BRIANÇON, France (VN) — “Pas de regrets.” These three simple words, both a goal and a state of mind, opened and closed Ag2r’s morning meeting on the last mountain stage of the Tour de France. The team would land atop the Col d’Izoard having done everything, tried everything, regretting nothing.
“We said that we would take any opportunity that presented itself. We wanted to put the peloton in difficulty, put principal favorites in difficulty,” said Ag2r director Julien Jurdie, “We tried.”
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It was a daunting task. Romain Bardet needed the better part of a minute on Chris Froome to have any chance of taking yellow to Paris. That pesky Marseille time trial will certainly be his undoing. He was up against a better team and a Froome who has shown only a brief moment of weakness across nearly three weeks.
Against such odds, what is there to do but try? Five hours after that meeting inside Ag2r’s team bus, the crowd atop the Izoard roared in near-unison as Bardet stomped forth yet again, forward and away from Froome, if only for a moment. A few meters was the farthest he would get.
Unable to break Sky’s fortress and Froome’s legs, the young Frenchman was forced to settle for four bonus seconds. They moved him into second place, ahead of Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) by six seconds. With a difficult time trial ahead, Bardet’s chances of snatching yellow are now effectively gone.
And yet, pas de regrets.
“I wanted to attack early but there was a big headwind, plus three or four guys from Sky,” Bardet said nearly half an hour after the finish, still in his kit, a warm towel wrapped around his neck. “I preferred to wait until the last moment — I gave it a go, and I gave my best.”
Ag2r took charge on Thursday. With more than 50km remaining, it put the entire squad, from big Belgian champion Oliver Naessen to climbing super domestique Alexis Vuillermoz, at the front of the pack. The goal was to fatigue their rivals, Jurdie said. Particularly Urán, who started the stage tied on time with Bardet. That was the plan: Put the whole team into a single goal, no matter how optimistic.
Pas de regrets, after all.
Sky let them do it, happy to save its bullets for later.
Some questioned the tactic. Ag2r was out of domestiques with 10km left on the Izoard. Bardet was isolated while Froome still had two teammates. Urán was still there. The plan hadn’t quite worked.
That early work was simply laying a foundation, though. Bardet needed bonus seconds, so he had to mop up the break. And if you’re shooting high, sometimes it’s just better to shoot for the moon.
“We wanted to win the stage and take yellow. That is really hard to do,” said Naessen. “If you can go all out and, in the end, you move up one place, then we know we did our best. We can only hope for a miracle in the time trial now on Saturday.”
Bardet will need a miracle. The Izoard was his last real shot at gaining time, and he couldn’t do so. His team smashed through the valley, Vuillermoz rode his eyes out up the Izoard’s lower slopes. Still, it was not enough.
Was there anything else that could have been done?
“No. We all gave our best, and its a good thing, the last race we do is a step forward. I’m pretty happy with the mountain stages of the Tour de France.
“I really gave everything on the road,” he said. “Pas de regrets.”