The Criterium du Dauphine is a great stage race. Spread over eight stages it often imitates the Tour de France and is often likened to a smaller version sharing many of the same roads, climbs and of course competitors. It's been running since 1947 so has plenty of history and winning is a massive achievement in it's own right - look back at the list of winners featuring the likes of Eddy Merkcx, Bernard Hinault, Raymond Poulidor - though over the years the race has gradually become more and more of a form finding mission ahead of the Tour.
When I say 'imitates' I really do mean it - look at last years Dauphine route and you will notice it had a lot of TT miles, in fact one course almost exactly replicated the distance of what would be a deciding stage in the Tour de France just a month later and of course both races suited the eventual winner Bradley Wiggins because of this - likewise look at the route this year and there is very little TT mileage, a distinct lack of sprinter friendly stages and a heck of a lot of climbing and 'classics' style stages very similar to the Tour de France which looks much more of a climbing specialists race compared to last year.
It's often said that the rider who wins the Dauphine is 'unlikely' to succeed in the tour because it's said that they have peaked to early and yes it's true that since the days of Bernard Hinault only Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins have accomplished the Dauphine/Tour double but as Wiggins showed last year it's still very much possible. Infact all of the riders who have won the Tour 5+ times have won the Dauphine and Eddy Merckx, Luis Ocana, Bernard Thevenet, Bernard Hinault and Bradley Wiggins all won the week-long race before going on to take victory in the Tour de France a month later. In recent years both Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have finished on the podium in the Dauphine and gone on to win the Tour but obviously there is always a flipside and many such as Tyler Hamilton, Christophe Moreau and Alexandre Vinokourov have won the Dauphine and gone on to finish outside even the top 20 at the Tour de France.
What is clear is that training methods and sport science have moved on in leaps and bounds in recent times and it's possible to peak for longer and at more than one point in a season so the notion of 'peaking too early' isn't strictly true any more. Indeed riders rarely arrive at the Dauphine in peak fitness, merely they look to end the Dauphine heading towards peak fitness in time for the Tour de France.
Whatever happens the winner of this years Dauphine will be a deserving one and is likely to be somebody looking to go on and achieve great things at the Tour. It will be a race where riders slog their way to the finish over some tough terrain and the GC battle will be just that - a battle. Nobody will be using the Dauphine purely as a training aid. The important thing to remember here is to not get too hooked up on the facts and figures - it's clear that Dauphine winners can go on to both win and lose the Tour de France but that the Dauphine isn't a strict indicator of form and progress, merely a guideline...