Dauphiné, or Dolphin, was an historic region of South East France, so called because the coat of arms of the 12th century ruler Count Guigues IV of Albon bore a dolphin. Granted, it's a dolphin that was obviously drawn by a medieval artist who had never seen a real dolphin before, but whatever's French for "creepy blue and red fish thing" doesn't have the same ring to it as Dauphiné. You may remember that when France had a royal family, the heir apparent was referred to as Le Dauphin. That's because when the Counts of Dauphiné transferred the region from comital rule to the Royal Family, part of the transfer stipulated that the heir to the throne should hence be known as the Dauphin, and, sneakily, the region he was named after would retain significant autonomy and tax exemption. Don't worry, I had to google what 'comital' meant too: 'relating to a count or earl'.
With that history lesson over, more importantly, it's thanks to this Dauphiné region that we get dauphinoise potatoes, the famous dish of potatoes, garlic cream and cheese (excuse me while I drop to my knees weeping to give praise and thanks), and, not forgetting, the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Like many bike races of the same era, the Critérium du Dauphiné started life as a promotional tool for the Dauphiné Libéré newspaper. First hitting the newsstands on 7th September 1945, the Dauphiné Libéré was founded by several members of the French Resistance and Socialist Workers party, and promoted with the tagline "The Free Newspaper of the Free", referring to the occupation of France during the Second World War which had ended just five days previously.
As a fledgling title, The Dauphiné Libéré faced competition from other local newspapers, so, eighteen months after the paper began, in 1947, editor Georges Cazeneuve created the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, a race around the Rhône-Alpes area where the paper was distributed. Nearly 25 years later in 1971 he would be asked to launch the Six Days of Grenoble by a council eager to put to use the stadium built for the Winter Olympics three years earlier. So, Cazeneuve's organisational skills weren't just a flash in the pan (a pan which is obviously preparing the delicious potatoes for the dauphinoise.)
The newspaper, and Cazeneuve's family, continued to sponsor and help organise the event until 2009, when they stepped back to allow the ASO to take full control. Aside from a break of two years in 1967-68, followed by a merger with the Circuit des Six Provinces Dauphiné in 1969, the race has remained pretty much the same, just now without the "Libéré" part of the title.
The Critérium du Dauphiné takes place in the mountainous South East part of France, and is therefore perfect training ground for the Tour de France, which takes place usually about a month later, as riders can test their legs on mountain passes that they may be using in four weeks time, such as the Col du Galibier, the Col d'Izoard, the Col de la Madeleine, and the big daddy, Mont Ventoux - which at 7.5% over 21.8km, can essentially give all the other climbs a wedgie and steal their lunch money if it wants to - and then how will they afford their dauphinoise potatoes??
Alongside its route similarities with the Tour de France, the two races have shared a few winners over the years. All four riders who have won five editions of the Tour de France have won at least one edition of the Critérium du Dauphiné. Confusing enough for you? Okay, Eddy Merckx won in 1971, Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and 1965, Bernard Hinault in 1977, 1979 and 1981 and Miguel Indurain in 1995 and 1996. Some guy called Lance Armstrong won in 2002 and 2003, but those wins got stripped and apparently he never won the Tour de France anyway so, like, whatever.
Other 'vainqueurs' (that's posh French for 'winners') of the Dauphiné include the first edition winner, the Polish Edward Kablinski, who also finished 34th in the Tour de France that year. Spanish rider Valentín Uriona had a promising career with wins at the Milk Race, Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta a España, as well as the 1964 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, until it was tragically cut short when he was killed during a crash in the 1967 Spanish National Championships. Henry Anglade won in 1959 whilst French National champion, his career ended in 1966 when a crash broke his spine, but he later went on to design and make stained glass windows, including one for Notre-Dame des Cyclistes - a church and museum dedicated to cycling and cyclists. Serendipitous! Now, I wonder if they have a thanksgiving service for dauphinoise potatoes? Not that I'm obsessed. Mmmmmm.......
Read more from Holly Blades in Conquista Issue 10 - Available Now