Whatever advantage Romain Bardet carried into Monday’s team time trial evaporated on the hot tarmac surrounding Cholet, France.
Bardet’s Ag2r La Mondiale squad never appeared to find their rhythm along the 35.5km course and turned in a disappointing result: 13th place, 1:15 down to winners BMC Racing. Ag2r’s time trial specialist, Silvan Dillier — the 2015 Swiss national champion in the discipline — was dropped early in the race, followed shortly thereafter by Axel Domont, who appeared to pull out of his pedal prior to fading off the back.
The squad entered the final kilometer with just five riders in the group and finished with four.
After the race, Bardet praised his teammates for their efforts.
“We did a good time trial,” Bardet said in a release. “The team fought as one man in order to post a good time, because you have to have all eight involved.”
The result marks a setback for Bardet, who finished on the Tour podium in both 2017 (third) and 2016 (second). Bardet has quickly become the darling of French cycling fans and is seen as the country’s most promising GC rider in several generations. France’s Tour drought dates back to 1985 when Bernard Hinault won the race.
Ag2r’s dismal performance comes after it suffered a series of crashes during the Tour’s opening two stages. Strongman Pierre Latour crashed during Saturday’s opening stage, and Dillier crashed on Sunday’s stage 2, suffering bruises and scratches to his left side. The team’s other time trial specialist, Tony Gallopin, entered the race with a fractured rib, suffered in a pileup at the French national championships.
Manager Vincent Lavenu praised the team’s overall results and admitted the squad had to “cut our losses” compared to the best squads due to the injuries.
“Especially considering we started with two of our strongest riders injured, so there were uncertainties for us,” Lavenu said. “Nevertheless, Tony Gallopin and Silvan Dillier were solid; they helped the team to stay consistent throughout the course.”
The dismal result resets Bardet’s overall strategy just two days after his Tour began on a high note. Bardet was one of several GC men to evade catastrophe during the final chaotic kilometers of Stage 1, which saw Chris Froome (Sky), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) lose 51 seconds, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) lose 1:15. By contrast, Bardet finished in the group. He came into Monday’s stage with nearly a minute gap to the defending champion Froome.
Now, Bardet sits in 25th place overall, 10 seconds down on Froome. The change in position means Bardet will need to once again adopt an attacking style in the Alps and Pyrenees. That style helped him capture stage victories in both 2016 and 2017 — last year Bardet dropped Froome on the climb to Peyragudes.
Bardet said he’s up to the challenge.
“I’m waiting for this first week of increasing pressure to be in top form in time for the mountains,” he said. “You have to concentrate for 21 stages. The level is always high, and precious seconds are won everywhere.”