Frenchman remains in fifth place but time trial looms
Romain Bardet managed to push his way through the media scrum surrounding his Ag2r-La Mondiale teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud atop Hautacam to offer his congratulations on all but sealing a podium place at the Tour de France, yet there was a palpable air of disappointment about the youngster as he talked of his own afternoon's work.
Six kilometres from the summit of the climb, Bardet was dislodged from the elite group chasing yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and while he battled gamely to limit his losses and retain his fifth place on general classification, he was left ruing the 39 seconds he conceded to Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
Bardet remains 2:07 ahead of van Garderen in the overall standings as the Tour leaves the Pyrenees, but with Saturday's 54-kilometre time trial likely to favour the American, he cut a somewhat disconsolate figure as he recounted his day.
"I lost time to van Garderen so it's a personal disappointment, although I think Jice [Péraud] will finish on the podium now, which is fantastic," Bardet said. "I was dead when it accelerated with six kilometres to go. I recovered near the end but the train had already left."
Bardet has been an effervescent presence on this Tour, and he showed particular defiance in back-to-back Alpine summit finishes at Chamrousse and Risoul. In the third week, however, his efforts – here and indeed earlier in the season – have begun to tell.
"There's a bit of personal disappointment, but it's not surprising that I'm struggling a bit in the third week of the Tour because I've been on good form since the Dauphiné, and I've probably passed my peak," Bardet said.
The Frenchman was pessimistic about his chances of holding off van Garderen in Saturday's time trial, and, certainly, on the evidence of the few time trials he has competed in during his two and a half year professional career, it will be a close-run thing if he is to hold off van Garderen over 54 kilometres.
"I've never done a time trial of more than 30km so it will be a bit of an unknown for me," Bardet said. "The goal will be to stay ahead of van Garderen and keep a place in the top five, but he took back time on me today unfortunately."
Bardet's discontent at the summit seemed as much about his inability to provide a helping hand to Péraud in the final kilometres as the prospect of losing his top-five place to van Garderen.
Indeed, since his amateur days, the man from Brioude has reportedly had a penchant for fierce self-criticism, and it took a quiet word and an embrace from Ag2r-La Mondiale manager Vincent Lavenu to lend some perspective to Bardet's assessment of his ascent of Hautacam.
"I gave my maximum and I won't have regrets in Paris on Sunday," Bardet said. "We'll see afterwards if I make fifth or sixth. I'm giving my all and after that, it's sport."
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