On Friday morning, before the start of stage 7, Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) talked with the media at the team bus to preview the tough weekend in the Jura mountains that was coming up. The runner-up of the 2016 Tour de France predicted a major battle, especially during the Tour's Queen stage on Sunday. Ahead of the weekend, Bardet finds himself in seventh position in the general classification, at 47 seconds from Christopher Froome (Sky).
"It's an important weekend. In the Alps and the Pyrenees too, there's never more than two stages after each other. There's less chances to create gaps. That makes the passage in the Jura important. It'll be important to do well ahead of the first rest day, to conclude the first week of the Tour in a good manner," a relaxed Bardet said. "I hope so [to be in the attack] but preferably I'll not be on my own to battle it out. There's two more chances in the Pyrenees and two more in the Alps and then the Tour is nearly over. You can't let the opportunities slip away."
Whether Bardet will receive a lot of support from his AG2R teammates remains to be seen. The French outfit from the Savoie region can't be compared with big budget teams like Team Sky or the BMC Racing Team. Still, Bardet had a lot of confidence in his teammates.
"We're going really well. I've never had such a strong team around me. The automatisms are studied and we're all ready for the battle."
When glancing back, Bardet gained confidence after the ascent of La Planche des Belles Filles, even though he lost a few seconds on the top favourites there. "I'm not worried at all. I came to the Tour with great form. I feel good. I haven't had bad luck so far. All is going well. I expect Sunday will explain a lot."
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At the end of Sunday's stage, the unforgiving Mont du Chat climb awaits the riders. After the climb, the riders need to tackle the tricky descent on the way to Chambéry. In the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Mont du Chat also featured, at the end of stage 6. Bardet didn't have a great day back then, struggling to keep up with Fabio Aru's acceleration. The stage was won by Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) after a thrilling sprint against GC-riders Christopher Froome (Sky) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team).
"It will not be the same because now the climb features at the end of a marathon in the Jura. We will not attack the Mont du Chat in a similar situation where the approach was easier. It'll provide for a different outcome. Every moment of weakness on the Mont du Chat will result in time losses that are impossible to make up in the Tour de France," Bardet said.
The descent would be less important than in the Dauphiné, according to Bardet. "The ascent of the climb will have caused enough damage because of the characteristics of the Mont du Chat. We will have been on the bike for six hours during that stage. It'll be a true test of excellence."
Ahead of the weekend, Froome is enjoying a good bonus over his rivals for the general classification. Bardet explained that any opportunity to gain time back should be taken for granted. "You have to look out for opportunities. Apart from Froome, there's nobody who's helped with a passive racing style. It's clear that he [Froome] has the jersey and he knows how to deal with that. For the others, passive racing isn't an option. We'll see moves on Sunday. Saturday? Maybe, I don't know the stage that well. There'll be the heat, why not. Most riders will await the stage to Chambéry [Sunday]."
Bardet added that Sunday's stage would be massively important. The Tour wouldn't be won but would surely be lost for some riders. When asked if the stage would decide the Tour, he agreed. "Certainly. It won't decide the podium steps but for top-five and top-10 it'll make things clear. The stage is so hard. For sure, it'll cause damage."
When asked about favourites, Bardet kept all options open. The duel between Froome and Porte is on his radar but others riders are featuring too. "Froome and Porte are the main opponents but there's a few more guys who can fight for the yellow jersey. For sure, there's a Froome and Porte duel but there's also Aru, he's the strongest climber right now. There's also [Nairo] Quintana and the others. There's a lot of guys to follow. Behind Froome and Porte, and Fabio Aru in an amazing form, there's a group of five-six riders who're more or less on the same level. Tactics and endurance comes into play."