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Tour de France

French fans say “Merci, Bardet”

No Frenchman has won a yellow jersey in over 30 years, but Romain Bardet gives the home crowd hope for a turnaround sometime soon

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MORZINE, France (VN) — Sky’s Chris Froome headlined the show, but Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) stars in the final act of the Tour de France finishing Sunday afternoon in Paris. His attack on the last summit finish Friday to win stage 19 and to take second overall gave life to the race and sparked hope that France may once again have a home winner.

“Heroic” read the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe Saturday morning. That evening, Bardet secured his second place overall by holding off Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and others over the final Alpine mountain stage to Morzine. Along the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde Sunday afternoon, signs reading “Merci Bardet” welcome France’s hero.

“This will take some time to understand,” Bardet said to media yesterday in Morzine. “I’m still struggling to imagine what happened.”

Bardet jolted the Tour to life at a time when it appeared to be flat-lining. Froome further tightened his grip on a third title when he won the mountain time trial to Megève on Thursday. Friday, he crashed on wet roads but still managed to keep his rivals on a short leash. Except for Bardet.

The 25-year-old Frenchman exploded a tightly wrapped general classification fight for second overall behind Froome. Friday morning, just one minute and eight seconds separated second place and sixth. His attack, when others appeared unwilling or unable, at the base of Le Bettex powered him from fifth to second overall.

He rides into Paris today 4:05 behind Froome, but first in the hearts of the French.

Home fans had hoped for success with Tony Gallopin (Lotto – Soudal), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick-Step), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Warren Barguil (Giant – Alpecin), and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The stages passed and none succeeded until Bardet launched what he called an “audacious” attack in the shadow of Mont Blanc.

“Froome clearly won the Tour,” race director Christian Prudhomme said. “Bardet’s win was one of panache. It gives us hope for the future.”

In 2014, Bardet already placed sixth behind victor Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). In 2015, he won a stage, but because he suffered an off-day and lost 8:50, he placed ninth behind Froome.

“This is a slow process for me, an evolution,” Bardet said.

“I’ve been working on every detail and paying attention to everything. I spent so much energy in the first and second week just maintaining my spot, and that all came out in the final days and allowed me to gain time.

“Froome’s four-minute gap is an enormous gulf. This is the best result I could have hoped for.”

Bernard Hinault last gave France a home win in the Tour in 1985. Froome may continue to make life difficult for the French, but Bardet gives some hope that the streak could eventually be broken.