The Critérium du Dauphiné got underway today with a testing opening stage, with a parcours that featured no fewer than seven categorised climbs, over 3500 metres of altitude gain and a brutally steep uphill finish. There was an air of nervousness in the bunch as proceedings got underway, with a sense that the morning breakaway might make it all the way to the finish line. As a result there were numerous failed breakaway attempts, with the team covering any dangerous moves, before a group of five riders eventually broke clear.
The breakaway managed to gain a five minute advantage but the peloton was always in control and approaching the finishing circuit with 30 kilometres to go the gap was less than a minute. On the steep pitches before the line, Søren Kragh Andersen put in a stinging attack, getting clear of the bunch alongside Cavagna. After a twisting ascent, the duo made it across to lone-leader Schär with 20 kilometres to go.
Yet, the pace in the bunch was high and Kragh Andersen was caught with 15 kilometres remaining in the day. The infernal pace continued to be set at the front of the group, as it became a race of attrition with riders steadily dropping out the back of the peloton.
Marc Hirschi did a good job to position Tiesj Benoot and Nicholas Roche to the fore as the peloton charged up the final categorised climb. A flurry of attacks saw the bunch stretch out even more before things regrouped and with a lull in pace, Benoot sensed his opportunity to go with just under two kilometres to go. However, after a moments hesitation, the peloton were quick on his heels and he wasn’t able to gain more than a 20 metre advantage before sitting up and returning into the wheels.
With everything together the now very reduced bunch of around 60 riders headed towards the steep final kicker where Benoot delivered a good turn of speed to take a solid 11th place finish on the line. Tomorrow focus turns to the mountains and the summit finish atop the Col de Porte.