Romain Bardet says defending his lead in the climber’s classification is his only remaining goal of the Tour de France 2019.
The French hope has suffered a disastrous attempt at winning the overall, cracking early on the Tourmalet stage and losing 20 minutes by the line.
Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) had an opportunity to redeem the Tour with a stage win on stage 18 over the Galibier, making the day’s breakaway but not being able to catch the victor Nairo Quintana (Movistar) on the final climb.
But the 28-year-old did leapfrog 10 places to the top of the King of the Mountain classification, usurping Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens.
The runner up in the 2016 Tour de France said: “I didn’t get what I wanted in the Pyrenees. There’s still some way to go but today my goal was to make the breakaway.
“Tim Wellens is someone I appreciate. I spoke with him before the climbs and we made clear that it would be a fair fight between us.
“The jersey is the only goal I have for the remainder of this Tour.”
Bardet started the Tour as one of two great French hopes for the overall, along with Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
His Ag2r team lost more than a minute on the stage two team time trial and Bardet then struggled on La Planche des Belles Filles and lost almost three minutes, all-but taking him out of the fight for the overall.
After a characteristically poor time trial on stage 13, things went from bad to worse when the race reached the Pyrenees as Bardet cracked more than 60km from the finish on the following day, with Pinot riding to an emphatic victory 20 minutes before his compatriot crossed the line.
Bardet has said he will undergo medical exams after the Tour, as he can’t explain why his form is so low.
He returned to some semblance of his former self on stage 18 to Valloire, but no one was able to match the explosive attack of Nairo Quintana 7km from the summit of the Galibier, and Bardet was forced to settle for second on the stage.
With two mountain stages remaining, Bardet’s opportunities for a stage win are rapidly fading and the polka dot jersey could be the only consolation prize after a disappointing Tour for his team.