The 25-year-old of team AG2R La Mondiale attacked at the base of the summit finish to Le Bettex in stage 19 to claim France’s first stage win in the Tour this year, and in the process gain enough time to jump from fifth place to second overall. Only one more mountain day remains today before the final flat stage in Paris on Sunday.
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“It’s the way I like to race, have fun, with audacity,” Bardet said. “I just raced today, without any plan.”
For his compatriots, the win was special not just because it breaks France’s barren spell at this year’s Tour, but also the style in which it was achieved.
“Bardet was very careful about what he said, and there was a sense of romanticism,” said François Thomazeau, journalist for France’s Le Figaro newspaper.
“Directeur Sportifs talk about SRMs, power output, but it’s all crap, he says. He said he won on instinct, that the Tour has become too predictable and controlled. He said he did it on instinct, and that’s music to the French’s ears. He’s reached a new level of popularity in France, especially if he keeps this podium spot.”
On Friday morning, five riders from second to sixth sat within 1-08 minutes. Many expected Richie Porte (BMC Racing) to fire in the afternoon after the strength of his performances over the previous days. Instead, Bardet took hold of second place with his attack at 8.5 kilometres out, when many appeared unwilling or unable to rock the Sky boat.
Bardet now sits 4-11 behind Froome, but 16 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in third and 35 seconds ahead of Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) in fourth. Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who was second overall, faded fast due to crashes.
“Bardet’s a very offensive rider,” L’Equipe journalist Dan Perez told Cycling Weekly. “He has learned to be a different rider, to be quieter by staying in the pack of the favourites, because he knew you need to ride like that and not attack every day. But it’s not something he likes. The thing he likes is attacking.”
“He’s said many times – there’s nothing that compares to the emotions of a stage victory. He knows the classification is important for team AG2R, but what he likes the most is the emotion of attacking and trying to win.”
Watch highlights of stage 19 of the Tour de France
Bardet began to celebrate when he reached the finish line at 1,372 metres and threw away precious seconds that may be needed for the remainder of the classification fight – but he appeared too swept up in the moment to care.
“Last year, a stage win was the goal. This year, I was really working on the GC.
“Today the rain made it even harder. To win, you have to take risks. I knew this climb, and I knew my bearings, and I knew where I could attack. I was hearing comments that there have been no attacks in this Tour, but we are all very fatigued. I also knew I am in the best shape of my life.”
The fact that Bardet won with an attack from Domancy was “enormous,” added Thomazeau. This is the Holy Land in French cycling. The country’s last Tour winner, Bernard Hinault, won his 1980 world title in there. This year, in honour of Hinault, the Tour passed the climb twice: once in the mountain time trial on Thursday and again on Friday, when Bardet seized his moment in style.