Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) dropped his chain right at the finish line atop the punishing steep climb of La Planche des Belles Filles. It seemed an appropriate ending to a bitter day for the Frenchman.
Bardet was at a loss to explain why he struggled on the first major summit finale at the 2019 Tour de France. Instead of leading the charge Thursday, Bardet was desperately trying to limit the damage.
“I was not at my level today, and it’s something hard and bitter,” Bardet said. “We’ll try to understand what happened. It’s complicated. I come to this Tour very, very motivated and there is still plenty of racing ahead of us.”
Everyone expected fireworks Thursday in the new thrilling La Planche gravel extension. Once the big hitters started to move at the front of the GC pack, led by Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, Bardet was suddenly off the back.
When the dust settled, Bardet crossed the line 27th, 2:53 behind Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), ceding more than one minute to defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos).
“It’s obviously not good news,” said Ag2r La Mondiale boss Vincent Lavenu. “The hard work was done before the Tour and we expected the best, but he was not there today. Sometimes in cycling, one plus one doesn’t always equal two.”
It was a bitter pill for Bardet who came into this Tour quietly optimistic he could contend for the final podium, and perhaps even more. The climb-heavy Tour route favors Bardet, at least on paper, but in Thursday’s first major showdown, he was clearly struggling.
Lavenu was immediately trying to motivate Bardet, who was clearly upset in the wake of his disappointing performance. Lavenu will need to be hoping for a major turn-around. Coupled with the team’s losses in the team time trial, Bardet settled into 26th, 2:57 behind new the new yellow jersey, Giulio Ciccone and 2:08 behind Thomas on the GC.
“We will stay the course. There are still 15 days of racing ahead of us,” Lavenu said. “I must remain optimistic and calm in face of the disappointment. Romain has the morale and we will keep fighting.”
While Bardet struggled, fellow Frenchman Pinot solidified his position. Pinot finished just two seconds behind Thomas and climbed to seventh overall at 58 seconds back, just nine seconds behind Thomas.
“It wasn’t the victory but I am happy,” Pinot said. “I am satisfied with my day. The team did a great job and I was with the best.”
If France is going to have its first Tour winner since 1985, it’s looking more likely it could be Pinot — not Bardet — who will be carrying a nation’s hopes into the final half of the race.