Another Bastille Day passed without a Tour de France stage win for a French rider but, while Thibaut Pinot and Warren Barguil floundered, Romain Bardet took another step towards his best ever overall result.
The stage from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux was dominated by the wind, and the largely flat approach to the looming final climb saw splits in the peloton, with Barguil and Pinot both caught out. Barguil would regain contact as Froome prompted a go-slow after his teammates were caught up in a crash, but Bardet out-climbed both his compatriots on the truncated Ventoux.
After a chaotic finale that saw Bauke Mollema, Chris Froome, and Richie Porte crash into a motorbike while on the attack, Bardet finished – on paper, at least – with the rest of the GC contenders to move up to 5th overall.
"It was a pretty crazy with the echelons, at the start of the stage we had to be really on the ball. We found ourselves with a group of 30, and I was lucky enough to have a strong Jan [Bakelants] and a great Alexis Gougeard with me. Then there was the disappointment when it all came back together at the foot off the Ventoux.
"But I did a good climb. I tried to fight. I made the choice to try and stay quiet and make my effort nearer the top."
Bardet explained that he didn't have the legs to go with Froome's attack with just over 3km to go, but took encouragement from his performance nonetheless. The 25-year-old, sixth overall in 2014 and ninth last year, now finds himself in fifth and can feel himself getting ever stronger ahead of a final-week spell in the Alps that should play to his strengths.
"I let Froome and Quintana go – I didn't have the legs to compete with them today. I think Porte then went away with Froome and they were the strongest.
"I was at the back of the group, but I'm happy because my legs are getting better as the days wear on, so I hope to be on top of my game in the third week."
The Ventoux stage is followed on Friday by a 37.5km time trial that should do much to shape the overall complexion. Time trialling is not Bardet's strongest suit but the Frenchman didn't seem worried and said he'd treat it like any other day on the Tour.
"Well today was very important as well," he replied when asked if the time trial is more significant than Ventoux, "and the day after tomorrow will be very important. Every day is important on the Tour."
'It was like a triathlon transition'
Thursday's stage was dominated by the polemic surrounding Froome, Porte, and Mollema's late crash, which was brought about when the sea of fans in the final couple of kilometres – unbarriered due to the wind – caused a TV motorbike to come to a standstill, with Porte leading the attacking trio in ploughing into the back of the vehicle.
Bardet was not directly involved but joined Porte, Mollema, and others in calling for improved conditions in which to race.
"I saw the yellow jersey running, I don't know exactly what happened as I was trying to race my bike, but it was like a triathlon transition – I've never seen anything like it before in a bike race," he said.
"I don't really know what happened at the end – I was so wrapped up in my effort – but I don't think they were bike racing conditions at the end there. You are forced to brake when you're attacking, and you don't know where the road is… it's imperative that we are able to do our job in a safe environment."
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