There are always more mountains to be conquered. Ascent cycling can take on a life of its own, driven by the sense of competition among the cyclists and the challenges arising from the race itself. Climbing to the top of a mountain pass – for example the Col du Galibier or the Alpe d’Huez – never evokes the same feelings twice. Every year since 1947, the battles of the Critérium du Dauphiné have reminded us that a cycling can be a truly spectacular feat, and one which, when set against a backdrop such as the French Alps, captures our attention and amazes us time and time again. Talking of mountains, here we are in the very heart of the Kingdom of the climbers. The benchmarks set by the very best of these climbers are all the more precious, given the proximity of the Tour de France just a few weeks later.
Seen in this light, July’s 2012 meeting should certainly give competitors and spectators alike something to think about. After a long absence lasting 24 years, the Col du Gran Colombier ascent is back on the Critérium du Dauphiné agenda. Sports fans are waiting with bated breath to witness this year’s hot topic – the strengths and weaknesses in the time trials – between the prologue stage in Grenoble and the 53 km individual time trial between Villié-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse. The Rhone Alps region offers competitors a real chance to test their mettle, with its extremely wide range of landscapes, the slog of the roads through the Ardèche and the ascents leading to the mountain passes of Joux-Plane or Colombière. Perhaps this is where Bradley Wiggens, expected to reclaim his title this year, will have to fend off the threats of Cadel Evans, four-time runner-up and winner of the 2011 Tour de France.