With a late-race mechanical, Romain Bardet loses time in the Tour de France's first uphill finish, another blow after a poor TTT ride.
A touch of wheels with Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin left Bardet with a broken rear wheel in the closing kilometers. He changed bikes with teammate Tony Gallopin, but only managed to reach the tail of the pack as it approached the foot of the climb. The work he’d put in chasing left him on the back foot when the attacks started to fly. Bardet rolled across the line in 33rd, 31 seconds down on stage winner Dan Martin of UAE Team Emirates.
“The effort to chase was fatal to me,” Bardet said. “Today, luck was not on our side.”
For French fans, Bardet has been a glimmering hope for the host country to win its first Tour since 1985 when Bernard Hinault claimed yellow. Bardet has won three Tour stages, finished third overall in 2017 and second overall the year prior.
Bardet’s time loss was not what Ag2r had in mind for the stage, considering how well things played out for the team the last time the Tour de France visited Mûr de Bretagne. Back in 2015, Alexis Vuillermoz powered up the finishing climb to claim stage 8 ahead of Martin. This year, Vuillermoz was instead sent back to try to help Bardet regain contact.
Ag2r came close to another stage win anyway. Pierre Latour finished the day runner-up, one second behind Martin. In so doing, the up-and-comer made strides in best young rider classification. He sits third in those standings, currently led by Søren Kragh Andersen (Sunweb).
Latour said after the stage that the team had been gunning for another Mûr de Bretagne stage victory and that he didn’t know about Bardet’s situation. Sport director Julien Jurdie said that Vuillermoz was the one the team tapped to lend a hand to Bardet in the hectic finale.
With Thursday’s losses factored in, Bardet now finds himself 1:45 down on yellow jersey Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). That’s a sizable deficit — but Bardet’s GC position after six stages is perhaps not as bad as it seems.
So far this Tour he’s been able to avoid crashes and mishaps. A number of GC hopefuls — including Sky’s Chris Froome, BMC’s Richie Porte, and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana — lost time in a crash-marred stage 1. By avoiding that chaos, Bardet picked up a significant amount of time on three big rivals without even putting in an attack.
Stage 3 was the biggest culprit for his GC losses thus far. The 35.5-kilometer team time trial in and around Cholet saw Ag2r ship 1:15 to stage winner BMC — but considering the length of the stage and the team’s struggles against the clock in the past, it could have been worse.
Still, rider and team will now have to work that much harder when the Tour arrives on more favorable terrain, the Alps, which begin with stage 10 on Tuesday.
Top of mind, for now, will be surviving the cobbled stage 9 to Roubaix. After that, Bardet can go on the offensive. He was confident that he’ll get his opportunities to work his way back up the leaderboard when the road tilts upward.
“We lost time today,” Bardet said, “but there are mountain stages to come where we can get the time back.”