The previous winners list reads like a who's who of post war cycling and is the only other race that's been won by the quintuple winners of the Tour de France - Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and Armstrong - which tells us this is no training camp, it is a hard fought race in it's own right and as stage races go, though it has this 'Tour Prep' tag is often sighted as one of the best.
However the preparation element is of course an important part of this race and this year goes above and beyond in that certain stages provide more than just a glimpse into the route of the Tour. Featuring the climb up the Grand Colombier in the eastern region of Ain, this mountain pass will make it Tour de France debut in July giving riders a near perfect dress rehearsal. Also in this years Dauphine is the inclusion of a 53km individual time trial, mimicking almost exactly the length of the one that will feature in the Tour.
A warm up race it may be but for last years winner Bradley Wiggins it was also the highlight of his career until his recent Paris-Nice and Romandie victories, when a race appears as a highlight in a grand tour general classification riders career its certainly a big deal. Wiggins went there to win ahead of the tour, not to train.
With the 'Tour Prep' tag comes this common notion that whoever win's here will be an obvious favourite for the Tour - a common misconception, for a race that acts as preparation its surprising to learn that only 7 of the previous 67 winners has one on to win the Tour de France in the same year, the last of which was Lance Armstrong, 9 years ago.
The 2012 edition of the dauphine kicks off with a 5.7km prologue. A rider like Wiggins could get his foot in the door here but time gaps among favourites are likely to be minimal. On to Stage 1 and already there are lumps and bumps, in fact there are a total of 6 categorised climbs along the length of the stage however none are overly long or difficult.
Stage 2 is similar, though here the stage finishes atop a category 4 climb, enough maybe for somebody to take a flyer off the front and take some time on the general classification. Stage 3 also has climbs, though this time they all appear within the first half of the stage and the sprinter should be able to get over these with ease and line themselves up for a bunch finish.