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Froome, Contador, Rodriguez and most of the gang are ready for the big Tour tune-up. 

The race is essentially a condensed Tour with much of the cast on stage, but there’s certainly a lot to contemplate a month before the real thing. Most of the GC men are on hand, with a few exceptions. BMC, in particular, is leaving the duo of Cadel Evans and Teejay Van Garderen in the bleachers. The pair will vie for leadership of the team in July, and it might be smart to leave the decision behind closed doors for now, rather than on the climbs of France.

The Criterium this year is a markedly more difficult than some recent editions of the race. The majority of the stages have at least a pair of categorized climbs, and the back-to-back mountain top finishes to conclude the race next weekend are going to be dead on tests for the Tour. Only the time trial, which comes on Wednesday, is pan flat and just 32km in length. It could well shake up the general classification, but won’t decide it.

Chris Froome is now the name on most experts’ lips, and he’ll have the most pressure on his shoulders this week. Former Tour winner Alberto Contador is flying under the radar after one day, though he’ll be looking warily at Sky’s early dominance. Sky put Richie Porte and Froome into the top five on the first stage, though it was admittedly a large group on the line behind solo winner David Veilleux. No team wanted to take ownership of the race, with Sky ducking its normal role of sheparding along the peloton and instead tucked in behind teams like Movistar, who did a bit of work along the way.

Joaquim Rodriguez will look for a stage win, though he’s said he isn’t interested in the overall. Of course, if he finds himself near the top of the standings after the time trial, he will certainly have a chance in the high mountains. Another Spanaird, Alejandro Valverde, will also be a threat overall, along with Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Laurens Ten Dam, and Jakob Fuglsang. With so much attention on Froome and Contador, it will be interesting to see what sort of leash the others might be given on the undulating stages from now until Wednesday. Andrew Talansky, a possible favorite, is already out of contention after losing 8 minutes on Stage 1.

Watch out Monday’s stage, with a CAT 3 and CAT 2 to finish off the stage before a very fast descent to the line. It will be an elite selection over the top of the final two climbs, and the group that survives will have a decent chunk of time over the finish.