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MORZINE, France (VN) – The Tour de France is only just about to begin for Romain Bardet.
A series of Alpine stages through the start of the second week will see the Frenchman in the high ground he relishes in what will be the first true climbing crunch of the Tour de France.
“It’s going to be a very difficult week, the Tour has been intense so far, but in terms of elevation, there is nothing comparable to what awaits us. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s stages [i.e., stages 11 and 12] will be very important,” Bardet said in a press conference Monday.
“This is where we will see the first hierarchy take shape. I don’t forget the Mende stage on Saturday either. I’m even wary of the Saint-Etienne stage [stage 13]. Only tomorrow Tuesday can be a transition stage.”
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A series of lower category climbs on the fringes of the Alps in Tuesday’s 11th stage make way for the Tour’s historic kingmakers in the middle of the week.
Two trips over the 2,640m peak of the Galibier form the pivot-point of back-to-back stages that also take Bardet and the bunch up the Granon, Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez ascents.
“These are days that I am looking forward to, for me these are the queen stages of this Tour de France,” said Bardet, who won three of the Tour’s toughest mountain stages when in his GC pomp, a period when he finished second and third overall in the race.
At 1:39 back, and only 22 seconds from a podium position, Bardet is better placed than maybe he expected to be after his illness-induced Giro exit. The French ace started the Tour with an open playbook and plans to keep it that way.
“The plan hasn’t changed, I’m here, but I never said either that I wanted to waste time on purpose,” he said. “I keep all the doors open. So far, it’s often been the peloton that has played the victory, and since I was in it, that’s it … For the moment anyway, apart from the small crash two days ago, the balance is positive.”
The lingering impact of a crash on stage 8 will make every 12,000m of vertical feel that bit steeper for Bardet in the next three days – and could prove as crucial as his climbing form in dictating the play for the rest of his race.
“I still feel the pain, but it’s a slight discomfort,” Bardet said. “This Monday morning it’s a little worse, but if it stays like that, it should be fine. We will have to see because there are still two weeks of racing left, but it should be OK.”