CHAMBON-SUR-LIGNON, France (VN) — Romain Bardet waits patiently for the moment that will win him the Tour de France. What that moment will look like, he does not know. Whether it will occur at all, he can only hope.
“We must wait for the opening where we can make a difference,” he says. “I’m patient. I’m confident in my ability to fight across three weeks.”
France’s young hero plasters the roadsides here in the Massif Central, the region from which he hails. “Ça va Bardet” is now something of an unofficial slogan, scrawled on the side of campers, written in paint on white sheets and in chalk on these undulating roads. It means “sparks will fly,” in this case. A play on words. It’s also a phrase that is both a question and an answer in French. “How are you” and “I’m well.” How’s it going, Bardet? Going well, Bardet. As a slogan, it’s as understated as the man himself.
So, ça va, Bardet? Are you calm, even with the weight of France on your shoulders? “No, Uran is four seconds behind me,” he says. No serenity here. “Everything is too tight.”
The top four on GC are separated by 29 seconds with six stages to go. Ahead of them lie three major tests. Stage 17 has two HC climbs, including the Col du Galibier. Much will depend on the wind. Stage 18 tackles the category 1 Col du Vars and then the Izoard, the final uphill finish of the Tour. “The sequence of the two [stages] will lead to gaps on the top of the Izoard,” Bardet says. This is where the Frenchman believes the Tour will be decided. If there is anywhere Sky’s death star may reveal weakness, it is here.
“It’s the strength of Sky that they have three or four potential leaders around Froome,” he says. “It discourages a lot of people. Their homogeneity is impressive. But it remains to be seen if it will hold through the third week.”
Then comes the final time trial, 22.5km in Marseille. How much time does he need over Froome to be safe alone contre le montre for 22.5km? He won’t speculate, at least not publicly.
“I was able to fight last year and secured second place, which gives us confidence,” he says. “When I see how small the gaps are between the contenders, I think it will play out again by such a small amount.”
And so he waits. Waits for a crack in Froome and a crack in Sky, which he says rides like an “armada.” Waits for “the smallest of faults.” A crack in the Death Star. A moment that can win a Frenchman the Tour de France.