In Tour Prelude Roglič and Evenepoel Face Off in the Dauphiné

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

This year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, which kicks off on Sunday, feels special. That’s because the race is traditionally used as a warmup for the Tour de France, and this year’s Tour is definitely special.

In a sport now rich with superstars, all of its wealth could be at the start in the Italian city of Firenze on June 29. It depends on how well Jonas Vingegaard (Visma–Lease a Bike), who has won the last two Tours, has recovered from the grave injuries he sustained at the Itzulia Basque Country in early April.

According to the latest information, released by his team on the site formerly known as Twitter, the 27-year-old Dane is currently training at altitude in the Alps, in the same area where the Dauphiné will be run. It remains to be seen if a month of intense training will make Vingegaard fit enough to compete against Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who is coming off a historic victory in the Giro d’Italia, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quickstep) and Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe).

Evenepoel and Roglič are also coming off injuries suffered in the same crash as Vingegaard, but they were less seriously hurt. The Belgian reigning world time trial champion broke his collarbone and scapula and Roglič came away with a knee injury. Both have been in training since at least late April, and they will both ride in the Dauphiné. Vingegaard won the race last year and had been scheduled to take part this year as well, but his injuries – several broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and a collapsed lung – required a much longer period of recuperation.

He will be missed, because this Dauphiné would have been right up his alley. With the final three stages ending in mammoth climbs to summit finishes – Le Collet d’Allevard (11.2km @ 8.1%), Samoëns 1600 (10km @ 9.3%) and Plateau des Glières (9.4km @7.1% but with long ramps of 10% and more) – the Dauphiné will also be great preparation for the enormous ascents challenging the riders in this year’s very difficult Tour.

Though he had a mixed spring, Roglič is a strong climber and should be able to handle the Dauphiné’s peaks. But all eyes will be on Evenepoel, who has not yet demonstrated that he can handle the long, steep ascents he will be facing next week and in the Tour. He should win the stage 4 ITT, which runs over 34.4km of hilly terrain. However, Roglič pulled off a surprise victory in the Itzulia ITT, despite losing his way near the end of the race. The outcome of the Dauphiné may very well hinge on how little time the 34-year-old Slovenian loses to his 10-year-younger rival in the time trial.

Of course, there are other GC contenders in the race in case the two favorites falter. None is more intriguing than last year’s Vuelta winner and Vingegaard teammate Sepp Kuss. Is the race a test for the 29-year-old American to determine if he could step into Vingegaard’s bike shoes if the Dane is not cleared to race in the Tour? Or is he using the race to prepare to again lead his team captain up the Tour’s steepest ascents? Whatever the case, he has had a less than impressive spring, with only a King of the Mountain victory in the Itzulia to decorate his 2024 road race CV.

Another interesting candidate is Carlos Rodríguez (INEOS Grenadiers). He won the Tour de Romandie in late April and finished second to Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) in the Itzulia. He placed fifth in last year’s Tour and ninth in the 2023 Dauphiné, but he is only 23 so is definitely eligible to improve. If Evenepoel weakens on a climb and falls out of contention, Rodríguez could certainly take his place on the podium and perhaps even challenge Roglič.

The same goes for Ayuso, who is only 21 but has already put together an impressive Palmares, with his Itzulia win this year, a third place in the 2022 Vuelta (behind Evenepoel and Enric Mas of Movistar), when he was not yet 20, and second-place finishes in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico and last year’s Tour de Suisse. He is also an excellent ITT rider, so he will definitely be in the mix if he is in top form, as he will have to be when riding for Pogačar in the Tour.

It will be a cracking race, especially in the three mountain stages, and should provide a few clues about the Tour de France. But it is being run in the long shadows cast by the two two-time Tour winners who are sitting this dance out.