VN Show: Froome vs. Porte at the Dauphiné

Editor’s note: This VeloNews Show includes images from TDW Sport, VeloNews.com, ASO/Tour de France, Flickr Creative Commons 

Every year the Critérium du Dauphiné gives us plenty to talk about before the Tour de France, and this year the French race did not disappoint. The major storyline to come out of this year’s Dauphine is the budding rivalry between former teammates Chris Froome and Richie Porte. Porte appeared to have the race in his grasp, until Froome attacked him on the final stage, which set up eventual winner Jakob Fuglsang of Astana for the overall win. Did this flurry of events kill Froome and Porte’s old bromance? We ponder the ramifications.

Plus, Astana looked extremely strong with Fabio Aru and Fuglsang, and the blue team now enters the Tour de France with two cards to play.

Finally, poor Alberto Contador had a forgettable Dauphiné, sinking to 11th on GC on the final day. Contador fans shouldn’t give up hope, however. We give you several reasons to stay excited for the Tour.

All that and more on this week’s The VeloNews Show!

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VN podcast, ep. 33: Chris Froome’s Dauphiné head games

Welcome to the VeloNews cycling podcast, where we discuss the latest trends, news, and controversies in the world of cycling.

Richie Porte might have been the strongest rider at the Dauphiné, but Chris Froome won the mental battle. Fred Dreier, Caley Fretz, and Spencer Powlison dissect the attack-filled final three days of the Tour de France tune-up race (with a little help from our Cat. 3 friends) and look ahead to what this race means for July. Then, we head to Belgium to discuss Fretz’s story on Tom Boonen’s final races and Dreier’s story on Flanders’s ability to find Boonen’s replacement.

If you like what you hear, subscribe to the VeloNews podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. Also, check out the VeloNews Fast Talk training podcast with Trevor Connor and Fretz.

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‘What makes me the rider I am?’: Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang on what’s behind his success

Danish rider sits down with CW to talk about whether nature or nurture is behind his success

Jakob Fuglsang wins stage eight of the Critérium du Dauphiné

Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang sits down with CW to talk about whether nature or nurture is behind his success, and how he has changed as a rider.

Dauphiné roundtable: Froome’s head games, Porte’s blunder

France’s Critérium du Dauphiné wrapped up on Sunday with a thrilling and chaotic final stage to Plateau de Solaison, which saw Richie Porte lose the overall lead to Jakob Fuglsang after a day of bold attacks and cat-and-mouse tactics. As it does every year, the Dauphine has delivered plenty of talking points to the cycling world as we head toward the Tour de France, which is now just 19 days away. So without any delay, let’s roundtable!

What was the most memorable moment from this year’s Dauphiné?

Andy Hood @EurohoodyI love seeing headbangers like Thomas de Gendt take a win like that and then hold the jersey for a week via old-school pedal bashing — de Beast!

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: Chris Froome dive-bombing Richie Port on Saturday’s descent, reminding us that he may look gooney but he has balls of steel.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegsI love an awkward sprint between GC guys, and that stage 6 kick between Fuglsang, Porte, Froome, and to a lesser extent, Aru was choice. Plus, that time bonus mattered in the final GC.

Fred Dreier @freddreierPorte watching Froome on the Colombière while the other GC riders attacked up the road.

Froome said Porte is now the favorite to win the TDF. What do we make of this comment?

Andy: Ol’ FroomeDog is taking a page from Lance Armstrong’s playbook. Remember how Big Tex always said Jan Ullrich was the favorite to win the Tour? Well, that’s just one more way to turn the mental screws. Porte knows he’s on the form of his life, and so does Froome, so there’s no better way to ramp up the heat than put all the pressure on the Tasmanian’s shoulders. Today’s pros rarely play these psychological games, but it’s going to be fun to see how Froome and Porte go at each other next month. Porte was accusing Sky of racing negatively, just to make sure he didn’t win the Dauphiné. That’s sure to get everyone’s hair up!

Caley: Classic cat 3 pre-race move. Froome was probably “using this race as intervals” too.

Spencer: In part, he is deflecting the pre-race pressure. He’s not blowing smoke though. Porte rode a terrific time trial, and he nearly saved the yellow jersey with that solo effort on stage 8. However, I don’t think BMC is a favorite to win the Tour. Porte was isolated in that final stage, while Froome had help from Michal Kwiatkowski. I think that could make all the difference come July.

Fred: This is Froome’s F-you move to get inside Porte’s head before the Tour. Sure, Porte was stronger than Froome at the Dauphiné. Froome used his one bullet and shot it right into Porte’s gut. Then he tells everyone that Porte is the favorite for the Tour, thus sending the media to Porte’s doorstep for the next month. Chapeau, Froome, masterful head games!

Give a letter grade and one sentence of analysis for the following TDF contenders at this year’s Dauphiné:

Andy:
Froome: B-. He didn’t win, but he didn’t have to; on track for July.
Porte: A-. He didn’t win, but should have; strongest going into July.
Contador: C. He didn’t win, and couldn’t; needs major step up for July.
Aru: C. He’s trying, he’s trying.
Fuglsang: A+. He won, and no one expected it; his biggest win doesn’t mean big July.

Caley:
Froome: B+. Still missing an edge but he has time.
Porte: A+ for form. B- for his team. Did he peak too early?
Contador: B. He says he likes to be slower at the Dauphiné. Hope he’s right.
Aru: A-. Solid climbing form.
Fuglsang: A. Where did he come from?

Spencer:
Froome: B. Love the aggressive descending, but it seemed like he was attacking at inopportune moments.
Porte: A-. Did he learn nothing at all from the 2014 Dauphiné? Froome isn’t the only guy in the race…
Contador: C+. He needs to do more than simply beat Froome by two seconds in a short TT to win the Tour.
Aru: A-. Wow, Aru sure does look rested, doesn’t he?
Fuglsang: A. Hmm!?

Fred:
Froome: A+. He wasn’t on top form and still managed to completely psych out his biggest TDF rival.
Porte: B-. His form says victory, yet his team and tactical acumen scream defeat.
Contador: INCOMPLETE. Bertie came in undercooked this year, so here’s hoping it pays off in three weeks.
Aru: B. Aru’s climbing strength (and pain face) are BACK!
Fuglsang: A+ He took advantage of the Froome/Porte rivalry to win, a-lá Talansky in 2014.

What lesson does Richie Porte learn from this loss?

Andy: Porte was caught out because he was chasing the wrong wheel. Froome’s Sky raiders set the trap, but Froome wasn’t Porte’s most dangerous or strongest rival. Porte also got a taste of what it will be like if he’s in a similar situation in July. Attacks will come from all sides. A race leader cannot expect things to always go to plan, and must be ready to improvise. Unfortunately (at least for fans), there are not enough of these short, explosive climbing stages in the Tour de France when all hell can break loose.

Caley: I’m not sure they were his mistakes, or mistakes at all. His team left him isolated but almost everyone was isolated. He should have followed Froome on the Colombière, but I’m not sure he could.

Spencer: As I alluded to in the previous question, Porte made a big mistake in only marking one rider — Chris Froome — on the Col de la Colombière. Clearly he was on great form in the final stage. He should have ridden the race aggressively and recognized the threat posed by any number of the riders in that move that went away while he and Froome were having a staring contest. Don’t base your racing strategy on what one other rider is doing, even if he is a three-time Tour champ.

Fred: I think Porte learned that his old buddy Chris Froome isn’t afraid to twist the knife in his gut, if given the opportunity. Like Spencer said, Porte only marked Froome on the Colombière, and that was a huge miscalculation. I think Porte also learned that he needs one or two climbing aces for his TDF squad.

Does Astana’s Aru/Fuglsang duo have what it takes to win the Tour?

Andy: No. Not even close. Fuglsang had a super week, but a super week does not make a Tour champion. And Aru hasn’t shown that he has the depth to go the distance in three weeks in July. May and September are something else, but July is when the big boys come to play. These two are still in Grand Tour kindergarten.

Caley: Nope. Aru is ascendent but his time trial isn’t good enough. Fuglsang took advantage of Sunday’s chaos and the Tour is less chaotic.

Spencer: Nope. The Dauphiné is sometimes a clear bellwether of Tour performance (2016 and 2015), and sometimes it’s just the right place at the right time for an underdog. This happened in 2014 with Andrew Talansky. The final day was tactically quite similar to stage 8 of 2017, in fact. Let’s not forget, Janez Brajkovic won in 2010 — add that one to the “where are they now?” reel. Fuglsang is riding great, but I don’t think he can go the distance in the Tour. Aru is looking fresh, but if Froome is at peak form with the Sky hit-squad, I don’t see him being a true challenger.

Fred: Sure, why not? Fuglsang came time trial, and Aru is a danger man in the mountains who deserves the attention of the GC men. If there is a perfect confluence of luck and tactics at le Tour, they can shake ‘n bake their way to victory.

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Is Froome vulnerable or on a slow simmer?

The peloton saw a different Chris Froome during the Critérium du Dauphiné, but will there be a different ending in July?

Richie Porte (BMC Racing) might not have won the Dauphiné, but he and the other GC favorites roll into next month’s Tour de France sensing that the three-time Tour de France champion might be vulnerable for the first time in years.

Every year that Froome’s won the Tour (2013, 2015, and 2016), he won the weeklong Dauphiné as part of his lead-up. On Sunday, Froome fell short in Sky’s all-in gamble to upend Porte in the thrilling finale and simply ran out of gas on the final climb.

The larger question was whether or not Froome will be at his absolute best in July to make a run for a fourth yellow jersey. Perhaps looking to pile the pressure onto his former teammate, Froome signaled Porte as the man to beat.

“Richie was strongest man in this race,” Froome admitted to reporters Sunday. “I still say that he is the favorite for July, and the strongest in the peloton at this point.”

