Preview. The Criterium du Dauphiné reaches the high mountains. Stage 7 of the French race sees Jonas Vingegaard having to protect his yellow jersey over the Cols de Madeleine, Molard and Croix de Fer.
The queen stage? Perhaps, it is the great summit finish of the Dauphiné this year and it takes the riders through a journey in the Maurienne valley's climbs. A short day on the bike with a pan-flat start, but it does then feature three long and hard climbs which add up to 4000 meters of climbing.
Estimated start and finish times for Criterium du Dauphiné stage 7: 10:40-14:35CET
Criterium du Dauphiné: Georg Zimmermann wins stage 6 out of breakaway, GC fight sees no differences in hilltop finish
First off we've got the Col de la Madeleine. 24.8 kilometers at 6.1%, summit at almost 2000 meters of altitude, 73 kilometers to go and irregular gradients. Two gentle sections in the climb mean much of it is ridden above the 6% mark. It's a tough old climb, maybe not it's hardest vertent but certainly one that will cause quite a lot of damage in the peloton.
The day will however be decided later on, the Col du Molard will have it's longest vertent raced with with 18.5 kilometers at 5.8%. This climb will mostly serve as a warm-up for the final one as the proximity is so visible, however it's another long one but mostly an explosive one. There are 43 hairpins in the first 12 kilometers, it puts the Alpe d'Huez to shame if those where the only standards. The rest of the climb isn't as hard but my no means a gentle ride.
However it will be the final climb to Col de la Croix de Fer where the main attacks are expected. It's a climb of two halves, with the final kilometers significantly harder. It is a summit finish at over 2000 meters, the ascent has 13 kilometers at 6.1% average gradient.
It's a climb well known to the Tour de France, however having a finale at it's summit this year. It is also in it's toughest vertent to end the stage, the GC riders will save as much as possible in the day certainly to then have the legs for the final 6.4 kilometers, which besides the altitude, also average over 8% in exposed roads.
Northwestern breeze could see a bit of headwind in the final climb, however likely not affecting the tough final kilometers. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow, it will make the descents more tense and favours the breakaway as the peloton will suffer through them more.
Jonas Vingegaard - Vingegaard is in full control of the race, let's not think otherwise. If it comes down to the GC riders he will very likely win, as he looks a whole level above the competition. The long ascents will suit the Dane even better, but as shown today he is keen on going for wins and making a statement, so Jumbo will surely not give the breakaway free reign.
Richard Carapaz - Carapaz misjudged his effort on the toughest stage so far, a risky move but one with some potential. He doesn't feel to be at his best level yet, but after winning the Mercan'Tour Classic he knows that he's got good climbing legs. His aggressive stance could however trigger an all-out battle once again.
Adam Yates - Yates could be Vingegaard's main rival on this ascent. He's been showing good legs and sits fourth ahead of this tough day. The winner of the Tour de Romandie is a pure climber and this is his terrain, he could well move onto the podium but will also want a stage win.
Ben O'Connor - O'Connor is currently sitting where he wants. A victory for him - and let's be honest, everyone - is very hard to imagine unless Vingegaard crashes or has something similar going wrong. Out of the rest the Australian sits second, and after a brilliant time-trial he was the one who responded best to Vingegaard in today's hilltop finish.
Jai Hindley - Hindley has looked sharp in the hilly stages and brilliant in the time-trial. All these signs hint at great form, but it's here that the Australian has to prove it. At his best, he could do quite well, but sitting sixth in the GC already he doesn't necessarily have the pressure to take many risks.
Enric Mas - Mas has lost quite a lot of time, he sits outside the Top10 ahead of the stage. Nothing to lose at this point, it's a preparation race, he doesn't look at his best so he may not attack much, but if he does find his good legs he could make for a very interesting wildcard.
Mikel Landa - Alongside Jack Haig, Bahrain will want to make moves. The Australian doesn't necessarily need to but is expected to move up the GC, but with Landa's modest GC position they will certainly have ideas. It's a day that suits the Basque, the tough summit finish will be perhaps his most important test ahead of the Tour.
Egan Bernal - With Daniel Martínez and Carlos Rodríguez looking quite far from their best Bernal ends up being the leader for INEOS. This will be perhaps the most important test of the year so far, the Colombian has been looking very good in the hilly days but it's here, in the mountains and at an high-altitude finish that he could show his best. Fight for the win? I doubt, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the Top5, and many will be crossing their fingers for the same thing.
Giulio Ciccone - Ciccone is looking very sharp but somehow in the wrong stages. Trek has shown confidence in the Italian, and he has sprinted, he led the peloton in today in the sprint but the stage was out of sight. He has been climbing the high mountains quite well this year, he could try to be in the mix for the win.
There will be other cards in the GC fight which could be up there in the finale, but as the first high mountain day it will still be a relative test. Tobias Johannessen, Louis Meintjes, Guillaume Martin, Max Poole, David Gaudu and Lenny Martínez will all be outsiders for this difficult summit finish. Julian Alaphilippe could also be interesting to watch, he may want to test himself.
Wout van Aert's unusual preparation for Tour de France - "The main goal is for him to be in the Tour as best as possible and we think that will work very well this way"
Prediction Criterium du Dauphiné 2023 stage 7:
*** Jonas Vingegaard
** Adam Yates, Jai Hindley, Giulio Ciccone, Ben O'Connor
* Ricard Carapaz, Enric Mas, Mikel Landa, Jack Haig, Egan Bernal, Tobias Johannessen, Lenny Martínez, Max Poole
Pick: Jonas Vingegaard