Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) ended Tour de France stage nine in Brioude with applause from his family and hope for the weeks to come.
Racing on Bastille Day to his hometown, Bardet attacked to try to turn around his Tour after a tough first week. He sits 2-27 minutes down from virtual classification leader Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
"I wanted to at least to give it a try and see what would happen," Bardet said.
"But you know, it's complicated the Tour de France."
Bardet placed second overall behind Chris Froome (Team Ineos) in 2016 and over the years has won three stages.
The complications began in the Tour de France 2019 with the stage two team time trial and continued on stage six to La Planche des Belles Filles.
His French Ag2r La Mondiale team lost 32 seconds to Steven Kruijswijk and Jumbo-Visma in the team time trial and 12 seconds to Geraint Thomas and Ineos. It was a relatively good day considering he is not a strong time trial rider.
In the first summit finish, however, he was one of the casualties while France's other big hope Thibaut Pinot fired strongly. Bardet lost over a minute to Geraint Thomas and slid down the overall classification.
Thankfully for Bardet, the final half of the Tour de France weighs heavily with mountains – more so than in recent years with only a 27.2km time trial in stage 13 to attempt to balance the course.
"I approach [the next two weeks] with big motivation because the start wasn't easy for us," he said.
"We don't want to continue racing this way. We want to just go on the attack and take every opportunity on the road."
Bardet went on the attack on the roads he grew up on. Ahead, Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) won from an escape. Behind, with just under eight kilometres to race, Bardet accelerated on the Côte de Saint-Just.
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) marked him immediately. They gained some time, but Team Ineos quickly shut it down. Kruijswijk tried too, but nothing worked. The climbers will have to wait for the mountain stages in the final two weeks.
Bardet kissed his waiting family members at the bus, where he was greeted by more fans than stage winner Impey.
Ahead for Bardet: one more flat stage, a rest day, then the next two chapters of the Tour.
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