French cycling fans won’t know whether to laugh or cry after a tumultuous day for its top riders at the Tour de France Saturday.
While national hero Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and his tragic compatriot Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) both crumbled on the multi-mountain test in the Pyrénées on Saturday, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) continued their steady assault on the GC, and Frenchman Nans Peters took a breakaway win for his and Bardet’s French team.
Martin has both flown beneath the radar and shown flashes of ferocity through his first Tour with Team Cofidis, launching clear in an attempt to snatch the stage atop Orcieres-Mèrlette on Tuesday, and again Saturday, piling on the pressure through the final climb of the day in a failed attempt to shake his GC rivals.
“It’s very pleasant to be with the best, that’s what I aspired to,” Martin said after Saturday’s stage.
Currently sitting in third overall at just nine seconds back, Martin has sparked flickers of hope in his home nation having also placed third at the Critérium du Dauphiné in August.
“Today I manage to be at this level and to ride more with the strongest so it’s a great source of pride,” he said. “I do not especially want to stop there. Now it is necessary to take advantage of this form to get real big results.”
Bardet has followed a similar path of consistent success through summer, taking sixth at the Dauhpiné and navigating himself into fourth overall ahead of another stage in the mountains Sunday.
Having twice stepped on the podium at the Tour before proving off-par in his last two appearances, Bardet confirmed Saturday he’s far from done with the Tour yet, launching a speculative attack in the final kilometer of the stage to grab two seconds in the GC battle and shuffle him up to fourth.
Despite his attacking display, the 29-year-old was cautious when speaking at the finish line having crashed midway through the the stage, injuring his elbow and and knee.
“I will quickly go for treatment because I am afraid of having damaged myself a little,” Bardet said after the stage. “When I was hot, I did not have too much pain, but I took a big blow.”
While Bardet and Martin may be keeping the French flag sailing at this year’s Tour, all the preliminary hype and hope around Alaphilippe and Pinot’s yellow jersey prospects at this year’s race have taken a turn. With Pinot suffering from back injuries sustained on the opening stage and haemorrhaging nearly half an hour Saturday and Alaphilippe exploding spectacularly to lose over 10 minutes, their GC hopes are buried.
Martin heard the news of Pinot’s mid-stage crumble over race radio.
“We always prefer that it be foreign adversaries who are in difficulty rather than French adversaries,” said the Cofidis climber. “For my part I remain focused on my race but obviously that does not change anything in my race.”
While Alaphilippe had always insisted his focus was on stage wins at this year’s Tour, he now has no other option available to him, and the same goes for Pinot, who had gone into this year’s race with podium ambitions.
“We will aim for the stages, we will try to take the breakaways to save our Tour de France,” Pinot’s Groupama-FDJ manager Marc Madiot said. “We have a little pride, we have ambition and we will try to be competitive on stages that will allow us to rebuild our morale.”
The Tricolore may look a little tattered Sunday, but it’s still intact and flying high.