Solid start for Voeckler in Grenoble
Team Europcar started the Critérium du Dauphiné with a strong performance by leader Thomas Voeckler in the 5.7km opening prologue in Grenoble.
Voeckler set the 51st best time over the flat course, 17 seconds behind Australia's Luke Durbridge (Orica GreenEdge) who took the race's first yellow jersey.
"Thomas enjoyed himself out there and even surprised himself in posting such a good prologue time," said Andy Flicklinger, directeur sportif of Europcar.
On a wet day in the foothills of the Alps, Pierre Rolland also set the 91st best time, 27 seconds behind Durbridge, while French time trial champion Christophe Kern took 62nd place, 19 seconds off the pace.
"I am very happy with the whole team. We did not have any mechanical problems nor did we have any accidents – despite the race conditions," said Flicklinger.
"Besides Thomas, both Pierre and Christophe rode very good prologues. Christophe's form is in the ascendency – and even if he's not in the same condition as 2011, we feel we can count on him for this Dauphiné and for the Tour de France."
Monday's opening 187km stage from Seyssins to Saint-Vallier seems best suited to a sprinter but the undulating route could well play into the hands of a breakaway – something Team Europcar is well aware of.
"There's a Cat.3 climb right at the start of the stage and so there will be some opportunities to seize," said Flicklinger. "Our objective in this year's race is to pick up a stage win first and foremost and then, perhaps, target a high finish for Thomas and maybe even Pierre in the GC."
Before Sunday's prologue, team manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau stressed his desire for his riders to perform well in what is "the second biggest race of the year" for Team Europcar.
"For the past two or three years we have been very active in the Dauphiné and we know that the public expect a lot from us and we're ready to deliver," said Bernaudeau.
"We never let anyone down. It's the riders who make the race and they have to adapt to the conditions. We may see a very tricky Dauphiné this week or it may be the opposite. In the Giro recently we saw some very mountainous stages but more often than not the pack arrived at the foot of the final climb in one group."
The eight-day stage race will be a good chance for his leaders to get into shape ahead of the Tour de France – plus will give other riders an opportunity to stake their claim on a place in the squad for the Tour.
"Last year everyone said that we were very weak but in the end we posted our best ever season," said Bernaudeau. "The team is working well. We're going to have to concentrate hard and not make any errors. We have a bit of room to manoeuvre. We will ride as a collective in support of Thomas and Pierre. Many of the riders really want to prove that they could do this for them during the Tour."
TEAM FOR THE CRITERIUM DU DAUPHINE:
Giovanni Bernaudeau, Anthony Charteau, Cyril Gautier, Christophe Kern, Davide Malacarne, Kevin Reza, Pierre Rolland, Thomas Voeckler