Chris Froome heads to the Tour de France as a strong favourite to win the overall title after succeeding Sir Bradley Wiggins as winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné. It's the third victory in a row for Team Sky and Great Britain in the week-long race, won by Wiggins in 2011 and 2012. Froome finished second on today's Stage 8, covering 155.5km from Sisteron to Risoul, behind Cannondale's Alessandro de Marchi, who had been in a big break that formed early on and managed to stay clear.
The stage was played out under rainy skies that made conditions hazardous for the riders through slippery roads - among those to crash was the Cofidis rider, Daniel Navarro, who came down heavily while going through a village 25km out and Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador, riding behind, was unable to avoid his compatriot, clipping him and hitting the deck.
Contador, who was off the pace on GC lying 10th this morning, some 3 minutes down on Froome, was back riding after a bike change and caught up with the group containing Froome as well as Saxo-Tinkoff colleague Michael Rogers, 3rd overall at the start of the day.
Once again, a big escape group got away early on, today's comprising 24 riders, with Sky as usual controlling the place at the front of the GC group as they headed towards the day's two biggest climb, both rated Category 1, the Col de Vars, crested 36.5km from the finish, and the final 13.9km climb of the Monteé de Risoul.
With 5km remaining, Rogers found himself in trouble, dropped from the GC group as his former colleagues at Team Sky - he'd finished second overall riding in support to Wiggins in last year's race - sensed he was struggling and ratcheted up the pace.
Contador, who had been looking to attack himself, fell back to try and help his team mate limit his losses, but Rogers found it impossible to recover, and it Daniel Moreno of Katusha has taken his place on the podium.
Up ahead, Lotto-Belisol's Tim Wellens had got away from the remains of the break early on in that final climb, holding an advantage of 2 minutes over the GC group as he crossed under the 5km to go banner.
Cannondale's Alessandro de Marchi, another member of the break, recovered and overhauled Wellens, but had just a little over half a minute's lead as he passed under the flamme rouge, with Froome and team mate Richie Porte, second overall, having now moved clear of the GC group.
The Italian held on in the mist to claim the stage win, with Froome crossing the line to complete his overall victory 24 seconds later, and Garmin-Sharp's Andrew Talnasky edging out Porte for third place on the stage.
"This win is a massive achievement for me," reflected Froome afterwards, quoted on the Team Sky website.
"I was using the Dauphine as build up to the Tour de France, but to have come away with the victory here, I couldn’t have asked for any more, and to have my best friend in second place is the perfect scenario.
"It would have been great to win the stage as well but we have already won two of those this week and it just proved impossible to reel in De Marchi in the end," he added.
While Froome will start the Tour on Corsica in three weeks' time as a strong favourite to take the maillot jaune in Paris, he believes he will face some stern competition.
"I have won the Dauphine, and other races before, but the counter is back to zero when the Tour starts," he explained.
"There will be six to seven main contenders for overall victory.
"The names? Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez, Evans, Van Garderen, Quintana are all capable of strong rides."
Team Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said: “It was nice to finish with such a fantastic performance. The team were super strong and then Froomey and Richie rounded it off in style.
“Those two have ticked off every goal they’ve set this season, raced hard, and enjoyed a lot of success. That breeds massive confidence within the rest of team because they know their efforts won’t be wasted and that Richie and Froomey can deliver the results.
“They all performed brilliantly today, even David [Lopez], who has been struggling with sickness. He deserves a mention because he showed his character today. He was taking clothing to and from the car, collecting bidons and riding hard before we instructed him to call it a day.”
The racing over until the Tour, the men who will look to support Froome's challenge there will now knuckle down to the business of preparing for that race in earnest, Portal explained.
“We will spend the next two days reconning key stages in the area and then travel over to Chatel for our pre-Tour training camp. That will last a week and then the riders will take a few days off before travelling over to Corsica at the end of the month.”
Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 8 result 1 DE MARCHI Alessandro Cannondale Pro Cycling 04:28:09 2 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling 00:24 3 TALANSKY Andrew Garmin-Sharp " 4 PORTE Richie Sky Procycling 00:31 5 FUGLSANG Jakob Astana Pro Team 00:38 6 VALVERDE Alejandro Movistar Team 00:49 7 RODRIGUEZ Joaquim Katusha Team " 8 MORENO Daniel Katusha Team " 9 NAVARRO Daniel Cofidis Solutions Crédits 00:55 10 DENNIS Rohan Garmin-Sharp 01:00 11 CUNEGO Damiano Lampre-Merida 01:04 12 SANCHEZ Samuel Euskaltel-Euskadi " 13 WELLENS Tim Lotto Belisol Team 01:41 14 CONTADOR Alberto Team Saxo-Tinkoff 01:55 15 NIEVE Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi " 16 ROGERS Michael Team Saxo-Tinkoff " 17 THOMAS Geraint Sky Procycling " 18 GALLOPIN Tony RadioShack-Leopard 02:31 19 GENIEZ Alexandre Equipe Cycliste FDJ " 20 CLEMENT Stef Blanco Pro Cycling Team " Final overall standings 1 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling 29:28:46 2 PORTE Richie Sky Procycling 00:58 3 MORENO Daniel Katusha Team 02:12 4 FUGLSANG Jakob Astana Pro Team 02:18 5 NAVARRO Daniel Cofidis Solutions Crédits 02:20 6 ROGERS Michael Team Saxo-Tinkoff 03:08 7 VALVERDE Alejandro Movistar Team 03:12 8 DENNIS Rohan Garmin-Sharp 03:24 9 SANCHEZ Samuel Euskaltel-Euskadi 04:25 10 CONTADOR Alberto Team Saxo-Tinkoff 04:27
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.