RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini
Outside the AG2R team bus at the Tour de France starting line in Lorient on Wednesday there stood just seven warm-up bikes, with Axel Domont no longer needing his after a 70 km/h fall on the previous day’s stage. Domont, who broke his collarbone, was a key member in Romain Bardet’s bid to win a first Tour de France after the climber finished second in 2016 and third in 2017. The slightly-built Bardet’s AG2R team will have to race 17 stages of the 2018 Tour a man down after an over-curious roadside fan stepped into the path of the onrushing peloton to take a photo. As riders swerved slightly, a wave went through the pack that brought down 15 or 20 of them, ending Domont’s Tour with a trip to the local emergency ward.
While this was awful news for the rider himself, his team and France’s hopes of a first win since 1985, it was a boon to Bardet’s rivals, as a Tour de France winner generally relies on the support of a full team. And with teams reduced from nine to eight members for the first time on the 2018 edition, any loss is felt even more keenly than ever. “It’s a huge loss, he was our warrior and his role is not so easily filled. He looked after Romain (Bardet) in those spaces where he could take on the effort,” AG2R’s sports director Julien Jurdie told AFP on Wednesday.
“He was in effect Romain’s bodyguard, the one who would ride beside him and had been due to do so over the first nine stages,” said Jurdie, who has been with the team for 12 years.
“He’s been the one going back and forwards to pick up water, making the kind of efforts that Romain, or the rest of the team did not have to make,” he said.
“It’s not the first time we have lost a rider on the Tour de France and it won’t be the last time either, I guess.” Six riders had pulled out of the field ahead of Thursday’s sixth stage — a 181 kilometer ride from Brest to the punishing Mur-de-Bretagne.”He was also the one who lifted morale and created a good atmosphere on the team bus,” said Jurdie, and in the hours following Domont’s fall there was a palpable sense of sadness around the team.
“We have had a team briefing on the bus on the way here this morning to tell the rest of the team we cannot allow this loss to become a weakness, instead we have to turn this into a form of strength.”
“There will be no nominative replacement for Axel, depending on the kind of stage we’ll be asking different members of the team to fulfill the role he had,” he said. He then singled out the powerful Swiss roller Silvan Dillier, a great time trialist who is in the team mainly for this first no-climb section of the race.
“We’ll be calling upon Silvan a lot this week, especially when we get to Arras-Roubaix on the cobbles, he’ll be looking after Romain on the cobbles.”
“It’s very, very important he stays with Romain as long as possible, that he guides him as long as possible on Sunday on this stage that is a kind of ‘Queen stage’ (top stage) of the tour.” Bardet says the cobbles are not his big thing, and he is mainly trying to stay out of trouble until the mountains next week, where he feels more at home.