Saint-Étienne welcomes Dauphiné peloton on opening day
A tough stage, comprising eight categorized climbs, kicked off the proceedings at the 69th edition of the French race.
Critérium du Dauphiné, for many the dress rehearsal before next month's Tour de France, started this year from Saint-Étienne, a city which was returning on the course for the first time in eight years. A tough and relentless stage, sprinkled with eight ascents over 170 kilometers, was in store in the morning, when the riders observed a minute's silence for the London attack victims before setting off.
It took more than 30 kilometers for a breakaway to slip away, and when it happened, seven men managed to book a place in that move: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Axel Domont (AG2R), Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Silvio Herklotz (Bora-Hansgrohe), Angel Madrazo (Delko Marseille), Antonio Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie).
The bunch allowed them to build a seven-minute advantage, and at the end of the day that proved to be a mistake, as the escapees went on to fight for victory. On the last ascent of Côte de Rochetaillée (3.2 kilometers, 5.4%), which featured three times on the course, De Gendt accelerated and dispatched Domont, the only one to still latch onto his wheel, before riding solo to the line, where he took both the win and the yellow jersey, followed around 40 seconds later by Domont and Diego Ulissi.
Dan Martin, last year's third-place finisher, Enric Mas and Petr Vakoč were the three Quick-Step Floors riders to conclude the stage in the reduced peloton, which arrived one minute behind the winner. It was a good start to the race for the Irishman – always prominent at the front on the climbs – who'll look to shine later in the race, when the bunch will hit the high mountains.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele