Romain Bardet admitted that stage five of the Tour of Oman "was a day to forget" as a crash hindered his efforts to move into the general classification lead
Without live television and spotty Internet coverage, information was hard to come by at the top of Green Mountain where Froome won in 2013 and 2014. When a signal became strong enough, messages trickled in over race radio that the Frenchman crashed midway the 152-kilometre stage.
Bardet continued. The next update came in direct, when through the valley under the aired and rugged mountains, a lead group of cyclists appeared. Bardet stayed with those until the final kilometre. Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) attacked, but Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) countered and won the stage over Fabio Aru (Astana).
“I don’t know,” said Bardet when asked if the crash hindered him. “It didn’t help, but I’m not looking for excuses either.
“I had pain, it wasn’t good. I still tried to look for the win but one kilometre from the finish I felt blocked and it was difficult after that. I tried to attack.”
Bardet spoke under the warm, 30C, Omani sunshine poking through thin cloud cover. He dressed in a second jersey to ride downhill.
He finished 10th at 44 seconds behind Hermans, the race leader, and moved to sixth overall. On the same climb at 1200 metres elevation, Grand Tour stars like Froome and Vincenzo Nibali have won.
A handful of journalists leaned in to hear Bardet, who is one of the favourites to take on Froome in the Tour this July. As Bardet talked, he pointed down to his right ankle, where a black greasy chain ring mark had marked his bright white sock during the crash.
“I wasn’t sitting at the back. There was a crash and I got caught up in it and went down,” Bardet explained. “I took a good blow and though you try not to think about it, afterwards I was sore on the climb.”
In cycling where victories are taken thanks to the slightest advantage, any disadvantage can cause one to pay. However, followers should realise that Bardet is building on a long five-month road towards the Tour, where Hermans and others are peaking for the early events.
“It’s a day to forget,” Bardet added. “I fought as best I could on the mountain, but with a kilometre to go I was dropped completely. It wasn’t too bad up to that point, but the heat affected me a bit and it was difficult.”
Bardet goes from Oman to the Abu Dhabi Tour, where he will face several big stars including Tour rival Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo). These Middle Eastern races will prepare him for the big one in July.
“My sensations haven’t been bad all week and I’ve done a lot work,” he said. “It’s still been an important week of work and good training.”
The Tour of Oman finishes tomorrow along Muscat’s port with a flat stage suited to sprinters.