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The Dauphine Code

It’s been a long time since Levi Leipheimer took third place in the Vuelta – 2001 to be exact, but the promise he showed then is finally beginning to show for real – on Sunday he took a fine overall victory in the Criterium Du Dauphine Libere. Is this a portent of greatness for Le Tour like it was for Lance in 2002 & 2003 or does it mean nothing, like it did for Mayo in 2004?

That’s the thing about the Dauphine, it can mean everything, or it can mean nothing, let’s attempt to crack the code and see what the 2006 Dauphine means for the 2006 Tour.

The prologue and stage three time test went to David Zabriskie (USA & CSC), on the face of it he seems to be at very least a serious contender for the Tour prologue, if not a red-hot favourite. However, word is that Big Bjarne may not put him in the Tour team, preferring to choose a rider who can be of more service to Ivan Basso, fact or bluff?

Stop, now list the number of people that can beat David Zabriskie in a time trial at the moment…

I think it’s hype and the only men who can stop David Zabriskie from pulling-on the first maillot jaune of Le Tour are Jan Ullrich (Germany & T-Mobile) and David Millar (Scotland & Saunier Duval), and their chances are slim next to the TT-maestro.

Fabian Wegmann (Germany & Gerolsteiner) took stage one, what’s important about this win is that it confirms Gerolsteiner as the serious players that they are, I predict two stage wins for them, one in a transition stage but I don’t think Levi can make the podium, top six but not top three.

Proving that his Het Volk win was no fluke, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium & Francais des Jeux) took stage two. For our 2006 Tour, it means little that we didn’t know before – Gilbert has class and is a dangerous man to infiltrate a break. Remember though that the Tour aint the Dauphine and every break is analysed and double analysed before it goes anywhere, however for future years this guy Gilbert thinks big – maybe Tour big.

Floyd Landis rode a very quiet Dauphine, save for the Stage 3 TT – expect much more come the Tour.

The stage three time test went to Zabriskie, and a gaggle of Tour hopeful Americans: Landis, Leipheimer, and Hincapie. Valverde even went out and impressed by riding into the Top 10 – far better than time trials of months and years past.

Menchov, Moreau, and Leipheimer separated themselves from the rest on the Ventoux.

Stage four; Denis Menchov (Russia & Rabobank) won on the Ventoux for the second time in his career, a wonderful ride but I don’t think it means that Menchov is a Tour contender. An interesting stage to try and de-code though – have Floyd Landis (USA & Phonak) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan & Wurth) got it wrong, or are they bluffing with their big time losses?

Ed is sticking his head out and calling for a Frenchman to the Tour podium: Christophe Moreau.

I’m sticking my neck out and going for the former, but I’m also tipping a man ‘back from the dead’ for the lowest step on the Tour podium – Christophe Moureau (France & AG2R). Jumping ship from CA was the best thing he’s done in years, second on this stage and second on final GC, the man with the tongue is back and he just loves reading about himself in L’Equipe.

We won’t be seeing a wink of Turpin at the Tour – he broke his femur the day after this magnificent win.

Stage five and a heroic French lone winner – Ludovic Turpin (France and AG2R), what does that mean? It means that AG2R have great morale and will be a force in the Tour. Just like ‘le vin rouge’ there are good and bad years for French stage wins in the Tour, this year the signs are good.

George Hincapie rode a moderate Dauphine, the same as Vino and Landis.

George Hincapie (USA & Discovery) is a man that was seen today, he’s on an upward curve after a classics season compromised by that bad crash in Paris-Roubaix; with the team behind him that won the last seven editions of the Tour de France he’ll be in the mix but not on the podium.

Iban Mayo, Spanish guy, rode for Euskaltel; he wasn’t a bad rider, what ever happened to him? Yeah, and he’s back with a bang – second yesterday and his first win in two years here on stage six. One swallow doesn’t make a summer but Mayo has class and was one of the few realistic challengers to Lance until his morale disappeared and injuries struck him down.

He’s baaaaack. Iban Mayo looks set to once again terrorize the mountains of Le Tour – too bad there aren’t too many of them.

No podium, but a big stage win for the Basque with the mullet – and a top ten placing. Sticking with Spain, what about Alejandro Valverde (Spain & Caisse D’Epargne)? He wasn’t at his sparkling best here, but my bet is he’s on the way back up after his excellent Spring Classics season; he could maybe even knock my boy Moureau off that podium – well, he has to finish the Tour first though.

Will Valverde find his way to Paris in 2006?

A seemingly innocuous stage which actually told us much about the Tour, sprinters ride as much with their minds as their legs, there’s a good buzz inside Thor Hushovd’s (Norway & CA) head right now after this win and he’ll be looking forward to shoulder charging Robbie McEwen (Australia & Lotto) and changing his green CA jersey for a more important maillot in the same colour.

There are still other pieces to the puzzle, missing at the Dauphine, one is called Jan Ullrich (Germany & T-Mobile) and we have to keep a close eye on the Tour of Switzerland for ciphers to help us here, but I think he’s the man to win in July. There are a few others testing their mettle in Switzerland at the moment – Cadel Evans and Michael Rasmussen to name a couple of Tour de France 2005 Top 10ers.

There isn’t a Vatican connection, but there is an Italian one and a Giro-winning one at that – Ivan Basso (CSC) but the red-head from Rostock is too strong and Ivan’s turn comes next year.

It will be the end of July before we can confirm if I’ve cracked the code, if I’m not too embarrassed we’ll come back then and see how I did.

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