Péraud could be Ag2r's best chance at an overall podium in Paris
It was a bad first day in the Pyrenees for Ag2r-La Mondiale's Romain Bardet, who lost both his podium position and the white jersey as the Tour de France's best young rider on Tuesday.
Bardet was unable to follow his rivals on the final climb of the Port de Balès, and it cost him dear. The Frenchman finished stage 16 1:50 minutes down on the yellow-jersey group, which included race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Movistar's Alejandro Valverde and Bardet's main rival in the young-rider classification, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who took over both Bardet's third position overall and his white jersey.
The yellow-jersey group also featured Bardet's teammate, Jean-Christophe Péraud, who has now leapfrogged his younger teammate, and sits in fourth place overall, 1:02 minutes behind Pinot.
Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu was a picture of calm as he addressed a sweaty media scrum next to the team bus in Bagnères-de-Luchon after the tough stage, which was won by Australia's Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo).
"Clearly, Romain didn't have a great day," said Lavenu. "Pinot attacked, and Romain wasn't able to follow. He's lost the white jersey, but that's how it is: tomorrow's another day, and perhaps Pinot, or others, won't go so well. Jean-Christophe had a great day, but it wasn't such a good one for Romain. Each day, there's a new surprise, but that's just how things go at the Tour de France.
"Pinot is a fantastic rider, so his attack today wasn't a surprise to us," he continued. "He also attacked in the Alps, but today he was stronger, and that's just how it is. You win some, you lose some, but you have to be able to accept defeat.
"But Romain has already shown that he is world-class, despite the fact that he's still so young," Lavenu said of his 23-year-old rider. "He wasn't the only rider to have a bad day – Tejay van Garderen [BMC], Bauke Mollema [Belkin] and Jurgen Van Den Broeck [Lotto-Belisol] all also lost time. Romain will now recover from today and we'll see what happens tomorrow."
"I've not yet had a bad day on this Tour, but today was tough," Bardet admitted after having taken a shower on the team bus before facing the press. "When you're hoping to attack, and then you get dropped like that, it's difficult to take, but I was grateful to Sam [teammate Samuel Dumoulin] for helping me at the end, because mentally it was a very hard day. But there are still two stages to go in the Pyrenees, and I hope my legs will feel better than they did today."
Bardet said that he thought Péraud was capable of finishing the Tour on the podium, and when asked whether he might now work for his teammate, who is a place above him in the general classification, with a 32-second advantage, Bardet replied: "We'll talk with the team management tonight, but it's certainly possible, yes."
Péraud is an accomplished time-triallist – he won the French national title in the discipline in 2009 – and could now be Ag2r's best bet for a place on the final podium in Paris.
"Jean-Christophe is certainly in a very good position, especially ahead of the time trial," said Lavenu.
Now fourth overall, Péraud is very capable of overhauling Pinot, and perhaps also second-placed Valverde, in the 54-kilometre test on Saturday.
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