(Road Bike Action & AFP; Photo: Bettini)
Romain Bardet helped salvage some host pride with victory on the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday. The 24-year-old took off on his own with just under 40km remaining of the 186.5km stage from Gap to Saint Jean de Maurienne to take victory — his first on the Tour — 33sec ahead of compatriot Pierre Rolland. It was the home nation’s second stage win in 2015 following that of Bardet’s AG2R teammate Alexis Vuillermoz on the eighth stage. And it was a welcome win for a nation struggling in the heat and challenges on this year’s race.
Twelve months ago, Bardet finished sixth in the Tour but was the third best Frenchman as Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot both claimed podium finishes behind winner Vincenzo Nibali. A year on and Bardet’s victory took him past Warren Barguil into 10th place to become the leading home rider in the race. Peraud and Pinot had cracked spectacularly on the first Pyrenean stage 10 days ago when Bardet also struggled badly.
Pinot’s hopes had already been largely hampered by a puncture on the cobbled fourth stage when he lost more than three minutes and the 25-year-old has unsuccessfully been chasing stage wins ever since. Initially Tony Gallopin, not a known climber, flew the French flag in the Pyrenees but he was crushed by the Alps and only 22-year-old Barguil had given the hosts some cheer on his debut Tour.
Bardet and Pinot even managed to blow a huge chance at victory on the 14th stage when marking each other in the final kilometre and allowing Briton Stephen Cummings to fly past for an unlikely stage win. With two summit finishes on hors category climbs to come in the next two stages, the favorites limited their day to a few skirmishes.
Race 3eader Chris Froome came home 12th at 3min 02sec in a group including all the top eight, and Barguil. Fifth placed Alberto Contador (6min 40sec) had attacked on the hors category 21km long Col du Glandon with Nibali (seventh at 8min 04sec) and Nairo Quintana (second at 3min 10sec) both stretching their legs as well. Alejandro Valverde (third at 4min 09sec) lost touch just before the top but was only a few seconds back.
The favorites all came together on the descent off the Glandon and on the second category ‘Lacets’ (laces) climb 10km from the end, non-one could break free from their rivals. A 29-man breakaway started proceedings earlier in the day but that was shredded on the Glandon, which, although averaging only a 5.1 percent gradient, had parts reaching 10 percent. Near the top Bardet broke away with Dane Jacob Fuglsang and Rolland.
Fuglsang surprisingly crashed and although Rolland relaxed, Bardet attacked. Only Anacona went with him and the two crested the climb together with a small lead to the chasers. But Bardet dropped Anacona on the 20km descent and he was never caught. Anacona, Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels, Rolland and Fuglsang came together on the Lacets climb but then Rolland rode away for second place. The other three came in at 59sec with Anacona winning the sprint.
Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez, winner of two stages already, managed to take the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey off Froome as he was part of the breakaway and took maximum points on the first five categorized climbs. But Bardet’s victory helped him move level on 68 points with Rodriguez in that competition, with Fuglsang on 64 and Froome on 61.
1. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 5hr 03min 40sec
2. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) at 0:33sec.
3. Winner Anacona (COL/MOV) 0:59.
4. Bob Jungels (LUX/TRE) 0:59.
5. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 0:59.
6. Serge Pauwels (BEL/MTN) 1:01.
7. Cyril Gautier (FRA/EUC) 1:50.
8. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 1:50.
9. Andrew Talansky (USA/CAN) 1:55.
10. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) 3:02.
1. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 74h13min 31sec
2. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) at 3:10.
3. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 4:09.
4. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 6:34.
5. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 6:40.
6. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 7:39.
7. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 8:04.
8. Mathias Frank (SUI/IAM) 8:47.
9. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) 12:06.
10. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 12:52.