Veteran Alexandre Vinokourov took the leader's jersey in the Criterium du Dauphine here Monday but was quick to pay tribute to surprise stage winner Jurgen van den Broeck of Belgium. Astana leader Vinokourov, 37, who served a two year doping suspension for blood doping from 2007-09, came in fourth seven seconds adrift of van den Broeck on the hilly 144km ride from Albertville to pull on the leader's yellow and blue tunic.
However it Omega-Pharma rider van den Broeck's impressive ride in a frantic final seven kilometers that caught most people's attention. Despite finishing a commendable fifth place overall on last year's Tour de France, seven years into his career the 28-year-old had yet to register a professional victory.
"It's a huge relief to have won," said van den Broeck, a former world junior time trial champion who has emerged as a contender in the major stage races. I've been waiting for this win for the past seven or eight years. All too often I've finished runner-up, so winning the first stage at the Dauphine, before heading to the Tour de France, is perfect. It's given me even more confidence for the Tour.
"He's finished fifth overall on the Tour and he had yet to win" enthused Vinokourov, who is now hoping his team can control the race in Tuesday's 179km second stage from Voiron to Lyon, which could finish in a bunch sprint. "I've got the leader's jersey, which is good. Tuesday we'll be looking to control the race with the sprinters' teams. They don't have a lot of chance to shine this week."
Dutchman Lars Boom started the day in the lead after blowing the field away in the opening prologue held over 5.4 km on Sunday. But after the chasing peloton reeled in a three-man breakaway with around 10km to race, the chase to the finish left the the big Rabobank rider, and many other riders, in the red as the gradients increased to a still theoretically manageable average of five percent.
Dutch climbing specialist Robert Gesink of Rabobank went on to concede over a minute on van den Broeck at the finish while Spanish Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel lost almost a minute. Even worse off was Italian Ivan Basso, the 2010 Giro d'Italia champion who is hoping to bid for the Tour's yellow jersey this year. The Liquigas rider lost over three minutes to van den Broeck.
With seven kilometers remaining van den Broeck pulled away from his rivals in a bid to counter Belarussian Konstantsin Siutsou of HTC-Highroad. Behind, French champion Thomas Voeckler countered but van den Broeck dug deep to pull away again. Despite a last gasp effort by Spanish climber Joaquin Rodriguez in the final kilometre the Belgian held on to savour a memorable win. Katusha rider Rodriguez finished second at 6sec alongside Australian Cadel Evans of BMC, picking up another second place after a frustrating campaign in the hilly Ardennes classics.
"I've come close to winning once again, but it's happened to me far too many times this year," complained Rodriguez. "Van den Broeck got ahead of me on the flat section before the final kilometer. That's where I could have done with some help."
Tuesday's second stage is the 179km ride from Voiron to Lyon.
Criterium du Dauphine Stage 1
1. Jergen Van den Broeck (BEL/OLO) 3:36:42
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) @ .06
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ .07
4. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ/AST) @ s.t.
5. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM)
6. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY)
7. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) @ .13
8. Rob Ruygh (NED/VAC) @ s.t.
9. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) @ .15
10. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/RSH) @ s.t.
General Classification After Stage 1
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ/AST) 3:43:09
2. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/OLO) at 5secs
3. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ .07
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/SKY) @ .11
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY) @ .13
6. Nicolas Roche (IRL/ALM) @ .17
7. Janez Brajkovic (SLO/RSH) @ .20
8. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) @ .23
9. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) @ .24
10. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) @ .27