Froome didn’t look as sharp as he normally does in June. Until this season, Froome and Team Sky were all but untouchable in any stage race that they seriously targeted. Froome was outgunned last year on the road to Formigal, costing him what likely would have been a victory in the Vuelta a España. In nearly every other race Froome was angling to win, he pummeled his rivals into submission.

Froome ceded time to Porte and others in every key stage of the Dauphiné last week.

So what’s the takeaway? There were more questions than answers as the dust settled after the race, but Froome preferred to look at the cup as half-full as he turns his attention toward winning a fourth yellow tunic.

“If I look at where I was a few weeks ago at the Romandie, I seemed to be a long way off the pace,” Froome said. “Here I feel as if I’ve got better and better over the week, and at least I am heading in the right direction. I feel as if I’m on track for July.”

The Dauphiné was supposed to be the Sky captain’s coming out party. Quiet all season and entering the Dauphiné with only 19 days of racing in his legs, Froome was ready to race and needing to win. Yet in all the key moments of the race, Froome could not produce that fear-inducing power that typically demoralizes his rivals. Instead, it was often Froome getting rolled over by Porte and others, including surprise winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).

No one at Team Sky was hitting the panic button, insisting that Froome is building his form just in time for the most important date on the calendar.

“Froomey is on the way up, step by step to the Tour,” Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said. “For sure he’s going to progress. He finished the race really well here, making some hard attacks and some long pulls. We’re all looking forward to the Tour, and there’s more to come.”

Sky did everything right in Sunday’s short and explosive climbing stage and turned the screws early to isolate Porte. Froome then rode aggressively, attacking over the top of Col de la Colombiere to drop Porte. Things looked to be going to script, yet Froome couldn’t deliver his classic knockout punch on the final 11.3km climb to Plateau de Solaison.

That is just the kind of climb where Froome characteristically spins away in his high-cadence wobble to blow the wheels off everyone. This week, he didn’t have the legs to finish it off.

It’s important to see Froome’s performance in the context of 2017. First off, he is clearly taking a different road to July this year. After an intense and busy 2016, Sky didn’t put Froome under pressure to perform early. The team’s brain trust is planning to have him fresh and explosive for July, especially in the decisive final week of the Tour, before a likely run to win the Vuelta a España once and for all.

Everyone inside the Sky bus is confident their man will be ready for the Tour, especially with the hardest and most decisive stages still more than one month away.

“It’s a different Dauphiné from the last number of years,” Portal continued. “We came here to try to win and we saw Richie was super strong, and now we can see Fuglsang was clearly very strong, too. I think these two riders were slightly better than us, but the team rode fantastic every day.”

Come July, Froome will hold an important advantage on all of his other rivals: he knows how to win the Tour.

With the exception of Alberto Contador (Vincenzo Nibali isn’t expected to race), Froome is the only former Tour winner who will be lining up in Dusseldorf. And with Contador’s last Tour-winning performance nearly a decade ago, Froome is the only contemporary rider who has an intact Tour de France infrastructure around him. Nairo Quintana, three times on the podium behind Froome, is the only other rider to bring a similar mix of Tour experience and support to this year’s Tour. Porte has yet to finish on a Tour podium.

It’s that collective power in numbers, experience, and strength that Sky can bring to the Tour that gives Portal and others a sense of calm after Froome missed out on the final Dauphiné podium by one second to third-place Dan Martin (Quick-Step floors).

Fortress Froome” also looks firmly intact coming into July. While Sky’s final Tour selection remains undecided, riders such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, and likely Mikel Landa and Wout Poels give Froome a depth of support that other teams cannot match. Regardless if Froome was still a touch short of his top form, the team looked to be firing as planned.

The fact that Sky could so easily isolate Porte on Sunday also gives Froome some consolation. Five of Porte’s BMC teammates were close to regaining contact, but none of them could bridge across in the climb-riddled stage to provide Porte with much-needed support. Just as Contador was out-gunned by Andrew Talansky in a similar Dauphiné ambush in 2014, Porte was tactically out-maneuvered Sunday. That reveals a potential soft spot for the Australian come July. It rarely happens, but just as Froome learned last year at Formigal, the cost can be very high when it does occur.

Yet when Froome and Porte went head-to-head, it was the Tasmanian who was a pedal stroke ahead of his Kenya-born former teammate. The three-time Tour winner lost time in three key matchups versus Porte: 37 seconds in the 23.5km time trial, 23 seconds at Alpe d’Huez, and 21 seconds in Sunday’s thriller.

That’s what will matter most in July. The big question now is if Porte can hold that form all the way into late July, and whether or not Froome can get even stronger over the next few weeks.

“I think it was clear that Richie was the strongest rider on the climbs at this race,” BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato said. “Sometimes you need to have it all come together, and today it didn’t.”

Porte saw it differently, singling out Froome and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.

“There were a few guys who preferred me to lose the race, and they lost their podium as well. That’s racing. Bring on July,” he said.

While it’s still very possible Froome might win another Tour de France, his rivals leave the Dauphiné with at least a sense of hope. For the first time since 2013, that’s something that most in the peloton have not had.

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