Bardet finally showed his true potential
Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet rode almost the perfect race on stage 18 – getting in the break, breaking away on his own near the top of the Col du Glandon and then staying off the front for the final 40km.
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Not only did Bardet nail the uphill part of the Glandon he also performed a perfect descent, hitting all the best lines and distancing himself from the chasers. Pierre Rolland tried to bridge the gap, but his fellow Frenchman’s superior descending proved to be decisive.
Once he hit the Lacets de Montvernier there was no catching him and another descent into Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne played nicely into his hands.
After two third place finishes earlier in the race, notably on stage 15 when he and Thibaut Pinot were battling it out for the win in Mende until Steve Cummings trumped them both, Bardet deserved a slice of luck.
He was hotly tipped to contend for a top-five place in the general classification, but a tough first week saw the 24-year-old lose time. In a few years, though, the youngster will surely be one of the top French hopes, although if he has the all-round ability to win it overall is yet to be seen.
Froome attacked, but nothing stuck
Time is now firmly running out for Chris Froome‘s rivals to claw back time on the Brit and a couple of them tried their luck on the Glandon.
Alberto Contador made the first move on the long climb, gaining 30-or-so seconds over the yellow jersey but he was brought back in before the summit. Vincenzo Nibali also had a pop, but again couldn’t get away before the descent.
It may not have been the easiest stage to make an attack stick, though, with the Glandon sitting at 21km long and not particularly steep. Attacks came near the top with the intention of getting on the descent alone, but nothing came off.
The summit finish on La Toussuire on Friday should see Nairo Quintana finally launch his attack on Froome after a couple of half-hearted efforts in the last couple of stages.
Contador and Nibali are almost certainly now out of contention for the overall win, but they’re both dangerous to gain some minutes to move up the classification.
The Lacets de Montvernier looks great, but…
The Tour de France’s newest climb looked phenomenal, with its tight and steep hairpins producing great pictures for the TV audience.
The only thing was, though, is that the fact that its so twisty made it almost impossible to launch an attack – if anyone actually wanted to anyway. As soon as the riders increased their speed they had to slow right down again to turn back on yourself up the next hairpin.
Unlike with many of the famous Alpe d’Huez hairpins, the ones on Montvernier are incredibly tight meaning there’s no respite on the outside of the turns.
For those watching on the telly it was a great advert for the region, but for race action it wasn’t particularly exciting. Maybe next time the organisers might put it earlier in the stage before tackling one of the high mountains in the area.
Purito can now wear the polka dot jersey in his own right
The Katusha rider, winner of two stages already this Tour, hoovered up the points on the first five categorised climbs to overtake Froome, before dropping back on the Glandon to save energy for the coming stages.
Having found himself out of contention in the general classification, Rodriguez has once again resorted to riding for the polka dots, but faces competition in the shape of Bardet and Froome, with the Team Sky rider probably the favourite to take it.
We’ve not had a rider win both the yellow and polka dot jerseys at the Tour since Eddy Merckx in 1970, so Froome could set his own little piece of history come Saturday evening.
But Purito won’t go down without a fight, so expect to see the little fella getting out in the break again on Friday for at least the climbs of the Col du Chaussy, Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Mollard.
La Toussuire may be beyond him, but full points on the first three climbs should give him a decent buffer over his rivals.
Fuglsang’s tangle with a motorbike
Another rider out in the breakaway for mountains points was Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang, who managed to get himself up to third in the classification but not without a little incident.
The Dane could have picked up a few more points over the top of the Glandon, and even taken control of the polka dots, had he not taken a bizarre tumble near the top.
By the look of the TV pictures he went down hard but completely randomly – just hitting the deck for not apparent reason. But from another angle it looks as if he clipped a camera motorbike as he pulled out of the line of riders, while looking over his other shoulder, sending him sprawling.
Seconds before the incident the same motorbike also cut up Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal while trying to scythe through the pack up to the front.
Normally such actions would lead to a ban for the driver, so it’ll be interesting to see if any action comes of it.
Fuglsang got up a little gingerly from his tumble and crossed the summit for 14 more KoM points. He sits four points behind Rodriguez and Bardet, who both have 68 points overall.
Highlights from stage 18 of the 2015 Tour de France