SAINT-JEAN-DE-MAURIENNE, France (AFP) — French riders struggle to succeed at the Tour de France because of the pressure they’re under, according to Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).
The 24-year-old earned his first-ever Tour stage victory on Thursday after a bold solo break with almost 40km to ride.
Having come into the race with overall hopes, Bardet has had to readjust after losing a lot of time in the first Pyrenean stage at the start of the second week.
After twice placing third in stages this year, he finally landed a victory on the 186.5km stage 18 from Gap to Saint Jean de Maurienne.
That was enough to lift him to 10th overall and 16 seconds above Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) to become the top-ranked Frenchman.
But just 12 months after he was third among the French in finishing sixth overall — Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) joined champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on the 2014 Tour podium — Bardet’s win has been a rare bright spark for the host nation.
And Thursday’s winner says it’s tough for Frenchmen to succeed in their home Tour.
“Last year we had an incredible Tour. Of course certain circumstances favored us [Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) crashing out], I won’t hide that, but there’s a lot of pressure on the French at the Tour,” he said.
“To be excellent at the Tour you need to do it over 21 stages. For me it’s still a bit early, but I hope to be up there one day fighting for the general classification.
“But I’m also enjoying riding the way I am, getting in a lot of breakaways.”
Having long written off his overall chances, Bardet said he didn’t expect to now be in the top 10. “I haven’t yet looked at the standings; I’m surprised to hear I’m in the top 10,” he said.
“I was afraid for [the] breakaway because there were some well-placed riders in it and others in the peloton wanting to conserve their places.
“I’m also well-placed [tied for first] in the king of the mountains competition now without even trying in that.
“But I don’t know what goals I can have in that respect because I’m afraid that tomorrow [Friday] will be a hard day.”