsch Telecom) and will probably play the major role in the Tour. Thierry Cazeneuve is also looking at another of the favourites for big things, Evgueni Berzin. "He was looking good in Liège-Bastogne-Liège where he attacked for 80 kms alone at an average speed of 40 km/h."
The Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré follows the 8th Classique des Alpes, which is raced between Chambéry and Aix-les-Bains. Seven cols and côtes represent the first confrontation with the high mountains over 181.5 kms.
1947 Edouard Klabinski (Fra) 1948 Edouard Fachleitner (Fra) 1949 Lucien Lazarides (Fra) 1950 Nello Lauredi (Fra) 1951 Nello Lauredi (Fra) 1952 Jean Dotto (Fra) 1953 Lucien Teissiere (Fra) 1954 Nello Lauredi (Fra) 1955 Louison Bobet (Fra) 1956 Alex Closs (Fra) 1957 Marcel Rohrbach (Fra) 1958 Louis Rostollan (Fra) 1959 Henry Anglade (Fra) 1960 Jean Dotto (Fra) 1961 Brian Robinson (GB) 1962 Raymond Mastrotto (Fra) 1963 Jacques Anquetil (Fra) 1964 Valentin Uriona (Spa) 1965 Jacques Anquetil (Fra) 1966 Raymond Poulidor (Fra) 1969 Raymond Poulidor (Fra) 1971 Eddy Merckx (Bel) 1972 Luis Ocana (Spa) 1973 Luis Ocana (Spa) 1974 Alain Santy (Fra) 1975 Bernard Thevenet (Fra) 1976 Bernard Thevenet (Fra) 1977 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1978 Michel Pollentier (Bel) 1979 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1980 Johan Van de Velde (Bel) 1981 Bernard Hinault (Fra) 1982 Michel Laurent (Fra) 1983 Greg LeMond (USA) 1984 Martin Ramirez (Col) 1985 Stephen Roche (IRL) 1986 Urs Zimmermann (Swi) 1987 Charly Mottet (Fra) 1988 Luis Herrera (Col) 1989 Charly Mottet (Fra) 1990 Robert Millar (Sco) 1991 Luis Herrera (Col) 1992 Charly Mottet (Fra) 1993 Laurent Dufaux (Swi) 1994 Laurent Dufaux (Swi) 1995 Miguel Indurain (Spa) 1996 Miguel Indurain (Spa) 1997 Udo Boelts (Ger)Past winners from Mario Stiehl, Berlin