As Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck -Quick-Step) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) captured French hearts and minds at this year’s Tour de France, Romain Bardet was soon a forgotten man as the Ag2r La Mondiale rider slipped down the overall classification and out of contention.
However, as Pinot abandoned the race on stage 19 through injury and Alaphilippe faltered as the race reached the high altitude climbs, Bardet secured a consolation prize, becoming the third consecutive French polka dot jersey victor, following Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) in 2017 and Alaphilippe last year.
“I dreamt of winning the polka dot jersey when I was young,” Bardet said after the finish in Val Thorens.
Finding himself more than 27 minutes down in 21st place heading into the Alps, Bardet hit out at the start of stage 18, getting himself in a talented breakaway of strong climbers.
Despite Nairo Quintana (Movistar) taking the victory ahead of the Frenchman, Bardet’s second place at the summits of the Col de Vars, Izoard and Galibier, picking up a total of 68 King of the Mountains points to propel him to the top of the polka dot jersey rankings.
He took a 12 point lead over Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), the custodian of the jersey for most of this year’s race, into the final two Alpine days. With a summit finish to Tignes cancelled on stage 19 and two categorised climbs taken out of stage 20 to Val Thorens, it appeared Bardet had picked his moment well as the chances for anyone to overhaul him started to disappear.
After Egan Bernal (Ineos) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had moved to within 30 points with their first and second-placed finishes on the Iseran, it looked like Bardet’s lead could be over as he dropped from the GC group fairly early on the final climb of this year’s race, with 40 points available at the summit of Val Thorens.
However, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) survived from the breakaway to take the stage 20 victory and the Movistar pair of Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa were allowed to move away to pick up first and second, meaning when Bernal crossed the line in fourth to secure the yellow jersey, he would only pick up 20 KoM points.
“In 2015, I missed out on the last mountain stage,” Bardet said, referencing when he failed to protect his slender lead in the King of the Mountains classification as Quintana and Chris Froome (Ineos) finished in the top five to overtake him on the stage 20 summit finish up Alpe d’Huez.
“It’s a nice satisfaction for me this time. It’s going to be my fifth time on stage on the Champs-Elysées for a different award in seven participations.”
After his failed assault on the 2019 general classification where the Frenchman has ultimately fallen well short of the mark, he may consider changin focus to stage wins or the polka dot jersey at future Tours.
“It’s good to reinvent oneself. Things haven’t gone according to my expectations at this Tour but I’ll enjoy this trophy before thinking about what has not worked,” Bardet said.
“We’re allowed to fail but we’re not allowed to not try and give it all.”