It’s time for the dress rehearsal of the Tour de France with road cycling’s biggest names taking part in a revamped Critérium du Dauphiné (August 12-16) just ahead of the French Grand Tour (August 29 - September 20).
“It’s a run-through for the Tour, this year more than ever,” explains Thierry Gouvenou. The Dauphiné and Tour de France race director rode the Alpine appetizer eight times himself between 1991 and 2001, but never faced a field comparable to the star-studded peloton heading for the start of the UCI WorldTour stage race in Clermont-Ferrand on Wednesday.
Team Ineos is coming with the last three winners of the Tour de France: Egan Bernal (2019), Geraint Thomas (2018) and Chris Froome (2013 and 2015-2017). Jumbo-Visma have their own ‘big three’ with Primoz Roglic (winner of La Vuelta a España in 2019), Tom Dumoulin (winner of the 2017 Giro d’Italia) and Steven Kruijswijk (3rd in the 2019 Tour de France). Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) still embodies French hopes and will enjoy the support of his partner-in-climb, David Gaudu.
And there’s Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Nairo Quintana (Team Arkéa-Samsic), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team), and the recent World Champions Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team)… The race organisers count 18 riders from the Top 20 of the 2019 Tour at the start of the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné, along with many more champions from all horizons.
For them, it’s one of the rare opportunities to bring themselves to racing speed ahead of the Tour de France. “We wanted to do everything possible to organise the Tour, and it required other races, especially the Dauphiné,” says Gouvenou. “It has brought an exceptional field. It’s almost a duplicate of the start-list of the Tour de France.”
"The riders and the staff are going to live inside a small community"
Originally scheduled for June, with eight days of racing set to favour different types of riders, the event has turned into a summer festival of climbing, attending to the peloton’s need for hard racing.
Stage 1 to Saint-Christo-en-Jarez (218.5km) is supposed to be the easiest on paper. It features seven categorised climbs with an uphill finish on the Col de la Gachet (3.3km with an average gradient of 4.6%). Then four summit finishes await the riders in the Alps with a final battle on Sunday 16th set on the slopes leading up to the ski resort of Megève.
Riders, staff and fans will also enjoy the opportunity to familiarise themselves with race organizer ASO’s protocols regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. “That’s the other side of this rehearsal”, Gouvenou acknowledges. “We have set the necessary measures and now we need everyone to own them and to understand the fight against the virus doesn’t begin when we arrive at the start in the morning and it doesn’t end when we leave after the stage. It’s a whole behaviour to isolate the bubble. The riders and the staff are going to live inside this small community.”
“We’ve waited for the UCI’s protocol, we’ve brought ourselves to that level and then we’ve discussed with the teams to establish specific measures on the Dauphiné and the Tour,” he explains. The main idea is to isolate the peloton in order to limit the chances of contamination: “The teams’ parking will be closed to the media and to the public at the start and at the finish. We’ll have a mixed zone with specific rules for the interviews and we will also limit the number of persons allowed to access the area after the finish line. And the podium ceremony follows the same guidelines, with no kiss, no interaction between the partners, the local representatives and the riders…”
Barriers will help maintain distances between the riders and the fans at the start. The feeding zone will also be closed to the public “and we will have more ‘waste zones’ for the riders. We don’t want to see them throwing their bottles at the fans.”
ASO also relies on the support of the public authorities to make sure their event is a success and paves the proper way to the Tour de France. “Christian Prudhomme [ASO’s director of cycling] spoke with the local authorities and we have strong support from the Rhône-Alpes regional council”, Gouvenou explains. “The Prefect will make it mandatory to wear face masks all along the route. Will it be 100% applied? No. But it will encourage people to do it and that’s one more level of protection.”